Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Bendel's has been one of New York City's upscale retailers for over 100 years. In December 2008, I did a photo shoot of their windows at Christmas time.
Bendel's was established in 1895 by Henri Bendel, a milliner. They were originally located at 10 West 57th Street and moved to their current location at 712 Fifth Avenue near 56th Street in 1990. The store occupies two landmark buildings, the Rizzoli Building (712 Fifth Avenue) and Coty Building (714 Fifth Avenue), along with a new five-story building. Lalique windows were discovered during the restoration. The store has four stories, a lower level and an atrium with balconies. See the view from the top down here.
However, even quality products and a legacy can not stop changes in consumer habits or a poor economy. in 2009, Bendel's decided to stop selling clothing. According to the New York Times:
Several employees briefed on the plans said on Thursday that they were told that Bendel had decided to eliminate the fashion departments because there was no sign of a turnaround in the sale of high-ticket items, but that beauty and gift products were selling well and typically with much higher margins. About 8 percent of the employees will be laid off, including sales clerks and executives in its buying office, these people said. About 250 people work at Bendel.
Luxury stores like Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Barneys New York have all eliminated hundreds of jobs and scaled back their orders from designers in reaction to the economy. Sales of $1,000 dresses and cashmere sweaters began to plummet last October.
Bendel's, famous for its "store of store" shops and signature brown-and-white striped shopping bags, hatboxes, and matching line of cosmetics bags, will focus more on branding and merchandising. They have been opening stores nationwide since 2004 and currently have 10 locations, many in upscale shopping malls.
I have never shopped at Bendel, but it is rather saddening to see a historic company go in this direction. In 1986, the store was sold to Limited Brands. What worries me most is that at the rate of change we are seeing in stores here, New York City's merchants will become less unique every day. As one reader commented recently, it is the amalgam of all things in New York City that makes it unique. I hope he is right and we do not just become the biggest mall in America...
Note: Henri Bendel has a special significance to me - the reason will be revealed in a future story, if I can get the interview and photo opportunity with a particular individual. Look for Because I'm the Best.