Madison Avenue merchants, seeking a much-needed lift in business, are offering perks, price promotions, personal shopping and styling and various other special services and experiences in a collaborative campaign called “Welcome Back Saturdays.”
More than 70 stores — a mix of small independents, nationals brands and international designers — are participating, including Baccarat, Etro, Giorgio Armani, Hermès, Lalique, Loro Piana, Marc Jacobs, Max Mara, Ralph Lauren, Tory Burch and Veronica Beard.
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On the restaurant side, Bar Italia, La Goulue, Sant Ambroeus, Serafina and The Mark by Jean-Georges are among the more than 50 establishments participating.
Spearheaded by the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District but instigated by the merchants themselves, the campaign happens on three Saturdays, each involving a 10-block stretch. “Welcome Back Saturdays” will first be staged on Sept. 12, between 57th and 67th Streets; then on Sept. 26 between 67th and 77th Streets, and finally, Oct. 3 from 77th to 86th Streets.
“Welcome Back Saturdays is very much a response to the requests and suggestions from retailers to do a formal program to welcome back shoppers and celebrate store reopenings,” said Matthew Bauer, president of the Madison Avenue BID. “We’ve been doing these weekly ‘manager mixer’ calls since March and there was always discussion among the store managers that we needed to do something.”
After closing in mid-March due to the outbreak of COVID-19, on June 22 New York City retailers were given the OK to allow a limited number of shoppers into their stores. Two weeks before, they were given the OK for curbside pickups and deliveries.
Business on Madison Avenue always slows during the summer, but never to the extent that occurred this summer. Things turn for the better after Labor Day, though this year due to the pandemic many people are reluctant to visit stores, and Madison Avenue and other retail venues around town won’t have the benefit of traffic generated by the General Assembly of the United Nations, which each year commences in late September.
“We have always looked at September as the big start of the shopping season, even in pre-pandemic years,” said Bauer. “After Labor Day, as schools reopen and with New York Fashion Week, there is a real feeling that it’s time for people to redo their wardrobes.”
Along with the deals and special services being lavished on shoppers for “Welcome Back Saturdays,” there will be charitable contributions, gifts with purchase, restaurant gift cards, free delivery and parking, depending on the store.
There will also be a roving a cappella group, VocalSoul, singing with masks on; restaurant guides for outdoor dining will be distributed, as will an Accessories Council trend report highlighting styles from many of the participating boutiques.
“We will even have a tailor from Luxtailor at the information station we’ve set up on the southwest corner of 64th and Madison, helping with measurements and tailoring suggestions for your fall wardrobe,” said Bauer.
At Tom Ford, there will be virtual personal-styling sessions, and a made-to-measure specialist in the VIP room; Wolford will offer a complimentary Classic Care Mask with Swarovski crystals with a purchase of $500 or more; N. Peal will feature the collection worn by Daniel Craig in the new James Bond movie, “No Time to Die”; Lafayette 148 will sell its mask in fall prints and donate $10 from every purchase to City Harvest, which feeds families in need, and Chopard has a “Meet Our Artisans” exhibit. Even Apple, which has historically prided itself on not discounting, will offer deals, incentives and one-on-one sessions with a reservation.
The Madison Avenue BID covers a mile-and-a-half stretch from 57th to 86th Streets, making it the longest shopping corridor in the U.S., though the campaign is limited to 10 blocks each Saturday. “We didn’t want an event that would be too large given the safety protocols here in the city,” said Bauer.
Madison Avenue has many vacant storefronts which have been around since well before the pandemic and hasn’t been good for business or for the image of the luxury corridor. But the avenue will be enlivened by artwork being displayed in otherwise empty storefronts. Galleries, many of which are on second floors, will get extra exposure on Welcome Back Saturdays by displaying art on the street level. “We have been working with art galleries to show artworks in storefronts as a preview of the Madison Avenue Gallery Walk on Oct. 24. It’s a way of promoting the event, the galleries and beautifying the street,” said Bauer.
In addition, trees will be draped with artwork by the New York Chapter of Retail Design Institute and topaCoLAB.
According to Bauer, some Madison Avenue stores saw better-than-expected business during the summer because they doubled up efforts to connect with customers and provide personal service. “Sometimes it could be a quiet day at a store and then all of a sudden someone came in at five and made a significant purchase,” he said. “A lot of people just came to talk. They missed the social part” of shopping. “The summer was certainly quiet but it’s always a little quiet. A lot of stores adapted with shorter hours and were able to make it through.”
Restaurants, he added, “were consistently busy — you had to wait to get a table at lunch. The people dining outside were largely locals.”