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Williamsburg: from hipsterville to fashion hub?

By Kristopher Fraser

Feb 9, 2015


It is no secret that the demographics of Williamsburg are changing. The neighborhood located in the Brooklyn borough of New York was once wry with young hipster post-bachelors degree twenty-something year olds but now it's making the shift to being a concrete jungle of older more financially stable members of the upper middle-class and upper class, the neighborhood is seeing a complete redevelopment, yet again for the second time in the twenty-first century. One of the ways that the neighborhood is slowly changing is their developing fashion scene.

Once upon a time, one could walk through Williamsburg without seeing a single store that belonged to a large international or national corporation. Those days are long gone. While retail companies made their way there slowly attempting to still appeal to the demographic, the era of Williamsburg as a land of locally owned stores is over. There are those retail stores that have managed to fit right in, though, like Urban Outfitters.

Urban Outfitters target market is young people ages 18 – 28, so, while it was outside of the realm of the traditional vintage shops and mom and pop stores that carry flannel and skinny jeans that Williamsburg was used to, the five-floor mega store somehow managed to find itself right at home in the neighborhood. Having an entire first floor dedicated to local designers probably helped. However, Urban Outfitters didn’t begin the trend of pricier retail stores making their way to Williamsburg.

Around the corner, trendy upscale sportswear retailer, Gant, made its home in fall 2013 on the corner of North 6th Street and Berry Avenue. The concept for the store was literally food. While the brand realized it was not in the traditional realm of retail options offered in Williamsburg, it attempted to appeal to locals with the launch of store coinciding with their Brooklyn Luxé collection and campaign featuring local Brooklyn food artists. The layout for the store when it opened included a kitchen and bistro-style seating, perhaps to appeal to the foodies of Williamsburg.

While Urban Outfitters and Gant might have shown a little more shame about being a large commercial store opening in the hipster enclave, French fashion conglomerate Sandro was far more shameless in their arrival as a luxury brand in a neighborhood that used to heavily favor thrift stores. Sandro’s first store opened in Williamsburg in October 2013, and it was just as luxurious as any of their other concept stores before.

While this store heavily favors menswear, with the majority of the visual merchandising displays showcasing their ostentatiously priced menswear, 1100 dollars for a trench coat is a far cry from the 20 dollars that a lot of the longer time young residents of Williamsburg were used to paying at their local thrift store. Sandro would later be joined by their sister store, the equally opulent Maje. Maje also stuck to its roots and made no attempt to appeal to the younger long-time Williamsburg demographic and stuck to visual displays of leather jackets, neoprene dresses, and studded sandals.

The list of stores to join Williamsburg in its evolution into a potential fashion enclave does not just stop with retailers like Sandro, Maje, Gant, and Urban Outfitters, however. Last fall, J. Crew also opened a store on Wythe Avenue, and retailers Joe Fresh and Anthropologie have also been in talks to try and claim retail space in the increasingly developing Williamsburg neighborhood. The question is, how did Williamsburg manage to change so much and go from a land of the young broke and newly minted 20 something with a Bachelor’s degree to a neighborhood where retailers the likes of Sandro would ever think of putting a store?

In terms of the changing demographics of Williamsburg, an August 2014 New York Times Article by real estate journalist, Michelle Higgins, discussed how Williamsburg had slowly been transformed by the arrival of tourists and banker types. New residents of Williamsburg had begun pricing the bohemian artists and hipsters who had arrived when the neighborhood was much affordable out. What was once real estate that came with a modest price tag turned into luxury townhouses and condos with price tags ranging from 500,000 dollars to 900,000 dollars.

The current average rent price in Brooklyn is 2852 dollars. That is 353 dollars cheaper than Manhattan. Five years ago, the average rent in Brooklyn was 1030 dollars cheaper than Manhattan. The influx of wealthy types was sure to bring the luxury fashion retailers, and while the likes of Louis Vuitton and Chanel have not made their way across the Williamsburg Bridge yet, the neighborhood is slowly turning into quite the fashion hub.

Gone are the days of thrift stores and thrift store shoppers. Retail consumers in Williamsburg are going after the latest trends, and with the mom and pop thrift store shoppers leaving, so are the mom and pop stores. While it is a slow and steady process Wythe Avenue could be looking like the SoHo boutique district in a few years. In a surprising turn of events, the hipster strip is turning into the fashion strip, and it’s a whole new Williamsburg.

Urban Outfitters