Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Arleen Bowman Boutique


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.

Further Reading:
Bleecker Timeline
Bleecker's Luxe Blitz
More Jane, Less Marc
A Clean, Well-Lighted Place


maximum bob said...

I declare a fatwa on effing cupcakes and also on the Food Channel for
mindlessly taking up airspace with
endless goddam cupcake competitions for morons.

esquared™ said...

"The frontier moves with the sun and pushes the red man of the wilderness forests in front of it. Until one day there will be nowhere left. Then our race will be no more, or be not us ... The frontier place is for people like my white son and his woman and their children.... One day ... there will be no more frontier. ...

Will there be anything left to show the world that we ever did exist?

~ Chingachgook, from Last of the Mohicans (film)

Brendan said...

Yes, the closing of the clothing boutique in Greenwich Village is absolutely comparable to the Native American genocide.

Marty Wombacher said...

" I lost my lease because the landlord was not interested in having me as a tenant anymore."

Fucking landlords are wrecking this city. I wish the best of luck to Arleen and her future endeavors.

esquared™ said...

Brendan, you're not a contrarian, you're an antagonist.

The Village/NYC was a frontier to us that is disappearing, if not altogether disappeared. And if you read the interview, JM also referred to Arleen Bowman/the boutique as one of the last Mohican. But you only see things in black and white, us vs. them.

Much like you've gentrified the city, you are also gentrifying this blog -- a forum for us to speak-out, cry, lament, from the likes of you. Nothing is enough for you.

And I'll just this say about you:

"The most difficult difficult subjects can be explained to the most-slow witted if he has not formed any idea of them already; but the simplest things cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already, without a shadow of doubt, what is laid before him." --Tolstoy

Enjoy man, enjoy. Have fun.

Brendan said...

esquared, there are cases where I think North American colonization is a very apt metaphor for gentrification. Those cases involve poor people of color being displaced from their homes. This is not such a case.

You seem to me to be the one seeing things in black and white; you believe that if I disagree with anything here, no matter how minor, I must be in favor of chain stores and luxury towers. In fact, I am against those things, just like you. I'm genuinely curious about what you assume about me--what I do for a living, how much money I make, where I live, what kind of businesses I frequent, and so on. I think you have a clear picture of the person you imagine you're arguing with, and this picture is informing the way you read my comments.

Laura Goggin Photography said...

"I lost my lease because the landlord was not interested in having me as a tenant anymore."

This is what is so upsetting. No matter how successful a business is, it doesn't matter.

nygrump said...

Where is Bloomberg to tout this as a success and win win?

laura said...

is there a place w/in NYC where there ARE shops like this one?

Anonymous said...

I will miss Arleen's so much. Gloria at Arleen's has looked after me for years and dressed me in such stylish finery. Boo Hoo. One small comment..Alexis Bittar, next door, comes close to being a local because he is a local man and, while hugely successful etc, continues to manufacture in Brooklyn and still has a New York identity. Steve Madden is also local man but don't know where he makes his stuff and I have seen his stores all over the world.

JAZ said...

This is heartbreaking. You have a small business woman who worked her ass off and created a business (the very thing that MADE this city), which did just fine for years and years, and certainly employed many people over that period of time while bringing a needed product to the community. Then hypergentrification comes along and her store is wiped out.

The really sick part is that so many of these luxury brands for the beautiful people set up shops with little regard for turning a profit in them; they will pay any rent requested in order to have the location claim to stamp on their shopping bags. "come see our Greenwich Village boutique!" How can ANY small business entrepreneur compete with that?
And why is there no intervention from the city administrative arms when NYC's own citizens are being endangered this way? (he asks, rhetorically)

Caleo said...

JAZ- you can't expect any help from an administration that has been actively encouraging this process on both a macro and micro scale for more than a decade.

Brendan- you are acting like a bit of a nincompoop.
I think everyone here understood the reference esquared was making without you coming in to enforce the boundaries of politically correct thought and speech.Yes, you passed your mandatory Diversity Audit at the university with flying colors. We get it.

Ed said...

"esquared, there are cases where I think North American colonization is a very apt metaphor for gentrification. Those cases involve poor people of color being displaced from their homes. This is not such a case."

Actually, hypergentrification, where its the middle class that is displaced, is much worse.

Middle class people pay taxes and are less likely to use physical violence. Contrary to the image most people have, its middle class raised people that are more likely to break with their tribal norms than the poor or the wealthy.

Gentrification, as defined as the displacement of poor people, if nothing else tends to be accompanied with a reduction of violent crime in the neighborhood. And the "displacement" is actually limited unless the public housing is demolished as part of the process. I honestly can't think of any compensating benefit for the conversion of a middle class neighborhood into a wealthy one. Trendier, more expensive restaurants? I've noticed defenders of hypergentrification love to muddy the waters by confounding it with gentrification, since hypergentrification is one of those things that are literally indefensible.

James said...

Well, Ed, if you're searching for an advantage to the wealthy displacing the middle class... brownstones and townhouses owned by the wealthy are unlikely to be bulldozed and redeveloped into dense urban housing. Instead, they become historic districts.

Tina said...

My pink "Hannah" shirt I bought at Arleen's when I was pregnant with my daughter was the first of many. Thirty years later I am passing it down to my daughter who is now pregnant herself.

Anonymous said...

@James - tell that to David Schwimmer, who recently tore down a historical building on 6th Street to replace it with an ugly modern monstrosity. The previous building could have housed middle class people and remained part of the community's history and culture. Now we're stuck with some wealthy guy who cares nothing for the neighborhood and a hideous building.

James C. Taylor said...

"Here people live too much in the brain and not enough in the heart: The only feeling people have here is the ambition for a better house, and, in general, greed for pleasure and money."
--Pier Paolo Pasolini on Rome, 1947.