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Why the New Dover Street Market Is a Wake-up Call for the Retail Industry

January 6, 2014 11:09am

Dover Street Market NYIs this the end of shopping as we know it? That thought kept insinuating itself in my head in December as I navigated the busiest spending time of the year. The revolution has been brewing for a while, of course, but this was the holiday season when I reached a personal tipping point in terms of favoring e-commerce over bricks-and-mortar. The physical act of visiting a store has finally become too depressing: You have to deal with the crowds, there’s rarely a sense of intimacy or discovery, there’s never anything in the size you want, the shop assistants in even supposedly upscale stores manage to be pushy and ill-informed at the same time (why is the line “Can I help you?” always delivered with a vague sense of threat?), and just try finding a taxi afterward. Better to stay home and log on. Ironically, one of the reasons the best online retailers win out is that they deliver a level of good old-fashioned service that their real-world counterparts have lost: Delivery to your front door (just hours after you’ve ordered if you live in New York), the ability to try things on in the comfort and privacy of home, and the option to return what you don’t like, no questions asked. Hell, if I’m logged in, one of my favorite e-tailers will even change the logo at the top of their site to Mr. Standen. It’s the little things in life.

No, I decided I was done with shopping the traditional way. And then along came Dover Street Market. I went to the press opening of the new multi-retailer space owned and curated by Rei Kawakubo and her Comme des Garçons team on the Friday before Christmas. Then I went back again a week later just to make sure my original opinion hadn’t been skewed by the energy of opening night. On both occasions, I came away with the same impression: Dover Street Market has made shopping enjoyable, even enlightening again. How? I think there are a few key lessons that other retailers could study.

1. Shopping should be a social experience first, a transactional one second.
The decision to put Rose Bakery on the ground floor immediately to the right as you enter was probably dictated by the contingencies of the physical space, but it’s a fortuitous placement. There’s nothing new about having a café in a store, of course, but what’s key here is that it doesn’t feel like a separate entity but a seamless part of the experience. The array of baked goods and the communal dining tables spilling into the shopping area immediately create a sense of well-being and bonhomie. That continues throughout the market with its seven floors and Aladdin’s Cave-like warren of individual boutiques. You feel like you are having a good day out even before you think about buying anything. That sentiment is probably helped by the slightly out-of-the-way Murray Hill location.

2. Shop assistants are the new rock stars.
First of all, they look the part here. But even if they’re dressed cooler than you, they don’t have that cooler-than-thou attitude. They won’t force themselves on a customer, but if you ask for assistance, you’ll find they are not only helpful but passionate and knowledgeable about the stock. None of this happened by accident. The assistants at Dover Street Market were cherry-picked from other independent shops around New York, then put through a rigorous set of interviews. I used to give other retailers the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was simply impossible to find great store assistants. DSM has proved it can be done.

3. It’s all in the mix.
Dover Street Market has the best variety of merchandise that I’ve seen in a long time. It adheres to the same formula that Kawakubo and Co. use in their other outlets in London and Tokyo, but perhaps because of the conservatism of most New York stores, it stands out in greater contrast here. DSM stocks a rigorously edited selection from—to name just a few—high-end designers like Prada and Saint Laurent, street/sportswear labels like Supreme and Nike, and up-and-comers like Shaun Samson and Gosha Rubchinskiy, not to mention a handful of items from an old-school French naval outfitter. Instead of feeling like you’re seeing the same things you’ve been looking at for months online or in glossy ads, there’s a sense of surprise here. Other retailers might argue that this approach wouldn’t be commercial enough for them. All I can reply is that nearly the entire stock of Supreme had turned over in the few days between my first and second visits. And it raises a larger point. Perhaps as traditional retailers do more and more of their business via their digital platforms, physical stores should become showcases for their more experimental ranges and most exciting goods, places where you enchant and engage your potential customers while the hard selling gets done online.

4. And finally…
Judging by DSM’s concrete facade, the shopwindow as we know it is dead.



I’m not going till next March, but its never too early to start thinking about where to dine in NYC.  We only have 4 nights, and those 4 choices are crucial ones.  Shigure is definitely on the short list…



My kind of place is comfortable, food-centric, and of course, anything Japanese naturally moves to the top of my list.  Yes, there are umpteen options, from yakitori joints to the uber-hip izakaya places.  I’ve been to several on previous trips and compared to Japan, I found them overrated and noisy.  I’m looking for something a bit less Disney-esque.

Shigure meets those requirements perfectly.  Its homey and low key, with exposed brick walls yet noteworthy music (if the NY Times mentions it, its got to be good).  The focus is clearly on Japanese oriented beverages and small plates meant to induce lively conversation and a memorable evening.  Check out the recent NY Times article here.

And for those of you who are slaves to the Tripadvisor restaurant reviews, I would suggest you take them with a grain of salt.  I find that a bit of detective work done on your own is a better measure of a great meal.

