Retailers Ring in Holidays While Trotting Out the New


Rockefeller Center
The Rockefeller Center Christmans Tree.

Like visions of sugarplums dancing before a retailer’s eyes, cash-dripping tourists are streaming into the city this holiday season. And these shopkeepers are offering the tourists a few visions of their own.

From the window displays of the big-name department stores to the Union Square Holiday Market and the latest new offerings in Soho, ‘tis the season to be jolly for New York City retailers. With the city estimating that 5 million visitors will stream into town between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve, businesses have prepared a holiday feast. The city is again playing host to the decorations that pop culture has made famous, the kiosks that allow smaller retailers to test products and locations and the new rollouts that will set the tone around the country.

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“It’s a very important part of the economy and it’s part of what makes retail in New York so exciting,” said Lisa Rosenthal, a managing director with the Lansco Corporation. “The entire experience of being in New York in the holiday season is a unique positive experience. You get this object, but you also have this warm experience associated with the object because of your experience shopping in New York.”

The millions of out-of-towners flocking to the city will spend a healthy $3.5 billion, according to NYC & Company, the city’s official marketing, tourism and partnership organization. Experts at Deloitte predict national retail sales from November 2014 to January 2015 to rise 4 to 4.5 percent to between $981 to $986 billion (excluding motor vehicles and gasoline), according to the company’s annual survey, and local retailers of all sizes have prepared to cash in.

Saks Fifth Avenue
Saks Fifth Avenue holiday window display.

Tree hugging and window dressing

Rites like the lighting of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree, which performers like Lady Gaga and the Rockettes are slated to usher in before a national television audience at 8:55 p.m. EST the day this article will be published, feed the stores lining Fifth Avenue, Ms. Rosenthal noted.

Meanwhile, Saks Fifth Avenue inaugurated its displays featuring 71,000 lights and 11,000 feet of garlands at its 611 Fifth Avenue flagship on Nov. 24, according to a company release. Macy’s opened its “Dream…and Believe” exhibition at its Herald Square store the week before, while Lord & Taylor, which kicked off its 524 Fifth Avenue holiday display on Nov. 13, anticipates 250,000 passersby a day during the holidays and 8 million visitors between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Such retailers can count on tourist traffic, said Richard Hodos, an executive vice president with CBRE (CBRE).

“They plan their trips to New York based on their Christmas shopping and the display windows; it’s a holiday tradition,” Mr. Hodos said, noting that economic shifts have eliminated any competing holiday setups in other American cities. “It’s a whole thing that’s unfortunately really only in New York.”

Union Square Holiday Market
Union Square Holiday Market. (Union Square Partnership)

This little piggy went to market…

For shoppers eager to sample offerings from local purveyors and artisans, the holiday markets should provide ample opportunity. Patrons can choose from hundreds of novel businesses arranged in tidy tents and carts in mainstays like the Columbus Circle Holiday Market, the Holiday Shops at Bryant Park and the Grand Central Holiday Fair.

Meanwhile, this year’s Union Square Holiday Market started on Nov. 20, with over 150 small businesses at the event that draws 1 million-plus visitors each year, officials at the Union Square Partnership said. The outdoor cornucopia features vendors offering specialty foods, ornaments, toys and jewelry and a new “Little Brooklyn” section.

Returning merchants like the Brooklyn Slate Company, a Red Hook-based producer of black and red stone products, get direct contact with their “target audience” at the five-week event, said the company’s co-founder and third-year vendor Kristy Hadeka.

“There’s a healthy mix of commuters, tourists and people who live in the neighborhood,” Ms. Hadeka said. “The market definitely gives us a lot of exposure; some customers have mentioned that they’ve grown accustomed to seeing us at the market, so I think there’s a heightened awareness and expectation that we’ll be there.”

Lululemon Atletica
Lululemon Atletica menswear. (Lululemon)

New under the sun—or the Christmas tree

Large-scale retailers are also introducing new angles to potential customers this year. One block west of Union Square, a current Eddie Bauer pop-up paying tribute to the Seattle company’s history will change into a flagship store at 100 Fifth Avenue in the spring, according to the outdoor clothing brand.

In Soho, the Samsung Galaxy Studio at 130 Prince Street just finished its first full year offering its mobile products in an “interactive experience for consumers,” said a company spokeswoman, noting that pop-ups with the company’s products will sprout in 10 malls nationwide for the holiday season.

On the other side of Prince Street, the first menswear-only Lululemon Athletica opened its doors on Black Friday this year. The brand is showing off a new approach in the 1,600-square-foot space at 127 Prince Street to recruit more male customers to the women’s wear-associated activewear brand. A women’s-only store will open nearby next year, company officials told Women’s Wear Daily last month.