Monday, September 19, 2005

The Rise of the Microboutique

In January, New York magazine ran a feature, the Rise of the Microneighborhood. The piece focused on a few blocks of Bleecker that had seemingly overnight become a downtown version of Fifth Avenue (Marc Jacobs, Lulu Guinness, etc.).

To this trend, we can now add the Rise of the Microboutique. Just a few blocks east on Bleecker Street is Emerge NYC (between Broadway and Lafayette), self-proclaimed as “the future of retail.” Of course, the future of retail has been touted more than once recently, from the annoying NikeID “store” in Nolita that isn't open to the public, to "pop-up" retailing. But in this case, while it may not be the “future of retail,” it’s probably no microfad, either.

Like a curated art show, Emerge NYC, open about a month now, is a selection of emerging designers of fashion and art – jewelry, clothes, rare books, bags, etc. – arranged in what amounts to an urbanized version of a 3,500 square-foot indoor market. The 26 tiny boutiques are an affordable way for designers to get a piece of real estate on highly trafficked block in Manhattan and for shoppers to get one-on-one contact with designers. The space itself has the potential to become a marketplace of ideas for the designers themselves to feed off each other’s creativity. If the developers of Emerge NYC are successful in branding their vision, the designers will be able to say they were selected to show in this exclusive collection of Miniboutiques.

Of course, the whole thing depends heavily on foot traffic. This model doesn’t work on a desolate urban street or in an auto-oriented suburb. And there really isn’t anything revolutionary about the business incubator model. So, perhaps it is a bit of an overstatement that this is the future of retail, but it certainly has the feel of a successful model that brings together proven concepts under one roof.