Friday, April 20, 2012

EVG repost: When the Gap moved into the East Village

We first posted this item on Jan. 15, 2010 ... Given all the talk about a certain chain/franchise opening on St. Mark's Place, we thought it was a good time to revisit this one...

A reader comment from last Friday's post on the St. Marks Cinema:

I remember when the Gap opened — and one of the local street peeps dropped his drawers, backed up and shat directly on the big plate glass window. The East Village was very creative, vocally and fecally, about expressing its opinion on the encroaching gentrification...

Indeed, an article from May 4, 1988, in Women's Wear Daily discussed the neighborhood's reaction to the Gap, which opened at St. Mark's and Second Avenue in March 1988. They paid some $33,000 in monthly rent, which pretty much blew the curve for any other merchant.

Here are some passages from the article, which isn't online:


The Gap's move onto St. Marks Place here has not engendered neighborly love. Far from it.

The situation is a dramatic example of how sportswear chains, in the fight for market positioning, have come to be seen as harbingers of change in older, deteriorated neighborhoods, bringing with them the threat of escalating rents and a squeeze on smaller retailers.

Reaction to the 4,000-square-foot store, which opened March 16, ranges from quiet discontent to strident opposition. Similarly, when the 700-unit chain opened on the corner of Haight & Ashbury Streets in San Francisco last year, locals picketed the store and threw eggs at the windows for several days.

A frequent response to the glare of The Gap's fluorescent lights has been, "There goes the neighborhood." The store, at the corner of St. Marks Place and Second Avenue, is at the intersection of the East Village's two primary shopping streets.

The East Village is unquestionably on the move; opinions vary on whether the direction of the move is to be applauded. The Gap could be the magnet that attracts other retail chains to the area and changes the face of the neighborhood forever.

Many observers predict the arrival of The Gap will speed gentrification and push out long-time tenants. It is an old story reminiscent of other areas of the city -- the West Village, Columbus Avenue and lower Broadway. Local retailers fear rents will soar and they will be forced to leave. Some stores have already relocated to side streets.


While landlords cheer the appreciation of their proporety, tenants boo the deterioration of another bohemian mecca.

"The East Village is original. There is nothing like it," said Christine Braun, manager of Trash & Vaudeville, a store known for its funky to contemporary clothes. "But slowly it's changing and the Gap is a sign that there will be more."

According to Braun, there is a new clientele on St. Marks adhering to the norm and rejecting the underground values that once prevailed. "These kids have credit cards. Years ago they never did."

Retailers credit the unique boutiques for improving East Village shopping traffic and doubt The Gap will lure people downtown. They also argue that The Gap's clothing would not compete with their merchandise. Some mentioned that they only thing The Gap might do is assuage those tourists who are intimidated by the neighborhood.


Pete Mayo, owner of East Village Leather, on St. Marks Place, elaborated: "Anyone who has a lease pending hasn't got a shot in hell." He signed a lease in October 1987 -- "probably the last one on the block before The Gap moved in" -- at a fifth of The Gap's price.

Mayo's partner also owns St. Marks Leather, which until three years ago shared The Gap's space along with Shazaam, a designer boutique, and the St. Marks Theater. He and Mayo opened East Village Leather because the lease at St. Marks Leather will be up for renewal soon and they wanted to insure a spot on the block.

"Who knows what will be happening here with rents then?" said Mayo. "It's getting to the point where the small retailers are having to grab what they can. Many are moving off St. Marks and Second Avenue to the side streets, like Fifth between First and Second Avenues. Only about four businesses have been on this block for over 10 years."

"Mayo, like most of those interviewed, expressed a desire to see the new Gap fail. Residents want to it to close on principle. They say The Gap is ruining the neighborhood.

"There are tour buses coming down the block now," said a 10-year veteran of St. Marks Place. "On Sunday afternoon it's scary with all the blue blazers and gold buttons."

One East Village painter was so angry the night after the store opened that he threw a cinder block at the full length glass windows. They didn't break. "The windows buckled, but after three blows I gave up," he said.


