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Fall Market Week Shows Surviving Stores Stocking Up

By Eric Richardson
Published: Monday, March 23, 2009, at 06:07PM
French Connection Eric Richardson [Flickr]

French Connection headlined Saturday night's runway shows at the Fall Fashion Market.

As the Fall Fashion Market comes to a close, the mood around the gigantic California Market Center is upbeat. "Everything's in the context of the very difficult economy that we're in, but there are buyers here," says Kent Smith, Executive Director of the Fashion District BID. "What I think I've also seen is that a lot of them are writing orders."

The recession has packed a punch for retailers, and their worry translated into less sales being done in the market showrooms. Eventually, though, retailers need to buy new products. "If their stores are still open at this point, they need to keep them open, so they need new merchandise," says Deborah Levine, Public Relations and Marketing Manager for California Market Center. "They need to bring in their fall stuff and keep their clients coming back."

As the current economic woes continue, there are less shops looking for new designs at events like Market Week. The Los Angeles Business Journal today writes about trouble for boutiques on high-end streets like Santa Monica's Montana Avenue.

About 30 shops have “sale” signs in their windows, some offering to chop 50 percent or more off regular retail prices. Worse, an additional 31 boutiques have closed or are closing. Those stores represent about 12 percent of the available space on the well-known stretch of Montana.

“It’s obviously a significant number,” said Dan Fagan, a board member of the Montana Avenue Merchants Association, a merchant-based business improvement district for the area. “There’s definitely been a downturn in the size of purchases.”

Montana can be seen as a microcosm of what’s going on nationally: While virtually all retailers are getting roughed up by the recession, boutique stores appear to be getting whacked the hardest.

Smith agrees. "I think some of the larger department stores like Saks and Bloomingdale's are dropping prices and becoming very competitive for those one of a kind boutiques. There's probably going to be some shake out there."

The stores staying open are coming to the showrooms looking for values. "They're going for things that are still quality and still with their style and aesthetic, but perhaps at a lower price point," Levine says. "Instead of selling $500 dresses, they're now selling $200 dresses. So they're still maintaining a high end customer, but a high end customer that's looking for a better deal."

Outside the market center, the Fashion District has seen its own retail struggles. "Where we've really been hurt, just like Melrose and Robertson, is on the retail side," Smith says. "That's where we're seeing vacancies where we haven't seen them. A lot of places that are really good locations are for lease."

That's not all bad, says Smith. "I think there are some positives on that, too. Some of these prime locations that have been literally out of circulation for the last twenty years, suddenly those are opportunities. People that have the right kind of product for this market will do extremely well."

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