22-Aug, 04:13

22:27, November 23 147 0

2016-11-23 22:27:19
How Fifth Avenue Is Coping

It is the beginning of the holiday shopping season on Fifth Avenue, even if the festive spirit is dampened a bit by the long guns of stationed police officers and the regular presence of bomb-sniffing dogs.

Some of the city’s most storied stores have found themselves blocked behind police barricades. In the days since the presidential election, protesters have come through angrily, shutting down Fifth Avenue, filling the streets from Trump Tower at East 56th Street down to the Valentino store between 54th and 55th Streets and beyond.

Even when the protesters take their placards elsewhere, camera-wielding gawkers loiter on the sidewalk, gazing up at the tower where Donald J. Trump, the president-elect, is taking meetings.

Pedestrian access is largely restricted on the east side of Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets, where Mr. Trump both lives and works. So outside Tiffany’s, Trump Tower’s neighbor to the north, and Gucci, whose Fifth Avenue flagship is within the tower (though with its own entrance), scarf-wearing employees have been dispatched to the sidewalk, doing their best to usher shoppers, following police bag checks, past the barricades.

In the final months of the Obama presidency, as the president-elect plans his transition, Trump Tower has become the seat of power. For neighboring retailers, the congestion, the blockages, the protests and the occasional street closures have already affected foot traffic and are a cause for concern: The holiday season accounts for an outsize stake of retail business.

“You always hear the number 40 percent for Christmas,” said Dan Biederman, the president of the 34th Street Partnership, a neighboring Business Improvement District.

On a recent weekday, Maria Mammis, a regular visitor and Fifth Avenue shopper from Montreal, was walking by the barricades as quickly as she could in teetering stilettos. “I’ll avoid all these shops,” she said. “We’re avoiding this whole area. It’s terrible.”

Few retailers care to admit they are worried. Major brands, including Louis Vuitton, Armani and Polo Ralph Lauren, all of which have stores nearby, declined to comment; inside stores, clerks and security guards said they were specifically instructed not to talk about anything “political.”

For those who would, a spirit of make-do reigns.

“We’ve been through a lot of different things,” said Jeff Bennett, a market vice president of Tiffany who oversees the Fifth Avenue flagship. “We’ve been a resilient New Yorker for nearly 180 years.”

The company has been in frequent communication with the New York Police Department and the Secret Service regarding safety and security, and decided to cancel two events in the immediate aftermath of the election: one celebrating its capsule collection with Eddie Borgo on Nov. 10 (it was rescheduled for early December) and one to unveil the holiday windows on Nov. 14.

Nevertheless, the holiday windows are up and customers are finding their way around the obstructions, Mr. Bennett said. (Helping Tiffany is the fact that the store also has an entrance on East 57th Street.) Tiffany declined to discuss specifics of foot traffic or sales numbers.

“For international tourists, it’s creating a little bit of excitement,” Mr. Bennett said. “Occasionally, when it’s appropriate, the police and our Tiffany ambassadors are taking pictures. The combination of our ambassadors and the N.Y.P.D. out there, it’s creating a nice environment.”

For one couple, who wanted to get engaged at Tiffany, the aid of “a very understanding member of New York’s Finest” became “a memorable part of their proposal and their lives together,” Mr. Bennett said.

A representative for Gucci declined to comment on how the agitation and blockages had affected the store.

The response from the city was not initially sympathetic. “I will not tell you that Gucci and Tiffany are my central concerns in life,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a news conference held outside of Trump Tower, following a meeting with the president-elect on Nov. 16.

But at a subsequent news conference on Nov. 18, the mayor and the police commissioner, James P. O’Neill, announced their intention to keep Fifth Avenue open, following three temporary closures in the immediate aftermath of the election and the protests that followed.

“We are devoted to making sure the city will keep moving,” Mr. de Blasio said. “This is a big challenge and an unprecedented challenge, we know that. We’re committed to making it work.”

He said that he was “very concerned to make sure that businesses continue to thrive, continue to be able to serve their customers and do well,” but also asked that New Yorkers avoid the area between 53rd and 57th Streets, between Madison Avenue and Avenue of the Americas, “to the maximum extent possible,” a request not likely to please those retailers in this high-priced luxury corridor, where rents can run a reported $5,000 per square foot.

(The commotion has already raised the hackles of the Momofuku restaurateur David Chang, who has tweeted his displeasure at traffic disruptions on 56th Street, where his Má Pêche restaurant is.)

On Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th alone, there are stores for Abercrombie & Fitch and Prada, as well as the multiunit Crown Building at 730 Fifth Avenue, home to Mikimoto, Piaget and Bulgari. Ermenegildo Zegna plans to open a store there. Jason Maurer, the leasing agent for the property, declined to discuss the building.

“We are hopeful that a solution can be found to address the security concerns while allowing for New York residents and visitors to continue enjoying Fifth Avenue, the country’s pre-eminent shopping district,” Joshua Schulman, the president of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus International, wrote in a statement. “We were pleased to unveil our holiday windows on Tuesday, November 15 without any issues, and we have not modified our hours of operation or our entrances.”

But those in the epicenter of the ongoing commotion are likely in for continued disruption, especially given the announcement that Melania Trump and the couple’s son, Barron, are to stay in New York until the end of the school year. The president-elect plans to move to the White House, said Hope Hicks, a spokeswoman for Mr. Trump, though speculation endures that he will continue to spend time in New York.

“It’s going to be terrible for those poor retailers that are between 55th and 57th,” said Joseph Sitt, the chief executive of Thor Equities, a landlord, developer and leasing agent with commercial properties up and down Fifth. “Everyone between 55th and 57th has a nightmare on their hands.”

Representatives of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District, which includes the area, did not respond to requests for comment.

At Henri Bendel, on Fifth Avenue between 55th and 56th, anti-Trump protests had forced the store to close a few times and to reschedule a holiday shopping event.

“We obviously have been affected by that,” said Pina Ferlisi, Bendel’s creative director. “We had to close three times, as a lot of other businesses in the area had to.”

The store’s holiday display, a “Love Wall” of painted hearts by the artist James Goldcrown, ended up being “kind of timely,” Ms. Ferlisi said. Mr. Goldcrown was at Henri Bendel installing the wall the night after the election, as protests raged outside.

“I don’t think any of us really knew what we were in for,” he said. “It was just bonkers. It was very exciting, actually.”

Asked whether business has since returned to normal, Ms. Ferlisi said that Bendel is busy. “Our focus is on giving our customers the best holiday shopping experience on Fifth Avenue,” she said. “It’s the new normal.”

Shoppers are adjusting as well.

“I was determined to buy sunglasses,” said Marina Rabinovich, a Brooklynite who had a stroller with her infant — and bags from Christian Louboutin and Tiffany — in tow. “The barricades don’t bother me. For New Yorkers, it’s not a problem.”

Indeed, said Mr. Sitt, Trump Tower could serve as a boon to retailers a few blocks south, functioning as a new tourist attraction and “anchor” for Fifth Avenue. South of “bedlam,” as he called the area between 55th and 57th on Fifth, “they’re doing business like they haven’t done it in a while.”

“Their business are booming, booming, booming,” Mr. Sitt said. “Somebody joked with me that they’re even getting tons of business from the protesters. It’s come, protest, shop.”