Monday, October 24, 2005

Pit-stained Prada

I have nothing to say about the article in New York Magazine about where gentrification in Williamsburg ends, since I've spent little time in either gentrified or ungentrified L-train territory. However, one of the highlights of every school break I spent in NYC during college was taking 6-train trips to Nolita, an area I'd loved during late high school and that most definitely had no parallel in Chicago. So I was curious to see if the "Nolita bubble" had, in fact, burst. Apparently stores are closing because the economy does not sustain tiny shops on side streets selling Vietnamese lacquerware.

Nolita's failing is that it is an area whose entire appeal is based upon its being off the beaten path, away from the throngs of tourists and commercialism of SoHo. Yet, in pure geographic terms, Nolita is right next to SoHo, and any tourist daring (or lost) enough to cross Lafayette will soon be in is midst. Plus, there are plenty of tourist spots within Nolita's borders (pizza places, mainstream bars, overpriced iced cream certainly not intended for the local hipster/models), and one of the main subway lines leading to SoHo brings passengers to what is actually Nolita (Spring and Crosby). Nolita's appeal, though, is that it offers a charming and approachable segue between Lower East Side edginess/grittiness and SoHo mall-dom. Sure, you feel safe walking around Nolita at night, maybe a bit less than in SoHo and more than on the Lower East Side. And the boutiques in Nolita may have SoHo prices, but the clothes have an independent or unusual feel to them that makes them suitable for wearing to bars on the Lower East Side. And finally, Nolita is genuinely a, well, cute part of the city, with a not-forced-seeming European feel, and with more simultaneously beautiful and cool people than might be found anywhere else on the planet. (Williamsburg may have its hipsters and Soho its models, but the forces meet in Nolita as in no other place I've been). Plus, for an expensive area, it has its bargains, from cheap designer jeans at Find Outlet to well-under-$10 meals at Rice.

The epitome of Nolita for me would be the Prince Street store Ina. It's used clothing, complete with used shoes and extra-markdown bins, but everything is still objectively super-expensive. How much should used shoes ever be, even if they have a bit of a Manolo logo left on the inner sole? While the store feels very downtown and casual (though it apparently now has a branch uptown), it is meant for people who are familiar with uptown labels and who want to pay a bit less not for avant-garde fashion but for the same clothes Upper East Side 14-year-olds were wearing three years ago. Just as it's dubious whether even in NYC there's enough of a market for pit-stained Prada, the entire neighborhood will probably have to just get absorbed into SoHo or fall apart.

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