Garrick Aug Associates, one of the largest commercial store leasing companies here, arranged the deal for The Gap in the East Village. According to Faith Consolo, vice president of Garrick Aug, The Gap pays $100 per square foot annually. Rent on the 4,000-square-foot-store is therefore $33,333 per month. It is "absolutely" the most money paid in the block's history, according to Consolo.

"The Gap has broken the barrier of what that area is all about," said Consolo. "It will be the anchor. The Gap will have the same impact as Tower Records did the same impact as Tower Records did on lower Broadway. And the East Village will eventually like lower Broadway or Columbus Avenue. There will be less color and more sophistication."

Consolo predicted the East Village would have fewer galleries, restaurants, and family-run shops. "Chain stores are interested in the East Village now, sophisticated merchants, both national and local."


Charles FitzGerald, landlord, store owner and resident of the East Village, elaborated on The Gap's appearance and influence on the area: "The Gap could have used the corner space to experiment with new merchandising techniques that would appeal more to the local customer rather than just putting up the formula store."

FitzGerald sees The Gap's effects from two perspectives -- as a landlord and as a long-time resident. He arrived on St. Marks Place in 1959. Seven years later, he purchased 9 St. Marks -- where he lives and also operates Bowl & Board, a home goods store -- and, a year after, 12 St. Marks. In 1984, FitzGerlad bought 33 St. Marks Place, adjacent to the site of the new Gap.

"As a real estate owner, it is obviously positive," declared FitzGerald. "Property goes up in value and there is an inferred stability with The Gap's presence."

"Now I can get the money to renovate the building. I wasn't able to before The Gap or something like it came in and stepped up the area to a new retailing plateau." FitzGerald has been losing money on the building from the start.

As a longtime resident, FitzGerald would like to see the area go back to the way it was in the Sixties but realizes it just won't happen. "Because of the low rents -- when I moved here I paid $20 per month with a bunch of people -- there was opportunity for the individual's creativity. Everything was new and that's what made the East Village a vital place.

"Slowly our neighborhood has undergone the transformation from being a caldron of creativity to a standard business operation. You used to have to do something very individual to get people here."

He doubts whether The Gap will last in its new locale, noting that people go to the East Village to get away from the mid-America image The Gap projects. He said the same merchandise with a different name carrying a less negative connotation might go over fine.


Many interviewed ... said The Gap is always empty. "No one has been flocking there so far," said Bellomo. Among the few customers on a Friday afternoon were a couple of Dutch tourists. "I was surprised to see it here," said one. "I heard people outside complaining, but I heard they had cheap jeans."

Jean Martinez, another Gap customer, also found The Gap on St. Marks an odd sight. "It sticks out like a sore thumb. I didn't want to come in but my husband needed jeans really badly," she said. "I said to him I hope no one I know sees me in here."

Corporate executives of The Gap, based in San Bruno, Calif., declined to be interviewed for this article, but Greg Odem, assistant manager of the East Village store, took issue with those who said things were dull inside: "We are busy at night and on the weekends. The adult store (a Gap Kids shares the space) is above corporate projections. We didn't expect the store to be doing as well so soon."

Odem said the store generated more than $1,000 a day and added that it was already evident the store would make it on Second Avenue. Although the store has entrances on St. Marks Place and Second Avenue, the chain opted to go with the 133 Second Avenue address.

"They think we are destroying the East Village image, but like everywhere else, they will accept it," said Odem. "It's just going to take some getting used to one both our parts. Besides, developers were already planning to revamp the area. We just happened to be the first to move in."

He admitted, though, that there was resistance: "We get stickers on our window asking, 'Why are you here?' or saying 'Go away' and so forth every morning."



The St. Mark's location closed in 2001, one of the eight Gap stores that were shuttered in 2001 and 2002.

The corner today....


Anonymous said...

Back in 1991 or 1992 (so long ago, can't remember) back in my rough and tumble poverty days, I got a job there. I lasted three days because my boyfriend visited me there and yelled at one of the workers for treating me like a slave. Hahahah! I quit the next day I think.