Living vicariously through other bloggers…will be in NYC next May, and this restaurant looks like a great option!

Summer Of George

There’s nothing I love more than catching up with a girlfriend that I haven’t seen in a while over a tasty meal and some cocktails. So I was psyched when, last week, Vivy agreed to try out a brand spankin’ new Laotian-inspired Southeast Asian restaurant in Tribeca.

If you love the flavors of Southeast Asia and are looking for an intimate and warm dining experience then look no further than Khe-Yo (Duane St, between Hudson St. and W. Broadway).

They had me at the bar.




After salivating over every item on the menu, Viv and I ordered a bunch of small plates to share and got down to the serious business of girl talk.


Some highlights:

(In reference to Viv having recently given a former beau a second chance.)

Viv:   “So yeah, we had a long talk where he basically said that he wanted to show…

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The Grove Park Inn has ALWAYS been great, but its getting even better.  We were just there this past week and I wanted to tell you about some new things going on.  First of all, they’ve built gorgeous decks outside where you can enjoy cocktails, nibbles and the stunning mountain views…







I was also told that they are opening a BRAND NEW restaurant this week (soft opening) called EDISON that is going to feature craft beers and cocktails as well as a new spin on southern comfort food.

In case you didn’t know, the Grove Park is having its centennial celebration this year with new signature cocktails, commemorative glasses and ongoing events.  Furthermore, should you decide to spend a weekend here, make sure to book well in advance for a day at their award-winning (seriously) over the top spa.



Yes, the prices seem extortionist, but trust me when I tell you that it is worth paying $80 for a pedicure when you can spend the whole day pampering yourself on the premises, and you must indulge!  There are indoor pools, waterfalls, outdoor pools with striking views of distant mountains…you will not regret it.

As for the food, we had lunch on the terrace after waiting for a while in the massive lobby sipping on a craft cocktail and house made pimento cheese and chips…a shout out to Nelson for some snappy waitering!







Then for lunch, we had a variety of items from the gargantuan burger, to the beet salad and trout entree, all of which were lovely and delicious…



The house made fries are cooked in duck fat, just sayin…



And let me tell you, you will have died and gone to heaven after eating their insanely good biscuits with honey/butter/pepper spread (notice I couldn’t get a picture before it was half gone)!





I promise they don’t pay me to say any of this (although they should!).  The place is just awesome in my opinion.  I have stayed there, but its been a while.  I’ve heard they’ve updated all the rooms recently, and I can vouch that the lobby has been redone with a contemporary adirondack vibe (if there’s such a thing, imagine John Saladino crossed with Frank Lloyd Wright).

Book now and thank me later. Maybe I’ll send you ideas on where to eat in Asheville, which was recently voted one of the best foodie towns (by Food and Wine I believe).



Disregard the fire trucks…the renovation kicked up dust and set off a false alarm that day!

@groveparkinn @GPI @Edison

So in case you didn’t know, my daughter has decided to go to UNC-Chapel Hill for college and I couldn’t be more pleased.  She got a full ride there and University of Florida (no small feat) as well as close to a full ride at Oxford, part of Emory University.  She was deferred at Penn for early admission, and didn’t end up getting in, which was a crushing blow, but she is resilient and Carolina isn’t a shoddy ‘fall-back’ school.

At any rate, we went over last week for an all-day orientation and although we had made plans to go out the night before to one of Durham’s trendy farm-to-table restaurants, by the time we got to our (Marriott, of course) hotel, we could barely budge.  So we ended up a stone’s throw away at a place called Mez.



So ok, it was in a strip mall of sorts, but it did look pretty inviting, especially for the relative middle of nowhere.  I was also having a weird case of deja vu with the place too, but more on that in a moment.

We head inside and the place is super spacious; two floors in an expansive and airy space.  We were seated in a cozy booth and as dog tired as we were, started to check out the menu, which was what I would call Cal-Mex.

We ordered the tamales and the steak tacos…boy, were we pleasantly surprised with our dishes…



Ok, that is one awesome lookin’ tamale!  The green rice made a nice visual counterpoint.



My daughter’s steak tacos…she deliberated over ordering the fish tacos, but I think she would have made a great choice either way!

After such an amazing feast, we had to check out dessert, especially when our waiter told us everything was house made…tres leches cake seemed the only way to go, and we were right…



Yowza!  That was one ginormous piece of decadence!

So if you ever find yourself in Durham, don’t discount this strip mall gem!

I figured out the deja vu…I had eaten here once before when I attended a Cotton Incorporated workshop, and they treated us to a lovely dinner here in the private dining room upstairs.  I remember being as impressed then as I was now…

I think I might have to go visit Toronto, just for the izakaya (and Elevation Church Toronto!)…did I tell you about the time I spent $500 on dinner(just me and one other person!) at an izakaya place in Roppongi (i.e. Tokyo)?

Oh my, a woman after my own heart…what is not to love about an almond croissant?? This will be a definite stop on my next NYC trip…