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NYC Retailers Opening Their Doors to Shoppers in ‘Phase Two’

David Moin

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It’s fingers-crossed for New York City retailers entering “phase two” of restarting the local economy.

From Macy’s to Giorgio Armani and Vince, thousands of “nonessential” stores in the city reopen for shopping on Monday, hoping that their eagerness to get back in business is met by consumers eager to shop.

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It won’t be Black Friday all over again, though some NYC retailers are expecting good turnouts based on a few factors. An estimated 300,000 office, retail and restaurant workers are returning to work Monday, the onset of New York’s phase two. Stores around the country, temporarily closed in mid-March due to the coronavirus, have been reopening in recent weeks and seeing better-than-expected traffic trends. And store executives sense some pent-up demand for their products, emphasizing that shopping provides an escape from sheltering in from the pandemic.

On the other hand, it’s early summer when retailing always slows, and this year, more than the usual number of city dwellers have flocked to the Hamptons, the Jersey Shore, Pennsylvania, upstate New York and Connecticut, seeking more spacious, natural settings where the spread of COVID-19 is less pronounced and populations are less dense.

Also, consumers may be put off from shopping amid rising concerns in the medical profession of a possible coronavirus resurgence in New York following reports from California, Texas, Florida, Arizona and other states of such a rise after they reopened their economies, with people congregating in large crowds without wearing masks or social distancing. Apple last week said it’s again closing some stores in several states due to spikes in infections.

Phase two in New York City also allows for restaurants to put tables on sidewalks and in curb lanes, provided they receive permission from the city. Barber shops and beauty salons can open with a limited capacity.

New York City, which was hit harder by the coronavirus than any other city in the country, started to reopen its economy on June 8 with “phase one” permitting stores to offer curbside pickups of online orders, and allowing construction, agriculture, manufacturing and wholesaling to start up again.

“It’s the summer. Many clients are still away. It will be a gradual ramp-up. If phase two was happening in September or November, we would see a much faster ramp-up” in business, observed Matthew Bauer, president of the Madison Avenue Business Improvement District.

“It’s terrific stores are reopening and knowing that the most important priority is the safety of customers and the store associates,” said Michael Gould, the former chairman and chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s. “But I can’t imagine anyone having high exceptions” for business. “There is no tourism in the city and so many people have left Manhattan for the summer, much more than normal.”

Gould singled out luxury brands for doing “a terrific job clienteling customers through the years. They will do some business. But if you don’t have a well-developed clientele, it will be very difficult. There has to be a lot of reaching out by stores to make customers feel very comfortable. It’s a learning process. As far as the big stores go, I think it’s going to take awhile.”

Gould and others suggested that neighborhood “mom-and-pop” stores in boroughs where there has been less of a pandemic-triggered flight to the suburbs and other states, could see some OK business in the days ahead.

“We’ve seen some really good results around the country, in particular Florida and Arizona where people are not social distancing as much,” said one ceo who operates fashion stores around the country. “I’m encouraged that we’re opening some of our stores in New York City, but I’m not sure New Yorkers are going to turn out the way people have in Florida and Arizona.”

Also, many stores have decided to open later in the morning and close earlier, which will impact business levels.

Jerome Barth, president of the Fifth Avenue Association, had a somewhat different perspective. “Fifth Avenue is a beautiful, wide and open street, and it offers customers the opportunity to quickly determine whether to enter a store or keep strolling. It is different from a mall where you have to commit to remaining inside a cavernous building for a long time,” said Barth. “From personal experience and information about customer behavior in markets that reopened earlier than New York, we believe that people are eager to come back to Fifth Avenue, shop, and enjoy its wonderful surroundings. Our brands have communicated very clearly to their audience that shopping will be both safe and fun and we believe customers will respond.

“We know from our conversations with the stores on Fifth Avenue that everyone is eager to reopen. That said, restarting large stores is a significant endeavor, all the more so given the requirements put in place by the state to ensure the safety of staff and shoppers. It requires a reinvention of many of their operations, and it is an expensive proposition, but our merchants are very much looking forward to welcoming their customers back, and the last two weeks have given them the opportunity to get ready to do so under the parameters of phase one.

