A STYLE SUPREME:

The First Wave of Modern Retail (1990-2000)

Laura Wills: “We came down to this space twenty-one years ago in 1992, but even then it was pretty desolate. There was the the Noho Star and this one diner across the street that’s now gone. You had to to be careful on these streets. People definitely were like ‘Why are you opening there?’ But we were fueled by what we could afford and there was not much we could afford except this little neighborhood. I don’t even think they called it ‘Noho’ back then, because you know realtors penned that later on. We knew NYU was around the corner, which was good and even back in those days. There were photo studios down here; there was an interesting scene. There were lots of artists working down here, and it just seemed like a good fit for us. We believed in the neighborhood. We loved the neighborhood. We knew it was just a matter of time.”

Alex Corporan: “I started working at Supreme around 1996, about four years after it opened. By that time all the other skate shops had shut down. Benjis had closed. O.D.S had closed and Blades—well, no one wanted to go in there. I’d definitely say there was a depression in the skateboarding world. It wasn’t making money, especially in New York.  But Supreme was thriving. At that time, the block was full of furniture stores. On that strip of Lafayette, Supreme was the only clothing retailer. Then pretty soon after  X-Large and Triple Five Soul opened up.” 

Dante Ross: "I had an office around the corner in 1998—I was at 580 Broadway.  It was pretty cheap rent back in those days. Shady Records was on 151 Lafayette Street, right next to Supreme.  Theo Sedlemayr’s [hip-hop attorney]  office was also there. There was Label Whore, I think another store called Stackhouse, a place called Sur and another one called Kinky. At one point, my friend had a store called ‘The Cutie Room' and I’d visit there a lot because she was cute. Later on, Clientele was there too and they were in business for a long time. Lafayette was like a little strip of street wear retail...”

 

The majority of us were in Kids. Me, my friend Giovanni, Hal Hunter, Justin Pierce—rest in peace—and a lot of people who hung out in Supreme were in it. It was pretty much a script based on us.

 

Matt Barolo: “When I officially started working on Lafayette in the store in the '90s the shop and the area had an overall sense of fun and play that very much came from Keith. He actually set the shop up like a fast food shop for art. The space was divided in the center with a curved wall with two windows and all the merchandise was stapled to the walls and each piece of art had a number. Customers would grab a clipboard, write down their order and have it processed by the first window and pay for it in the second one. Everything we sold was affordable—pins for 50 cents, posters for a dollar. I remember when Nelson Mandela was released, 'Free South Africa' became a big slogan and Keith had 4x4 posters (of his original artwork featuring it) printed. He was selling them for a dollar! It was very easy for people with very little means to come in and get something. The store and street was overflowing with a very diverse downtown crowd. It was a happy place.

Alex Corporan: “Eating was integral. It’s like you couldn’t just shop and work retail—you had to eat. Bubbas, a diner which was where Delicatessen now is, was the stomping ground for breakfast, lunch and early dinner. It was a very regular diner—nothing fancy. And the owner would call everyone Bub.  There was also a place called Mei Kong in the neighborhood. It was a really good place for Vietnamese food. You’ll be sitting down next to like Iggy pop and no one would give a damn. There were no paparazzi.”

Shana Tabor: “Everyone was definitely young. Not even 20-something young, younger. The Lafayette street I discovered in the 90s just reminded me of [The Larry Clark film] Kids, since there were a lot of young people around, I think people and businesses sort of just followed that energy a bit - it attracted them to this area.”

Matt Barolo: “It’s funny because I remember that. Supreme the first store I could remember coming after us. I never forgot it because opened right around when 'Kids' came out - and literally all the kids from Supreme were in it. ”

Alex Corporan: “It’s surreal. The majority of us were in Kids. Me, my friend Giovanni, Hal Hunter, Justin Pierce—rest in peace—and a lot of people who hung out in Supreme were in it. It was pretty much a script based on us and a lot of us were in there as ourselves except for Rosario and Chloe and Harold who were the leads. Everything was organic. We’d all been family since like 1992—and Supreme was the meeting point. Our block was skaters, models and locals. No tourists at all. It was like we had a little secret street between Prince and Houston.”

Charlie McCorkell: “By the early '90s more people started moving here. It started with Broadway, which at that time was almost all places that sold wholesale, textiles and had really cheap prices and had signs that said 'We Speak Spanish.' Then Dean & Deluca moved on the corner of Broadway and Prince, the Guggenheim opened on the corner of Broadway and Prince—which is now the Prada store. Bloomingdale's opened on Broadway. It worked its way from West Broadway all the way to us.”

