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SoHo Shopping District, NYThe sky is falling! The economy is failing! People are panicking! So why are all these people so happy? I take to the streets to find out why.

It was a simply spectacular fall Sunday in New York City. Much, much too nice out to stay inside and work on a podcast, so I took the streets of Manhattan with my camera to talk to people and find out first-hand how the current state of the economy was effecting them. Here are 5 profiles.

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I have a saying that when you live in New York City, every day is like being on vacation. The sites, the sounds, the excitement. And nowhere is that more evident than Manhattan’s SoHo district. The area is known for it’s cast iron architecture, extravagantly-priced artist lofts, retail and boutique shopping, leggy models, fashion designers, and art galleries.

The variety of accents you’ll hear in just 5 minutes on the corner of Prince and Mercer tells you that visitors from around the globe descend on the area to experience all it has to offer. Surely one of the richest neighborhoods in the country (Forbes has the nearby 10003 zip code as the 14th most expensive in the country, just 4 spots behind 90210) will be feeling the downturn.

Lets see what people say … continue reading the blog post below.

• Technology | Apple StoreApple Store SoHo
Like any Saturday, the Apple Store in SoHo store was jammed. If people were cutting back on consumption of the latest electronics, you sure couldn’t tell from here. Aside from the true New Yorkers sitting at the Genius bar like anxious pet owners in a vet’s waiting room, the atmosphere was giddy. I overheard one couple speaking in a foreign tongue, staring at the chart of macbooks. The husband shrugged and said, ‘eh, lets’s just get the 15′ Macbook Pro,’ as if he was deciding between a glass of Merlot or Chianti.

I chatted up a friendly employee to see what his thoughts were on business, and while he was super polite and admitted that yes, there were lots of foreign visitors and it was busy, he was strictly forbidden to comment or speculate on any business matters whatsoever due to Apple policy. Where’s Fake Steve Jobs when you need him?

• Youth Retail Fashion | Abercrombie & FitchAbercrombie and Fitch Sale
I spoke with a young woman and her mum, who had come to the states from London. While everyone knows that the weak dollar means your money goes farther in the US these days, I was curious as to exactly what the most compelling reason was to make them take the trip.

Was it a specific designer brand they needed? Was it a great hotel deal? A low-priced fare? In this case, it was none of those reasons, and all of those reasons. The daughter was celebrating her 21st birthday, they had friends that lived in New York, and they got a decent, but not fantastic deal on British Airways. They said that the pound was not as good as it once was, and that purchases only made sense on certain products. But a good deal is still a good deal. An employee said the $50 sweaters marked down 50% to $25 was the biggest seller in the store.

Oh, and then there was the exotic looking couple looking at men’s dress shirts. I asked them where their accent was from and they said Turkey. So I pressed further, asking what was the decision that made them visit New York, to which they replied, ‘Uh, we live here.’

Oh, and to the two women walking down the street that I asked if they lived here or were visiting? Sorry you freaked out and kinda ran away. I wasn’t trying to sell you anything or steal something. But you now have your stereotype New Yorker story to tell to your friends back home.Uniqlo Cashmere Sweaters

• Youth Discount Fashion | Uniqlo
Uniqlo is a Japanese clothing retailer that makes fashionable, casual clothing at value prices.

Their marketing and sales strategy is quite clear:

Make an enormous bet on certain core items, then purchase in Uniqlo Skinny Jeansmassive quantities to keep costs down and offer these items in every color imaginable.

For example, check out the photo of their $99 cashmere sweaters. A Crayola Crayon box has nothing on that display.

A chat with a store employee says the New York natives tend to shop after work during the week, while the international set floods the place on the weekends.

As for buying habits? The Europeans loves the skinny jeans.

• High end Boutique | Betsey Johnson
To get a different perspective, I ducked down a side street away from the hustle and bustle of Broadway. I don’t know a lot about fashion designers, but I’ve definitely heard of Betsey Johnson.Betsey Johnson Boutique

Upon entering the larger-than-expected store, I had to walk the length of the floor before I came across the lone customer at the very back, and a salesperson emerged from behind the curtain.

Aha, now I had found a victim of the recession! Surely this empty space with 1 customer must be feeling the effects of a failing economy.

But the energetic curly-haired blond working there part time while in college could not have been more helpful or upbeat. She said that sales were great. From what she told me, I deduced Betsey Johnson was surviving on the strength of three things. Betsey Johnson Salesperson

One, when the visitors did stop in to buy on the weekends, they bought big.

Two, during the week, there’s a steady stream of regular customers that buy less at once, but with more consistency over time.

And lastly, the strength of her brand name gives her a niche others can’t compete with. When I asked if visitors come from abroad to buy her items, she said that they don’t have to… there is also a store in London and Tokyo.

• Retail furniture | Blu DotBlu Dot Furniture
By far my favorite interview of the day was Medora Danz, Director of Sales for Blu Dot, a furniture design company that hadn’t even opened it’s doors. I stumbled across Medora and her two friends as they emerged from their not-open-to-the-public store with the words ‘coming soon’ on the front.

The Minnesota-based company’s story? Three college friends with a shared a passion for art, architecture, and design began to furnish their first homes, but they didn’t like the stuff they could afford, and they couldn’t afford the stuff they liked.

Medora’s example? The style and hip design of a $6,000 couch, but for $1,600. I can tell right away that they’re on to something. There are plenty of people in New York that make good money and have a great sense of style. They want something way above the post-college, first apartment, IKEA collection, but something that stands out from what their neighbors bought at Macys or Pottery Barn or Crate and Barrel. But they don’t want to pay the premium of boutique designers.

I asked how long they had planned their opening, and they said only in the past few months. Sensing my direction, they said No, the economy did not effect their decision to enter this market at all.

In fact, she confidently said that they’re uniquely positioned to thrive in this market.

‘It’s either going to really work… or fail gloriously,’ she said with a laugh.

And even as the first notes of Frank Sinatra subconsciously kicked off in my head… she continued… ‘We’re a small company based in Minnesota… but we figured if we could make it here…’ she trailed off midsentence, suddenly realizing the cliched lines she was walking into… smiling with the determination and confidence of a true New York city native.

I think this city is going to be OK.


From my home in New York City I cover marketing and business trends, technology and pop culture from a Wired perspective.

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