A few months before Jeffrey Kalinsky opened the doors of his Meatpacking District boutique in August 1999, he stood in the middle of 14th street and made a declaration.
“Someone was taking my photo, and I said this was going to be the new center of New York. It’s wild, I felt like I could see it,” said Kalinsky.
At the time, the neighborhood was starting to emerge. Now it’s a hotbed of activity. “No one ever thought it would become what it has become today,” said Kalinsky, who grew up in the business under the tutelage of his legendary father, the late Morris Kalinsky.
Jeffrey Kalinsky remembers excitedly calling his dad after he inked the lease on the location, which is between 9th and 10th avenues. “It’s my favorite part of the city. The proximity to the water makes me so happy. There’s a lot of public space. The Whitney is an amazing cultural building. We have great hotels, and Pastis is back, which makes me infinitely happy. There’s so much to love,” said Kalinsky, who sold a majority stake in his business to Nordstrom in 2005.
As the neighborhood drastically changed in the past two decades, so did the fashion industry. The executive said he misses the old, more personal way of doing business, but he remains fiercely passionate about retail.
“Jeffrey is a Kalinsky of the Charleston, S.C. [the family’s hometown] Kalinskys, a born salesman,” said George Malkemus, the outgoing president of Manolo Blahnik USA. “In today’s world, that’s become a rarity and one that needs to be nurtured by all.”
Next year, Kalinsky marks another big milestone: Jeffrey Atlanta turns 30. And across the country, a new Palo Alto, Calif., location is just getting started. Here, the retailer talks about evolution, future goals and his Instagram obsession.
After establishing yourself in Atlanta, what drove your original decision to expand into New York?
JK: “I guess it had been a dream my whole life. It was the perfect moment for me, and it was a good moment in the life of New York City to open a specialty store.”
What are the biggest ways the industry has changed since you started out?
“Twenty years ago, the world was different. I was 36. It seems like both yesterday and a lifetime ago. I’m very old school. I miss being able to walk into a showroom and pick out anything I wanted in any color I wanted. Everything is restricted today. There are [fewer] opportunities to differentiate your buy. Brands want to tell a certain story. Distribution was tighter [in the past]. I remember you were really judged on the quality of what you were doing.”
How is the shoe business different today?
“I’ve been in the shoe industry for 37 years. Even in college, I sold footwear. Today, the cost of a shoe can be as much as the dress, which makes it a little more challenging. The idea of a shoe being an impulse purchase, does it exist? Yes. But it’s not the same easy impulse it used to be. [In addition], the big department stores have started to believe in offering customers a million choices. For us, we really want to edit. We want to give her less, but direct her to important things. Shoes are there to work with our ready-to-wear and complete the image.”
Last year, you opened your first West Coast boutique at Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto, Calif. Why did you pick that location and how’s it performing?
“Simon [Property Group] is my partner in Atlanta, and I have a good relationship with them.They own the mall, and that kind of tipped the scale when I was deciding whether I would do something in downtown San Francisco or on the peninsula. There was really nothing happening there like what we do, and people have responded to us. It’s an 11-month-old baby, and I see a wonderful future for this baby. The store is beautiful, and I love the clients.”
Are other cities on tap for the future?
“I want to get this baby sleeping well at night. But are there other markets that are interesting to me? For sure.”
Who are your favorite Instagram follows?
“Instagram is my guilty pleasure. I love Hype Beast. There are interior designers I follow, and a gallery or two, a sexy model or two. I follow lots of other stores both big and small. I don’t really follow my friends on Instagram.”
What is your take on the negativity that can sometimes infiltrate social media?
“I don’t see any reason to be mean — period. I really don’t get people who get wrapped up in that. I don’t want it in my life.”