I had not hope of lasting there anyway. Every morning the manager would open a huge binder and ask each of us, "What are you wearing that's Gap?" They wanted us to be wearing some Gap clothes every day. I was so poor, I asked if I could have an advance so I could buy some of their clothes to wear while on the floor. No dice.

It's crazy what kind of memories were jogged from this post!

DrBOP said...

Simply, thanks for this EV. This is exactly the type of history we need.

And Levon:+(((...

Anonymous said...

7-11 opened Wednesday. Can't believe you didn't report that after all those 7-11 posts!

Anonymous said...

It think both the St. Mark's Gap and the neighborhood influenced each other. The St. Mark's Gap may have continued to usher in gentrification, but when I visited the store in the late 90s (when Gap was still a dominant retail presence), it was pretty scrappy and still using the old logo from the 80s.

Cookiepuss said...

I prefer the Gap to Blue & Cream. A much more horrifying sign of the times than the stupid Gap.

At least back in the day we still had some places to hang onto, but now there isn't much left.

It wasn't really until luxury decontrol (which allowed landlords to charge market rate rent when they got the existing rent above $2000) an the zoning changes in lower manhattan, that everybody tried to capitalize, East Villagers were no exception.

People always make the point that gentrification started a long time ago. Since the eighties people have been saying that the neighborhood is on a path towards gentrification.

I don't think that the gentrification of the past is anything like this. I have never seen anything like this. People who have moved out of the neighborhood ,or who own real estate, or who have businesses that started out in the area but then multiplied to other locations in NYC and even gone national, tend to cite the gentrification of the eighties. Bullshit. No contest.

Anonymous said...

400 yrs ago manhattoes occupied the east village, you folks gentrified it from them. gimme a break.

Anonymous said...

The GAP was the beginning..Starbucks are really ok--I always hang out there and they allow people to use the facilities..the 2nd Ave. Starbucks is a cool place.

Jeremiah Moss said...

i love this historical check-in, but i never minded the Gap. it's nothing compared to the Starbucks, Subways, and 7-11's, which are everywhere and aim for omnipresence. Gaps at least space themselves out, instead of one every other block.

i think that's part of the difference that Cookiepuss is talking about--it used to be we had some chains here and there, and now it's an onslaught.

the other chains also replace local businesses--Starbucks puts cafes out of business, 7-11 kills bodegas, and Subways, eh...but i wonder where do people shop for clothes if you can't afford expensive indie boutiques and you're too old (and employed) for thrift store stuff?

not to defend the Gap here, but i've been thinking about this chain thing lately.

Lisa said...

I'm with Anonymous @ 12:24.

You nostalgia-hounds conveniently forget that your own presence in the EV represented "gentrification" to another, earlier group of residents.

To regard oneself as the exception is the rule.

Cookiepuss said...

Yeah, but unfortunately I also mean that there isn't much left of the neighborhood, because literally that's just the way it is, aside from the chains. The debate about the chains is complex as to how it pertains to class and capital, and still only an element of gentrification. On the one hand Subway is everywhere, but for many people that's what they can afford around here. There used to be Blimpie, but they disappeared. Starbucks, I think that they will stick around. Their items are more expensive and attract a different crowd than Subway.

Also, long time EV business owners and long time East Villagers who own property, have always owned property, use the gentrification of the past as justification for business ventures today. They also like to point the finger at the chains yet they support the proliferation of expensive restaurants and clubs under the guise that they are small local businesses. I am trying to say too much, but primarily that the gentrification of the past is nothing like it is now, this is beyond gentrification.

Also, East Village business owners who have some kind of asset, particularly businesses with liquor licenses, or businesses that are a brand, as well as building and land owners, use the gentrification of the past as justification for turning an old restaurant into a sleek upscale lounge, or a piece of land into a luxury condo building with apartments going from 3 to 6 million. These people always say we saw it coming, that gentrification started a long time ago. People like this say that they've lived in the area for thirty, forty years, they give money to the different non-profits and arts organizations as a way of shutting people up and making them seem like they are for preserving the neighborhood and supportive of artists, when they are actually doing the opposite.