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WWD Monday | September 10, 2006

Betting on Bond Street

By Sharon Edelson

NEW YORK--ONLY TWO BLOCKS LONG AND COVERED in cobblestones, Bond Street in Lower Manhattan has always harked back to an earlier time. "It was a no-man's land," said Joanna Sherman, artistic director of the Bond Street Theater and a 25-year resident of the street. "It was a heavy crack area. Eventually enough people started moving into the neighborhood that they formed this vigilante group. Every night at about 10 they would go out with their signs and shout at the druggies." Because of its borders -- Broadway on one end and the Bowery on the other -- Bond Street has always been quiet and off the beaten path. In the Seventies and Eighties, it was filled with factories and lumberyards. "It was the place that time forgot," said Lisa Rosenthal, a retail broker at Ripco, who lives in the area.

But time doesn't stand still in Manhattan, especially when real estate is involved.

Bond Street has become a destination for cool, offhand fashion, trendy restaurants and luxury condos. The street has attracted a singular group of retailers, including Ghost, the label designed by Tanya Sarne; Bond No. 9 Perfume and Teas, which sells fragrances named for different Manhattan neighborhoods; Bond 07 by Selima, which sells eyewear, handbags and jewelry from edgy young designers, and Dick Blick Art Supplies. Ian Schrager's 40 Bond Street, a high-end condominium, commands prices of $3,000 per square foot. There are two new development sites on Bond Street and Lafayette Street, and another on Lafayette between Bond and Great Jones Streets. Developers such as Schrager aren't investing in Bond Street for fun. The demographics of the neighborhood speak for themselves. In 2003, 9.6 percent of the population within a 0.2-mile radius had household incomes of $200,000 or more. About 5.3 percent had household incomes of $150,000 to $199,999, and another 13.5 percent had incomes between $100,000 and $149,999, according to the U.S. Census. The value of real estate has skyrocketed. In 2000, 38.9 percent of homes within a 0.4 mile radius were valued at $1 million or more. Locals trace the area's turning point to Bond Street, the pricey sushi magnet for beautiful people, which opened in the late Nineties and is operated by the owner of Indochine, who knows how to create a scene. "Bond Street was a little bit of a turning point," Sherman said. "It brought in this real classy clientele. Nice little stores started moving in different places in the mid-Nineties. I've seen it come up through the dregs to the heights. Now it's moving toward commercialism. I give it another couple of years and it will be crammed full of stores." Sherman, an owner of 2 Bond Street, where the theater is housed, said the co-op recently rented its retail space to a tanning salon. She said a 2,500-square-foot space rents for about $12,000 a month. Rosenthal noted that Bond Street is still affordable compared with other shopping meccas in Manhattan. "It's a lot less expensive than SoHo and the Meatpacking District," she said, noting that rents are about $150 per square foot on Bond Street, compared with the Meatpacking District, where prices are in the $300-per-square-foot range.

While Bond Street has so far escaped the mall chains, banks - which are known to pay top dollar for real estate - have located on the street. Commerce Bank and Washington Mutual have opened branches, and there's a Starbucks on Broadway between Bleecker Street and Great Jones Street. On the streets surrounding Bond, chains such as Tower Records and Best Buy have taken root. Even the Bowery, once a symbol of the down-and-out, is being gentrified. There are two new development sites along the Bowery, and phase two of Avalon Bay, an upscale apartment building, is under way. A Whole Foods unit opened in the initial building. But Bond Street has an identity all its own, with avant-garde theater companies such as the Bond Street Theater and the Gene Frankel Theater and Film Workshop. Rosenthal said Bond Street will retain its charm because it's so small. "It's the perfect place for intimate, high-end stores," she said. "It's unique, it's timeless and it's quiet."