Downtown Ithaca is sashaying into spring.
Last month, the Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) hosted a garden-themed Spring Fashion Night in Center Ithaca. A standing-room-only crowd was intrigued and inspired as dozens of models strutted the runway showing off clothing, jewelry, and accessories from thirteen different downtown fashion designers and boutiques. It was a marvelous evening of fun for the whole family, and what’s more, it clearly demonstrated the variety and vibrancy of downtown Ithaca’s apparel sector.
Times are changing—and changing fast—for clothing retailers at the national level. A recent report from eMarketer indicated that online sales of apparel and accessories are now growing faster than any other e-commerce product segment and that the category is expected to lead online sales through 2016. Predictably, this trend has had a major effect on bricks-and-mortar stores; a May 2014 Forbes article opined “If there was ever an industry suffering gut-wrenching disruption, it is traditional [apparel] retailing” and that even once-dominant brands like JC Penney and Sears—the big boxes that supplanted so many locally-owned downtown clothiers in recent decades—are now the “Walking Dead of retailers.”
Nonetheless, it looks as though the fashion industry in downtown Ithaca is experiencing something of a renaissance, thanks to a new generation of independent-minded designers and retailers who have chosen downtown for its vitality, diversity, and pedestrian appeal. In recent years, we have added several new clothing stores to our multifaceted retail collection: along with our national retail anchor, Urban Outfitters, we now count within our walkable shopping district 10 one-of-a-kind adult clothing and shoe stores; four shops that specialize in children’s clothes; four outdoor gear and activewear stores; a custom T-shirt shop; a specialty dance store; and numerous one-of-a-kind boutiques that carry jewelry, scarves, timepieces, and other accessories from local and international artisans. In just the last month alone, we have welcomed four relocated and revamped stores to the district: Natalia’s Boutique, Avanti, Evolution, and Fibers.
The Art and Found is relatively recent addition to the downtown fashion scene. With a mission to help consumers consider fashion as an eco-choice, proprietor Olivia Royale showcased a variety of sustainable and upcycled articles for Spring Fashion Night, including made-in-America denims, silk kimonos made out of vintage scarves, one-of-a-kind artful tees, cotton party dresses, and handmade jewelry. Said Royale, “Our most commonly-heard comment is, ‘This store is so Ithaca!’ We have worked to create a fun and thoughtful shopping experience, not just a place to buy things. We are excited to have opened alongside many other new apparel stores; I see Ithaca really growing a diverse marketplace for fashion.”
Another progressive fashion option in downtown Ithaca is Bloom, a store that is best known for its children’s items and play space but is featuring an increasing selection of sustainably—and ethically—manufactured clothing for women. Owners Draya Koschmann and McKenzie Jones Rounds debuted girls’ floral print dresses by Breezeland Boutique and boys’ cardigans from Bloom’s own Basics line alongside women’s skirts, tops, and accessories by local designers like Made in My Backyard and Meditative Sewing Project. According to Rounds, “Consumers are becoming more aware of poor labor and environmental conditions in factories throughout the world. With all American-made casual wear from natural materials – Bloom is the store for the conscientious consumer.”
Benjamin Peters on the Commons has been downtown’s source for fine menswear and shoes for both sexes since 1994. Owner Peter Parkes’s Spring Fashion Night selections included smart casual summer outfits from Kroon and Visconti, Timberland canvas slip-ons and sandals, techno wicking shorts by Tommy Bahama, and formal jackets and pants by Calvin Klein. Explained owner Peter Parkes, “We have seen a significant trend towards ‘dressing up’ again. Men today value their personal style—and women appreciate the fact that styles have changed as well. Trends towards slim-fit coats, flat-front pants, and tailored shirts have made men’s fashion relevant again. The Spring Fashion Night opened shoppers’ eyes to a number of new looks.”
Even with all of these new and veteran clothiers operating in downtown Ithaca, there is still more room for growth in our apparel sector. The DIA’s industry market data shows that there remains a sizeable demand for apparel that is not being met locally. In the Ithaca urban marketplace (defined as within five miles of downtown Ithaca), the demand for all categories of clothing and accessories outpaces existing sales by a factor of nearly two to one. This means that opportunity exists to capture clothing and apparel sales here in Ithaca for aspiring retailers and entrepreneurs. The DIA is actively looking for such apparel businesses. Let us know if you are an aspiring retailer or if you know of another store that might benefit from being located here in Ithaca. •