By Holly Boardman
As I took down all the colorful crocheted tree covers on Christopher Street early one recent Saturday morning, I felt the warmth of the sun and reminisced about all the smiles that the covers had generated. People loved taking photos of them. I had installed approximately 30 tree covers in an effort to bring a smile to the section of Christopher Street between Bleecker and Hudson Streets that had seen an increasing number of vacant storefronts during the two years since I opened my retail shop, Musee Lingerie. Removing the covers was bitter-sweet as I cut away the color and softness from the trees that lined the street in front of the empty storefronts of retailers past. I remembered the savory lunches from Karahi Indian Cuisine, the crusty Vietnamese sandwiches and refreshing shrimp rolls, and hearing the door chimes at the dry cleaners as we left with our folded duds. The Peruvian restaurant filled the corner with light and it always seemed like we knew someone who was eating inside. Now, all are gone.
I opened Musée Lingerie in the middle of June, 2016. My vision was to make it a cultural/retail/lifestyle experience: a true NYC boutique striving to offer great customer service, New York-made brands, and exposure to up-and-coming New York artists. Besides selling unique lingerie, we present art openings, live painting events, and other cultural evenings such as free flamenco guitar concerts. On Saturday, May 5th, we will host a boudoir photography opening—“Life as Fine Art” by Cate Scaglione—between noon and 5:00 p.m. Scaglione is an International Women Photographers Association award-winner specializing in intimate portraitures. She is considered one of the top boudoir photographers in the country, and clients travel from across the U.S. to seek her services.
As a West Village resident and merchant, I have learned to appreciate the value of a neighborhood—bonding with locals and meeting their friends and family, talking about politics, relationships, and simply about the weather. Growing up in a small town in Vermont, everyone knew you. Interestingly, in the confines of a quaint neighborhood in a giant city, there is still that feeling here. My favorite neighborhood pups, Derby, Molly and Aussie, come regularly for their treats and belly rubs. Even Christopher Street icon “Pat” frequents regularly to give me business advice and good window critiquing. If she “don’t like it” she is convinced that no one will!
Today, I ask myself what has changed in my neighborhood? It seems like there are a lot of visitors—Airbnb, perhaps? There are frequent roller suitcases in and out of apartments and moving trucks constantly parked and loaded. Who lives in the West Village now? Who shops in the West Village now? Where are the shoppers? Increasingly, it seems that people only come to the West Village now to eat. As has been reported often recently, brick-and-mortar businesses are struggling—along Bleecker Street, Christopher Street, and elsewhere in the city. Much of the retail business is gone. High residential rental rates create very tight budgets for residents, and the convenience and savings of online deals can make tight budgets work. The expensive luxury apartment dwellers seem to shop less frequently as well. Perhaps they travel, and use shopping services like Net-A-Porter.
I’m sad to say that soon, when the lease expires, Musée Lingerie will be moving from Christopher Street. We are searching and hoping for a spot that may work. Currently, we are located next door to the Lucille Lortell Theater. A planned major construction project is coming next winter, and I know that the store won’t be able to survive the disruption that will be caused by noise and scaffolding. So, I’m currently trying to negotiate a spot on Bleecker Street or elsewhere, but not having much luck finding a realistic rent for a small independent proprietor. The reality that the small boutiques which once made the Village amazing can’t actually survive anymore has become clear to me. I truly believe that people love supporting small businesses and enjoy the boutique experience, but the cost of retailing in the brick-and-mortar world may no longer be feasible. I stayed in my lovely store faithfully for two years, barely making a dime, but responsibly paying every bill including the nearly $200,000 in rent. My father put it in perspective when he said “that’s a lot of panties!”
Still, I would not trade the experience for anything. Musee Lingerie has served so many faithful and thankful clients. The sexiest thing a woman can wear is a confident smile, and I am happy to outfit them with that. The compliments I receive, nearly every day, on the beauty and warmth of my store and the quality and uniqueness of the products, and delivering the boutique experience for locals and international tourists alike, have been quite satisfying.