Madison Avenue shoppers looking for the best in luxury footwear increasingly don’t have far to walk.
In the span of just two New York blocks — bookended by 74th Street to the south and 76th to the north — they can stop in at Christian Louboutin, Aquazzura, Gianvito Rossi, Aquatalia, Golden Goose, Stubbs & Wootton and, as of last month, Alexandre Birman in a concentration of key shoe players virtually unmatched outside of department stores.
This, of course, is no accident. “There was a time when you would only shop in a department store for shoes, because if there was a relevant trend, you’d want to be able to go from brand to brand,” explained Karen Bellantoni, vice chairman at retail brokerage firm RKF, pointing to the shoe floor at Saks Fifth Avenue as an example of how successful this concept can be.
She has orchestrated deals with several shoe brands in the area and said the cluster of shops creates a similar experience: “If Louboutin doesn’t fit, then why don’t I go over and try Gianvito Rossi? Or why don’t I go and walk into Aquazzura?”
The first brand to stake its claim on the territory was Louboutin, which opened up shop at 965 Madison Ave. in 2007 and in 2015 expanded next door for a total of more than 9,000 square feet, including separate but linked spaces for its men’s and women’s collections.
The success of the Louboutin store was a major draw for other brands in the category, said Bellantoni. Over a period when brick-and-mortar retail was trending downward overall and competition from online players was heating up, the location drew significant-enough foot traffic to nearly double in size. Several of the brands that came in later, like Aquazzura, which opened its “church of shoes” in 2016, were also acquainted with the area through selling at Intermix, whose store at Madison and 77th has long been among its most profitable.
While the stretch is a few blocks north of the legendary Gold Coast shopping corridor (which is typically said to run from 57th Street to 72nd Street), brands still get to reap the benefits of a tony Madison Avenue address while enjoying more palatable rents.
According to Greg Tannor, executive vice president and chairman at Lee & Associates, average rental rates in the 70s are around $400 to $700 per square foot, versus between $1,000 and $1,400 in the 60s. And while Louboutin is an exception to the rule, most want fairly modest footprints of around 1,000 square feet, said Bellantoni, along with good storage and attractive frontage, which these spaces provide. Some, like Birman’s debut U.S. store, are even smaller at 600 square feet.
Retailers in the area benefit from their proximity to the high-density residential neighborhoods of the 70s and 80s. According to census data, the median household income for the area is $115,681 per year, making it among the most affluent in the city, attracting professionals with ample disposable income and families, thanks to nearby private schools.
While wealthy shoppers will head to the 60s for big-ticket purchases like jewelry or watches, according to Tannor, locals tend to venture closer to home for their everyday fashion purchases. “In terms of the shoppers and consumer habits,” he said, “[shoe brands] want to be positioned near Intermix, where a man or a woman is going in and getting a dress for the night or some new clothing for the weekend and then going next door to a shoe store or two to match their shoes to their new outfit.”
The area is also home to several hotels that cater to the well-heeled tourist, including the Carlyle, the Surrey and the Mark Hotel. And with the Met Breuer opening in 2016 in the building that once housed the Whitney Museum, the neighborhood’s cultural life has been reinvigorated in recent years. (Plus, with an Apple Store down the block, foot traffic is guaranteed.)
So while luxury brands may face more competition by opening up shop next to one another, this competition breeds business.
“By clustering together, the shoe brands understand that there will be more shoppers to a place with similar customer bases, creating foot traffic and retail synergy,” explained Faith Hope Consolo, chairman of Douglas Elliman’s retail leasing and sales division.
Though Soho may be an equally strong shopping district, the Upper East Side has an advantage in this respect: Shoppers needn’t traverse a whole neighborhood to hit multiple stores — everything they need is on Madison.
In addition to bolstering the image of a luxury brand, the prestige of the neighborhood and its equally high-end neighbors serves a practical purpose. “With today’s omnichannel shopper, retailers need to ensure that their brick-and-mortar locations are in a central location for their target audience in order to survive and thrive,” said Consolo. “We have become a culture of convenience, where the perception of accessibility is key; the agglomeration of these luxury shoe brands benefits all.”