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Luxury Stores Are “Popping Up” All Over

Posted on 18 June 2010

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By Anetta Nowosielska

Contrary to popular belief, that popping sound you’ve been hearing throughout the East End has little to do with Veuve Clicquot bottles during cocktail hour. Pop ups —  a temporary high-end retail venue — have sprung up all over the Hamptons like mushrooms after the rainy season, offering discerning shoppers reasons to rejoice. This year, Asprey, Trina Turk, Hugo Boss, Screaming Mimi’s, Steven Alan, Hermes and Balenciaga, to name a few, will temporarily unload their shiny goods upon our shores.

And while we can’t help but love the convenience of it all, nothing says “Deadville” quite like a post-popped village with boarded-up storefronts in winter months, when retailers, in locust like fashion, have moved onto greener pastures.

Blame it on Comme des Garçons, an avant-garde fashion label from Japan. Back in 2004, in a stroke of marketing genius, a remote neighborhood in the former East Berlin became the first area to host CDG’s Guerrilla store, the original pop up boutique. Many quirky locations, as in shipping crates, public parks, or inside another store altogether, followed, with the caveat that all operations in a particular location would cease within one year. With minimal financial investment, and a “word of mouth” advertising campaign, Guerrilla shops were less luxury destinations and more artist colonies. The idea was to generate buzz about the brand among the hipsters, while gentrifying undesirable communities. Things have come a long way since.

“This trend uses our market as pluckings for their advertising and marketing. And that’s OK,” says Bob Schepps the president of the Southampton Chamber of Commerce. “But when the trend becomes overwhelming and out of balance with what is already on the market then it becomes a problem.” And as per usual, the problem boils down to numbers.

“The store will only be open for the four peak summer months,” said Robert Chavez, CEO of Hermès USA. “We want to do at least two or three summer seasons to get a read on what the potential is. If it’s very strong, we’d look to do something on a more permanent basis.”

Such state of one-sided flux could easily be resolved if only the landlords, too afraid to lose out on tenants with big budgets, were as concerned about the welfare of their communities as they are with their bottom line. With rents of up to $200 a square foot, only companies with deep pockets can afford a presence on our swanky blocks. So leading up to summer months, landlords have taken the “wait and see” attitude about potential occupants for retail spaces, hoping to score a tenant of the Hermes persuasion. Leases, which historically lasted 10 years, are now being offered for as short as five month periods. Money issues aside, we reckon that dealing with a renter for only five months surely beats handling leaking ceilings and toilet problems for “mom and pop” shops all year round, doesn’t it?

Not so much if you are a full time Hampton resident. Sure, for the summer crowd this temporary presence of luxury brands means less packing for the weekend (who, after all wants to schlep their finest china to the beach bungalow, when you’ve got Asprey on the corner?) And yes, we can argue that this “easy come, easy go” retail trend is absolutely in tune with the short attention span of an average consumer, who is on a never ending quest for another satisfying shopping experience. But what’s good for summer renters is not all that great for many Hamptonites, who feel like Cinderella’s ugly stepsisters.

“The pop up shops while exciting and full of great fashion and design, which I love, are part of a vicious cycle that is leaving full time businesses in town wondering whether they should remain in a village that no longer caters to the year-round customer,” says Pamela Eldridge, the associate publisher of Hamptons Cottages & Gardens Magazine. Strolling down the street during winter months, when most of the poppers have boarded up their windows, can seem like a sad scene from a western (cue tumbleweed rolling down the street.)

Eldridge worries about the message this inactivity sends out: “I would think that prospective home owners coming out to look at property in their new potential village give pause at the site of so many empty spaces in town.”

So how to remedy this polarizing fad?

“Businesses ought to be vested in the communities they profit from,” Schepps suggests and notes Elie Tahari as a perfect example. In order to avoid being subject to real estate tantrums of fickle landlords, Tahari bought the building his boutique is located in.

We would like to offer another name for your consideration. No one popped up better than Stella McCartney. Perhaps we ought to take a hint from this famous Brit, whose weekend Spring’s Fireplace Project fashion production last year  — fancy-garage-sale-meets-barbeque-meets-art-installation —  was the fashion event of the season. No local feathers were ruffled, no contracts had to be negotiated, and legion of McCartney devotees with bags full of merchandise left the affair as happy as clams. Now, if only Mr. Lagerfeld would follow suit and set up shop in the parking lot of Citarella.

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