Retail is Healthy—Literally

Gyms, juice bars and wellness centers are a huge success story in this otherwise bleak retail landscape



If you follow lifestyle trends and you’re observing what is happening on the streets of New York, then you’ll believe me when I say that retail is healthy.

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Today, health and wellness retail is invigorating the industry the most. Take a walk around the Flatiron District, stroll through Tribeca and up the Upper East Side or cross the river into Dumbo, Brooklyn and you’ll quickly notice that building owners are merchandizing their properties to further reflect New Yorker’s steadfast commitment to a healthy lifestyle.

Neighborhoods that were once segmented as residential, financial, commercial or industrial districts are being redeveloped and morphing to accommodate changing demographics and consumer habits.

A recent Nielsen Health & Wellness survey found that 88 percent of people polled are willing to pay more for healthful foods, and healthy, active consumers have shown that they are more than willing to pay a premium to join specialty fitness studios, which offer superior service and a unique experience.

It’s a fact that when health and wellness retailers cluster in neighborhoods, other brands desired by both consumers and landlords take notice and follow.

It makes a great deal of sense for athleisure brands like Lululemon Athletica or healthful juice brands to secure a location in close proximity to a cluster of fitness offerings like Soul Cycle and Equinox. As retailers have quickly learned over the last few years, consumers prefer an experiential retail environment that goes well beyond the transactional toward one that creates a memorable, immersive and dynamic experience—even creating a community.

Smart retailers understand that they benefit from the dedicated health and wellness traffic that is repeatable, bankable and can offer sustainable growth.

Many retailers across all channels have already seized the opportunity leveraging the health and wellness consumer trend as a growth strategy and a way to differentiate themselves to find customers. For many brands, health and wellness has become just what the doctor ordered.

Not too far away, in Dumbo, creative startups have flocked to the area, attracted by stunning views of Manhattan, charming cobblestone streets and easy access from the city. And as young professionals and tourists have followed, retail and dining options have exploded, transforming the once-industrial area into a vibrant live-work-play destination.

Just steps from the iconic Brooklyn Bridge, the waterfront, the East River Ferry and some of the borough’s best parks and eateries, Dumbo Heights—an ambitious five- building mixed-use, urban campus on the waterfront in the heart of Brooklyn (where RKF formerly represented owenership)—is near the offices of some of the 700 tech and creative startups that call Dumbo home, including Huge, Tunecore, SongKick, Now What, SmallPlanet Digital and Quip.

So it made perfect sense when fitness brands Yoga Vida, Shadow Box and Row House joined healthy food and beverage retailers Mulberry & Vine as well as RKF client Bluestone Lane in making their way to the corridor at Dumbo Heights. Today each tenant is playing its own role in a synergistic athleisure and fitness atmosphere that will appeal to residents as well as workers in the neighborhood. It is these clusters of health and wellness options that create a perfect combination and exemplify a retail trend that is here to stay.

As more New Yorkers prefer to get hydrated at nearby specialty juices stores, and frequently partake of chef-driven, fast-casual restaurants where all ingredients are traceable—all within a few blocks from each other—retailers will continue to adapt to their habits, creating routes and walking patterns designed for like-minded consumers that want to frequent a range of health and wellness options on the same outing.

Robert K. Futterman is the chairman and CEO of RKF, a leading retail real estate brokerage firm in the U.S.