For months, a dark cloud has hung over the Dean & DeLuca in SoHo. Given the high-end grocer's well-publicized financial struggles and the recent closures of the Upper East Side and Midtown locations, many figured it was only a matter of time before the SoHo flagship would finally succumb to its retail death.
But confoundingly, the store, on the corner of Prince and Broadway, hung on through the summer despite a startling lack of inventory. Signs and staff members explained the dearth of products due to a pending "renovation." The same situation played out at the Midtown location, before it finally shuttered last month.
So when the metal gates on the door of the SoHo store did not rise as usual last week, it appeared that the end had at last come for one of the neighborhood's most recognizable cultural institutions.
But rather that wrapping things up with a goodbye and thank you, Dean & DeLuca announced a "temporary closing" and said that the store would "reopen soon."
Efforts to reach a spokesperson for Dean and DeLuca, which was bought in 2014 by a wealthy Thai business magnate, were not successful.
Brian Steinwurtzel, whose family owns the building that rents the space to Dean & DeLuca, said he didn't know what the company intends to do with the store.
"I wish I did," he said. "It's really unfortunate. We're hopeful they can figure out if they can open up again."
The mammoth store, which encompasses 10,000 square feet of ground floor retail and additional below-ground space, opened in 1988, after originally being located at a smaller storefront on Prince Street. According to Steinwurtzel, there are at least four more years left on the business's lease.
The uncertainty over Dean & DeLuca comes in the wake of other lingering vacancies along the two to three-block stretch of Broadway. The demise of several big clothing retailers are partly to blame. This summer, the Southern California-inspired clothing brand Hollister, which occupied a large retail space on the corner of West Houston and Broadway, vacated the premises after reports of slow sales by its parent company Abercrombie & Fitch.
Jared Epstein, of Aurora Capital Associates, which owns the property, said his firm is currently renovating the once shadowy interiors in hopes of "repositioning" the space for new tenants.
TopShop, a fashion brand backed by a British billionaire facing financial problems, not long ago shut down its store at 478 Broadway, between Broome and Grand streets. And just this week, Forever21 announced that it would file for bankruptcy, leaving the fate of its location at 568 Broadway unclear.
Like other parts of the city, SoHo has now been the grips of a retail crisis for several years. Back in 2017, the New York Times attributed the problem to a case of soaring rents driven by landlords with unrealistic expectations.
For longtime residents, the revolving door of retail tenants comes as an 'I told you so' moment. Those who have hung onto to their artists lofts have long griped about their once sleepy industrial neighborhood being transformed into a luxury shopping mall geared toward tourists rather than those in the community. According to Pete Davies, a member of the Broadway Residents Coalition, in an era of mega developments like Hudson Yards and Essex Crossing, there's no guarantee that SoHo can sustain itself that way.
Still, he said, "It's not like we are a dead zone. Everyone is looking to try to figure out what the best balance is."
Epstein said retail rents have drastically fallen in rent years, to as low as $400 per square foot from as high as $1,000 per square foot. "The good news is there is a queue beginning to build of aspirational new age brands being created by millennials," he said.
While their astronomical prices were consistent with SoHo's upscale and arguably snobbish leanings, Dean & DeLuca still appealed to those who thought of its offerings as part of New York's food utopia. Others just loved it for being the coffee shop where the lead character from the late '90s TV show Felicity worked.
Our Dean & Deluca is closed 😢
As a Texan who grew up watching Felicity and wanting to move to New York (and, well, wanting to *be* Felicity), I always thought it was the epitome of life here. pic.twitter.com/qQGKh2sqgi
— Emma G. Fitzsimmons (@emmagf) September 30, 2019
Within the neighborhood, it was considered an old, albeit expensive, standby. Davies said although its prices were out of reach for many, the Dean & DeLuca in SoHo was still "a great place where you could get a good lunch."
Steinwurtzel said he did not think Dean & DeLuca's problems were driven by changes in the retail market as much as poor decisions by the company.
"We want to see them succeed," he said. "We think they’re good for the neighborhood."