The (Complicated) Upscaling of the Fulton Mall

December 12 2012

For those of you who work here, you know that the Fulton Mall is changing. It's changing either too quickly or too slowly, depending upon your perspective. I had heard that Sephora was opening on the Mall, further cementing the efforts to create another version of the brand experience on East 86th Street, or Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan — Panera, Shake Shack, H & M, Raymour and Flanagan et al.  The Upper West Side used to be a shopping wasteland, and in less than a decade, has turned into a showcase for national brands.

Middle-brow national brands are opening on the Mall, alongside small shops that hawk vinyl and human hair wigs and $25 copies of Prada shoes, along with discount bling jewelry and the Brooklyn Tabernacle. The big news, though, is that Century 21 (a highly edited version of the Cortlandt Street flagship store) is going to open on the Mall, along with Armani A/X. High-end condos are being built in adjoining side streets, and NYU has just signed a lease forThe Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) in the current MTA building at 370 Jay Street. On their website, NYU states that “CUSP will create an applied science institute in New York that will make the city a world capital of science and technology, educating the next generation of engineers in how to apply that research, and creating a indispensible industry—along with the many jobs that go with it.” Very aspirational, and will bring many more students into the neighborhood. At the same time, I saw a man wearing a “sandwich” board on my street the other day, letting passers-by know that Bakers (the inexpensive fast-fashion shoe retailer that was a longtime retailer on 34th Street near Herald Square) is going out of business. This means that yet another business that has served the existing Mall consumer is going down, and out.

So, various questions arise. Will all of the small funky retailers and fast food joints depart, and how long will it take for the hi-low cacophony of the neighborhood to disappear? Will it ever really do so? Where will the audience for the dollar stores and Jamaican patty restaurants shop and eat? In the march towards creating a new nexus for retail, education, and domestic bliss, does anyone care? Interestingly enough, the Broadway and St. Marks area around NYU has retained its street flavor, although it does not house the same kind of upscale brands as the new Fulton Mall. Will the Mall become the destination for middle-class shoppers that the Atlantic Center was supposed to be? Will the Downtown Brooklyn Bid launch a marketing campaign communicating the new brand positioning of the Fulton Mall? I’m curious, aren’t you?