After 25 years on Bleecker Street, the Arleen Bowman boutique has lost its lease and will be closing at the end of this month.
And then there were none.
When A Clean, Well-Lighted Place gallery vanished this past winter (after 36 years), western Bleecker's luxury blitz was nearly complete. There was just one holdout old-school business left standing between 10th Street and the end, and that was Arleen Bowman.
Born in Brooklyn and a Villager since 1974, Bowman has had a shop on Bleecker since 1987, back when this end was quiet, filled with antique shops and other small businesses. Then came the year 2000. On the horrible Bleecker timeline, it went like this: Carrie Bradshaw sank her teeth into a Magnolia cupcake, Marc Jacobs began the colonization process, rents skyrocketed to insane heights, and 44 mom-and-pop businesses were wiped out in just a few years' time.
Now that section of the famous Village street will be nothing but luxury shopping mall chains and cupcake shops catering to tourists. In a recent article on "extreme gentrification" and the city's mom-and-pops, Bowman told the New York Times, “You can’t compete” with those big-name chains. “For them, it’s not even real estate, it’s advertising.”
Arleen Bowman in 1979
I got in touch with Arleen and she was kind enough to answer a few questions about her business and life on Bleecker.
JVNY: Why do you think you lost your lease after so many successful years?
AB: I lost my lease because the landlord was not interested in having me as a tenant anymore. They are only interested in HIGH PROFILE companies.
JVNY: For awhile, you've been a last Mohican on that stretch of Bleecker St. What has it been like to be a holdout there surrounded by luxury chains?
AB: I have always felt very comfortable in my space, and took pride in the fact that I was an independent retailer with a boutique filled with the best and most interesting items I could present to my customers. As far as I was concerned, I was offering them the LUXURY of choice.
JVNY: How has the clientele changed in the past decade? What about the "feeling" of the street?
AB: The clientele and feeling on the street has changed a lot. In the beginning of the decade, when it was Marc and Ralph, we saw the Upper East Side shoppers make a day of doing the Meatpacking Jeffrey's Bleecker Street Pastis lunch thing. As more and more name-brand stores opened, and Magnolia became a household word for cupcake, the crowd got more global.
I used to refer to the crowd as the M & M’s, since Marc's junk store and Magnolia had lines around the block. At the moment, even Magnolia has seen less crowds.
JVNY: What was your end of Bleecker like prior to the 2000s, once Marc Jacobs moved in and everything changed? Who were your neighbors in the 80s and 90s?
AB: My strip of Bleecker was fantastic. Starting at Charles we had the Asian Arts store on the corner, A Clean Well-Lighted Place, Kelter-Malce (American folk art at it's finest), Henry's (a kids’ shoe store that he later turned into a prepared food shop), a deli, then me (from 1987-1992). I moved next door to the space vacated by the lingerie store (from 1992 to the present), Saturday Night Lingerie, L'Uomo Men's Shop, Joel Name Optique, Treadle's (hand-loomed items), and of course Nusraty Afghan Imports on the corner of 10th St.
JVNY: Now I have to worry about Manatus.
AB: I worry about Manatus too! It's been my go-to place for ordering lunch...forever!
The unsinkable Arleen Bowman and her Hanna G shirts
JVNY: I notice your clothing, including the Hanna G shirts, are for women "of all sizes," and that your clientele has a wide age range. It seems that Bleecker's new big-name stores are for the skinny and the young.
AB: My credo for the store has always been "for a woman with a past...who's a girl with a future," and that's who I design for. There is a shirt for every BODY at the store. Our customers range in age from young girls to ladies of a certain age, that all have one thing in common--a sense of style and adventure! And all ages and figures are catered to and made to feel comfortable and beautiful!
JVNY: What are your future plans? It's tough to find affordable real estate in the city.
AB: My future plans are to take a break, although I will continue to design my Hanna G shirt collection which is sold in boutiques like mine all over the country. And who knows, maybe I will sell them on my website starting with the Spring 2013 collection.
I did make a huge effort to find a new location for the shop in the neighborhood, but what was affordable was off the beaten track, so no foot traffic. So I came to the conclusion to leave the retail business with the knowledge that I had a very successful 25 years on Bleecker Street and enjoyed the amazing, interesting people that walked through that door every single day. I am happy!
Arleen's closing sale will run until July 28 and she says they've still got some great items in stock--but things are going fast. Go soon, before this last survivor is gone.
Bleecker's Luxe Blitz
More Jane, Less Marc
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place