“We estimate that by the end of this week, between two-thirds and three-quarters of all the businesses on Fifth will be back and running and will open their doors wide to customers.”

Macy’s Inc. said Saturday that it plans to reopen its Herald Square flagship on Monday, but the timing could change. “We’ve put in place enhanced cleaning and social-distancing protocols to reduce physical contact between customers and colleagues, including Plexiglass barriers, adding sanitation stations throughout our stores and enhanced cleaning in heavily trafficked areas and on hard surfaces. We are also conducting wellness checks and providing masks to our colleagues,” a Macy’s spokesperson said.

Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom will open their New York City flagships on Wednesday. Nordstrom’s men’s store, and the Nordstrom Rack stores and Nordstrom Local locations are also opening Wednesday.

Bergdorf Goodman will offer by-appointment-only shopping starting Wednesday, but on June 15 began offering same-day delivery service in Manhattan and the Hamptons. “It’s been well received,” said a spokeswoman.

Bloomingdale’s is reopening its cluster of Manhattan stores — the 59th Street flagship, SoHo and the West Side outlet — on Monday. “We’ve introduced new safety precautions, enhanced sanitation measures, and services, to keep our community and store colleagues safe, and to allow customers to shop with us in a comfortable and convenient environment,” said Tony Spring, Bloomingdale’s ceo. Bloomingdale’s has also opened a new wellness shop on the main floor offering masks, soaps and sanitizing products.

From 57th to 86th Streets along Madison Avenue, the stretch that comprises the Madison Avenue BID, about 150 to 200 stores should reopen Monday, including designer stores, galleries, restaurants and hair salons, according to Bauer. The Ralph Lauren stores, Hermès, Bottega Veneta, Brunello Cucinelli, as well as the Amaranth restaurant — which will serve outdoors — are among the openings happening Monday. Eyewear stores along the avenue will be open by appointment only.

“We will see a lot of clienteling happening, reconnecting with clients, and more virtual styling,” said Bauer. “There are folks who will slowly feel more comfortable coming into stores, but safety is still going to be the primary product every store will have to deliver. If there isn’t a sense of safety, nothing else is going to matter. That is the essential service when we still have a pandemic in our country and city.”

At Madison Avenue shops, “Clients will feel like they are in a little bit of a cocoon when they are in the stores,” Bauer said.

Aside from taking all of the required precautions, including social distancing, masks, sanitizing and limiting occupancy, some stores are setting aside specified hours for appointment shopping, Bauer said.

“It’s all about providing an immersive brand experience and at the same making sure it’s safe and properly socially distanced.” The BID’s “Gleam Team” of about a dozen workers has been regularly disinfecting the parking meters, newspaper boxes, mailboxes, and other surfaces along the avenue, Bauer added.

Vince, the contemporary brand, is expected to have a few New York City stores opening by next weekend. “Our approach will be a phased gradual reopening in New York City aligned with how we have approached each of the markets across the country,” said Daniel Blanpied, vice president of stores. “Hygiene and sanitization are our first priorities and we have diligently adopted new protocols that meet and exceed local/state guidelines.

“Early success has been driven by client outreach and appointment/virtual selling, and based on our learnings from other regions so far, we have every reason to believe our New York City clients will respond well,” Blanpied added. “We’ve worked hard at ensuring we have store environments that our clients feel welcomed back and comfortable shopping in with us. As with many retailers, we have adjusted fixture placement to allow for proper social distancing, installed several hand-sanitizer locations throughout the stores, and increased cleaning protocols with high touch points.…Establishing critical new safety standards that not only allow our customers to feel safe, but also our employees, has been demanding — however, very necessary. [Personal protective equipment] supplies and increased protocols are costly, the largest challenge was securing the supplies. Vendors sold out quickly and therefore had long lead times to get the supplies. We luckily secured our stuff early.”