Trump Tower Retailers Face Dark Days During Holiday Shopping Season
With Black Friday about to kick off the holiday shopping season, politics continues to trump retail in one of the world's most storied shopping corridors.
Donald Trump ran a campaign focused on reviving the American Dream, but for many of the President-elect’s tony retail neighbors on Fifth Avenue, life has become a nightmare adjacent to his eponymous tower.
“We’re beyond slow,” said a salesperson on a recent weekday afternoon at the 46,000-square-foot Gucci flagship located within Trump Tower. The three-story boutique opened in 2008, when it was reported that the annual rent was $16 million, and is Gucci's most important store in the U.S., showcasing designer Alessandro Michele's most extensive selection of clothing and accessories, and racking up $100 million in sales a year or more. Until now.
An informal survey of Gucci and other neighboring retail boutiques that typically draw large holiday crowds — including Prada, Giorgio Armani, Henri Bendel and Tiffany & Co. — revealed minimal shoppers and sometimes empty sales floors in the days following the Nov. 8 election. “We’re very nervous [about the approaching holiday shopping season],” the Gucci salesperson added.
Midtown Manhattan boasts some of the world’s most luxurious labels, but the Fifth Avenue corridor has become less welcoming in the aftermath of the election, with increased security measures around Trump’s high-profile residence.
As soon as he surpassed the requisite 270 electoral votes in the early-morning hours of Nov. 9, cement barricades and sand-filled dump trucks took up residence on Fifth Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets, replacing steel barricades that continue to line adjacent blocks. One lane on Fifth Avenue also has been closed to accommodate Trump’s motorcade when he’s in residence, bottlenecking an area that’s historically traffic-logged.
Trump Tower neighbor Tiffany & Co., where Breakfast at Tiffany's Holly Golightly famously browsed, canceled its holiday window unveiling event Nov. 14, though the New York City-themed windows are now up, with the jeweler encouraging shoppers to enter the store through the 57th Street entrance, rather than the one on Fifth Avenue.
Trump protests are also hindering business. A planned demonstration that drew thousands of people the Saturday following the election, effectively closing traffic on Fifth Avenue between 33rd and 56th Streets, caused high-end department store and perennial gift destination Henri Bendel to shut its doors hours before its 8 p.m. closing time.
“The barricades prevented us from having any foot traffic, so the decision was made to close early,” explained a Bendel’s salesperson. (We reached out to several spokespersons for retailers in and around Trump Tower, asking for official comment; each either declined to participate or did not respond by press time.)
More than 5 million people are expected to visit New York City during the holiday season between Thanksgiving, when the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade is a draw, and New Year’s, when the ball drop in Times Square is a televised attraction, according to statistics provided by New York & Company, the official marketing and tourism organization for the city’s five boroughs. But salespeople along Fifth Avenue in Midtown — many of whom work on commission — have cause to be concerned about the impact of Trump living nearby, says Marshal Cohen, chief retail-industry analyst for the NPD Group.
“Even before the election, we started to see a lot of activity that was a distraction,” he says. “It only escalated once he got elected, and it will escalate again. It’s going to be an ongoing, continual challenge for security, for retailers, and for residents and tourists who simply want to enjoy the neighborhood.”
First lady-to-be Melania Trump’s decision to stay in New York City until the end of 10-year-old son Barron's school year, rather than relocate to the White House in January, as reported by the New York Post, seems to confirm concerns.
With Black Friday approaching, Cohen says holiday sales could be off by 25 percent or more in the neighborhood as a result. “When you lose impulse buying you lose a minimum of 25 percent,” Cohen explains. “And New York is always a different animal than the rest of the country, but holiday business this year was going to be healthy, though not robust. We expected to see a moderate to decent growth rate. The biggest challenge this year is the absence of new and exciting products, but traditional gifts — clothing, jewelry, perfume, the types of products you find in that neighborhood — were expected to have a very good holiday season.”
While many of the affected boutiques are global brands Cohen says can make up the lost business in other locations, it’s the small businesses that will feel the greatest impact. “It’s independent businesses or the guy with the food truck or the person who has a pizzeria or a small restaurant on a side street; those are the ones who are really going to feel the pain,” Cohen adds.
Unfortunately, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio did not assuage retailer fears following a meeting with Trump on Wednesday, Nov. 16, to discuss not only the city’s concerns about a Trump presidency, but also the unprecedented logistics of a President-elect residing in one of the city’s most highly trafficked neighborhoods. “I will not tell you Gucci and Tiffany are my central concerns in life,” de Blasio said during a post-meeting press conference. (A call and email requesting an updated comment were not returned.)
Among the retailers themselves, however, possible solutions may be emerging: At Gucci, for example, doormen dressed in overcoats and Gucci-logo scarves have begun to station themselves outside the store and closer to the 56th Street corner where the NYPD and Secret Service have set up an inspection station for those wishing to gain access to the block. A bag check seems to be all that’s required to pass through this relatively easy gauntlet; doormen then escort clients into the boutique while assuring them that nothing has changed within the walls of Gucci.
Meanwhile, Cohen says businesses may want to consider adding pop-up shops outside the security perimeter, in empty storefronts on Fifth or Madison Avenue, to make up for any lost sales near Trump Tower. “You may see personal shoppers become more important,” he notes. “Tourists also should check with hotel concierges to see if product can be brought to them. Retailers need to get creative.”
For residents, however, options are less apparent. “I have friends who live in Trump Tower, and nightmare is definitely the word they’re using to describe it,” Cohen says. “They’re using the back door and saying they don’t want to go out, that they feel captive in their own homes. These are people who travel down South later in the winter, but they’re going now because they don’t want to deal with the inconveniences. It really is that unpleasant.”