28 June 2007

Shopping Satisfaction

Even though we were only in New York for a couple of days, we did manage to get in some shopping, which to me is always one of the key reasons for going to New York. There's always a store or two that doesn't exist anywhere else, or has just come to the US from Europe or Asia and, naturally, chosen New York for its first US location.

This time around, the store I really wanted to check out was Uniqlo. They are a Japanese-based clothing company, and their flagship store on Broadway in SoHo opened in November. It's a multilevel place that is the largest in the entire chain at over 35,000 square feet (according to their web site). The store's design is somewhat reminiscent of an Apple store, with white walls, light wood flooring, and wide, open staircases, and is entirely in keeping with a Japanese aesthetic. The shelves climb to the ceiling and are stacked with column after column of neatly folded clothing arranged by color (quite beautiful to behold for someone like me).

The merchandising reminds me a little of H&M, but Uniqlo's styles are far less trendy and much more classic casual (perfect for me), and the clothing is certainly of better quality than anything H&M could hope to produce. Also, the few times I've stepped inside an H&M, the men's clothing felt like an afterthought, whereas men and women are given equal treatment at Uniqlo, which made it a worthwhile trip for both me and the Mrs, who picked up half a dozen assorted tops.

Unlike much of retailing these days, the store's prices are reasonable across the board; $39.50 seemed to be the magic price point for jeans and dress shirts, but this isn't the time of year when I'm likely to shop for those items. Well, that's not entirely true; I've been looking for a pair of off-white jeans since last summer, but no one seems to have them this year either. I did indeed find them at Uniqlo, and on sale for only $19.50, but they only came in one cut, and it was way too low-waisted and snug for my middle-aged midsection (and dignity).

I did come away with a pair of Bermuda-length madras shorts, a pair of bright blue boxers with pink flamingos on them, and three polo shirts. The polos were offered in about 30 colors and two fits, far more than a typical store would carry. I couldn't find one color I wanted in my size; a clerk noticed me rooting through a stack and offered to get one for me. He zipped up the stairs and returned with it a couple of minutes later. Every employee I came in contact with was extremely friendly and polite, not something you always expect to encounter in New York
, or for that matter, anywhere in retail these days (as a matter of fact, our dinner waiters both Friday and Saturday nights were extremely indifferent and indolent).

I imagine that Uniqlo will get around to opening a store in Boston eventually (it seems like an obvious market for them), but I don't want to speculate as to how long that will take. I heard recently that Zara, which is sort of Spain's equivalent of Banana Republic, will have a store in the old Filene's building (it seems funny to write that) when its redevelopment into a multi-use complex is finished two years from now. Maybe the developers should use that approach and go after other retailers who do not currently have a presence in the Northeast, and try to make Boston more of a shopping destination for people who don't get to New York with any frequency.

In the meantime, I will have to be content with shopping at Uniqlo when we visit New York, which means I'll have to try to visit New York more often, until they open a store here.

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