 

A CHANGE IS GONNA COME:

Real Estate vs. Retail (2000-2005)

Steve Schul: "I’ve seen a lot of the independent stores move away. When we first moved here there were some great vintage shops on this street. I know we have Screaming Mimi's and there’s still Amarcord, but there used to be these great shops where you could dig through jeans and piles of clothes and buy them for cheap. I don’t see those anymore...”

Laura Wills: “We’ve been lucky, [Screaming Mimi's] has a very supportive and very amazing landlord, which is completely unusual in these times. He loves small business, supports small business. He never wanted the space to be taken over by any kind of a chain store or like a big restaurant, so he really made it possible for us to be here and to still be here.”

 

To be the center of the punk era in the '70s and '80s and now home to K-Mart and Starbucks and that huge glass apartment building... It’s a bit of a shame, but they are the only ones who can afford rent.

 

Matt Barolo: “Unfortunately [Keith Haring's Pop Shop] became one of those stores that ended up having to leave Lafayette. Our landlord was actually a great guy. He was an artist himself and was totally supportive of Keith and he kept our rent at a much lower rate than the surrounding spaces. But the shop actually never turned a profit and rent was continually going up because of the overall market. Finally in 2005 we were like we’re hemorrhaging money in order to maintain the Keith’s original vision of inexpensive, accessible art for all—$20 t-shirts and $1 pins. But by 2005 rent was over $10,000 a month for our 500-square-foot store. We had to shut down, but that’s the story of retail in New York....”

Jean-Marc Houmard: “Big box stores are part of the problem. Thanks to them, Astor Place (at the very top of Lafayette Street) has lost its grittiness. To be sort of the center of the punk era in the '70s and '80s and now home to K-Mart and Starbucks and that huge glass apartment building... It’s a bit of a shame, but they are the only ones who can afford rent...”

Fernando Dallorso: “Unfortunately that comes with the territory. I’m not sure if there's any good to  a Duane Reade or K-mart or Starbucks. It’s possible that that’s when you cross the line. But how could you stop someone from opening a Starbucks if they want to? Fortunately there’s places like [Puck Fair], like Indochine, like Noho Star, places that have stood strong. Hopefully we can remain that way and maintain Lafayette’s character.”

 

Shayni Rae: "When this location opened in 2004, it was the first G-Star Store in the U.S. There weren't many shops on in this area yet. It was in between the big stores on Broadway and the very small boutiques of Nolita—niche brands set the tone for those who stopped to shop, making it a street with unique character. SoHo is one of the best shopping districts in the world. This corner space seemed massive with its floor-to-ceiling windows. There is a lot of traffic that drives up Lafayette as it heads north while Broadway heads south. Broadway is the most trafficked street for tourism and big box chain locations. Lafayette is two streets over from Broadway and the stores have a more independent flair."

Dean Jankelowitz: “The thing is, I use Duane Reade like three or four times a day. So as a small business owner on one hand you want small businesses to survive and you want the community to support small business. But on the other hand,  the convenience of a Duane Reade is unparalleled. I would love to go into a deli and get all that stuff but unfortunately those kinds of delis died. It’s mixed feelings. We wouldn’t want some big box store over here like JCPenney, but the traffic it would bring is good.”

Vahap Avsar“The space [Brooklyn Industries] currently occupy used to be a furniture shop. We decided to take it when it became available in 2003. Even back then, there was just a handful of stores including Triple Five Soul and Supreme. After we opened, then a slew of European street wear stores jumped on our block. We had great friends, neighbors, and customers. Savion Glover, the tap dancer, used to live upstairs and he was actually a great neighbor. By that point Lafayette street felt really safe.”

Matt Barolo: “The bottom line is, by the time we closed in 2005 I think Lafayette had changed a lot. The G-Star’s and Kmart’s and Duane Reade’s had arrived. At that point, the people who were shopping in those other shops maybe didn’t totally have the same spirit as the generation of shoppers before. The vibe had shifted.”

Dante Ross: “You know, the vibe on Lafayette is not in danger of becoming Broadway—it’s already become it. It’s like Broadway Junior. But that’s the story of everything in New York, especially downtown.”

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