The Real Deal New York

Crocs crawl from Colorado to the city

October 30, 2007
By Gabby Warshawer

If the rubber shoe fits, wear it.

Crocs — brightly colored rubber clogs with a distinctive pattern of holes — were ubiquitous this past summer. And this spring, they’ll be coming to a street corner near you.

In August, the Boulder, Colo.-based company that makes Crocs signed a lease for 4,800 square feet of space in Soho; the store is expected to open in the spring. The company has so far grown through Internet sales and third-party retailers. The Crocs store at 143 Spring Street, a landmarked building, will be the company’s first bricks-and-mortar location in the United States.

“We stumbled upon a natural fit early,” said Stephanie Snyder, the broker at Robert K. Futterman & Associates who represented Crocs in the deal. The company only looked at space in New York for a couple of months before deciding to lease 143 Spring.

“We love this space for Crocs because it has a lot of character,” said Snyder. “We felt that there were eclectic tenants on the street, that it’s a diverse mix that draws a diverse mix of shoppers.”

Because of the building’s landmark status, a government-review process needs to be completed before the company begins renovations on the space, which was formerly leased by Tennessee Mountain Restaurant.

Crocs will be directly across the street from Chanel, where no shoes are priced below $500 and several styles sell for upward of $1,000. In contrast, most of Crocs’ models cost between $30 and $40. Not all of Crocs’ neighbors are luxury brands, however: The store will sit at the corner of a block that’s also home to the Body Shop, Theory and Olive & Bette’s.

“That particular block in Soho isn’t high-end,” said Susan Penzner of Susan Penzner Real Estate. She said ground-floor rents on Spring Street between Wooster and West Broadway are currently going for around $300 a square foot.

Still, Crocs setting up shop three blocks west of Broadway can be seen as a sign of the changing face of Soho retail. While discount shoe shops and mainstream retailers like Banana Republic have dominated Broadway, the side streets west of Broadway have long been characterized by pricey, exclusive brands.

“Spring, Prince, Greene and Mercer have always had more unique, luxury retailers than Broadway,” said Karen Bellantoni, a senior managing director at Robert K. Futterman. But Bellantoni noted that companies big and small want to be in Soho, whether on Broadway or a side street.

Lease prices are reflecting that demand. “There was a little bit of a hiccup for about nine months following September 11, but rents are now almost exactly the same as they were before September 11,” said Bellantoni.

Snyder said the volume of foot traffic on Spring Street is one of the main reasons Crocs chose the space. And Penzner said the prestige of the location would help with the company’s branding. “I would guess they have something planned beyond the current styles, particularly since they’re leasing the space above the ground floor for a design studio,” she added.

New styles may be what the brand needs to survive, because Crocs look-alikes have been popping up in shoe stores like Payless. The discount shoe store sells an Airwalk clog that is extremely similar in appearance to Crocs and priced at only $14.99.

“Crocs are fabulous, bizarre-looking shoes that span every age bracket,” said Ellen Goldstein, chair of the accessories design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, but she voiced concerns about the brand’s “sustainability.”

“They’ve captured a market that’s very difficult to capture,” Goldstein said, “[but] they don’t want to have happen what happened to Ugg boots, where you can find those in Wal-Mart now.”

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