Skip navigation
Retail Traffic

An Historical Perspective

New York City's history is rich with real estate, with some of the country's most legendary buildings located in the five boroughs. As expected, New Yorkers are fascinated by working and living in these buildings, and now a new trend is emerging: Retailers are looking to set up shop in historic buildings.

Despite the additional planning and approvals that are required when working on a landmarked property, many retailers are finding that the investment pays off in more ways than one. Often, a historical location will give a retailer additional cachet, and shoppers enjoy the unique and grand setting.

One leader in this movement is Grand Central Terminal, one of New York City's most famous — and well-traveled — landmarks. The terminal, originally opened in 1913, was in decline in the 1950s. There was talk of demolition to make space for a new office tower. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, however, designated the building a landmark in 1967, and the property underwent a massive restoration and renovation that lasted two years, from 1996 to 1998. Today, Grand Central is a sought-after venue for events, with restaurants, cocktail lounges, shops and the Grand Central Market, home to purveyors of fine foods from New York City and around the world.

IBEX Construction has worked on a number of these types of retail projects in the city. Currently, we are involved in the construction of a New York City flagship store in for gourmet food retailer Balducci's, a highly regarded food company. The new specialty food store will be located in the grand New York Savings Bank building, on Eighth Avenue and 14th Street in Manhattan.

The landmark building was designed by R.H. Robertson in the Academic Classic style popularized by the World's Columbian Exposition, and was constructed in 1896 and 1897. It features a vaulted plaster ceiling underneath a dome and drum, Siena marble pilasters and wainscoting, stained-glass windows and bronze window muntins. It was designated a historic property by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission in June 1988.

As part of the new store, which was designed by New York City architect Steve Rabinoff, IBEX is working around the building's single, narrow entrance on Eighth Avenue and constructing an additional floor to the property that will create a building within a building feel for shoppers visiting the 30,000-square-foot location. The new shop will feature fresh produce, prepared foods, a delicatessen and a world-renowned cheese and wine selection. It is expected to open this spring.

In 2003, IBEX completed a new, three-level Façonnable store located in Rockefeller Center. Designated a landmark in 1985, Rockefeller Center occupies more than 20 acres and is home to 20 buildings, although the most famous structure is the sunken plaza that is transformed into a skating rink in the winter, under the traditional Christmas tree.

The Rockefeller Center Façonnable, designed by Huntley Architecture of Seattle, features a grand staircase connecting the men's clothing department on the first floor with the women's department on the second floor. The design reflects the modern, sophisticated clientele of New York, with luxurious fabrics and rich materials used throughout.

Reminiscent of Nice-based Façonnable's roots as an exclusive European tailor establishment, the boutique maintains the elegant yet comfortable shopping experience for which the brand is known.

Beige marble from Chassagne, a small village in France, welcomes customers at each of the main entrances on Fifth Avenue and 51st Street. Elegant wood paneling shapes the boutique's structure to evoke the history of the European tailor shop. Dark wenge wood, an exotic flooring material from West Africa, contrasts with the smoothly finished white of the custom casework, creating an open and comfortable atmosphere. Wood is recalled on the finishes of fixtures, this time with a modern interpretation in its clean shape and simple attitude. French doors, leather period pieces, classic lighting and unique found objects recall a traditional feeling, which is interspersed with modern steel and glass.

One example of the unique use of a historic building is Manhattan's first and much-celebrated Home Depot, which opened on 23rd Street between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in 2004. The designedby Greenberg Farrow and built by IBEX, is situated in two 19th century buildings — one of them a cast-iron property constructed in 1865. The new, 120,000-square-foot store is built up, not out, and encompasses a street-level showroom, lower-level retail floor and a mezzanine featuring design products.

Even though the property itself was not landmarked, it is located in a landmarked district, giving the city review rights on the project. Due to landmark restrictions, the facade couldn't be altered, but the interior played off the property's historic character with accent details on the mezzanine and lower level.

Retailers continue to evolve in meeting the needs of consumers and providing them with a unique and memorable shopping experience. As competition increases, retailers will take advantage of New York's wealth of historical properties to create new and exciting shopping destinations.

President of IBEX Construction

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.