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A retail tree grows in Brooklyn 'hood

Andrea Lillo, Staff Staff -- Home Textiles Today, December 1, 2003

Williams-Sonoma's fledgling West Elm brand — which began life as a catalog only last year — has unveiled its first store in time for the start of the holiday season.

It's chosen a neighborhood across the East River — DUMBO, an acronym for Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass, where a transition reminiscent of those earlier in SoHo and Tribeca, has been taking place.

The store is located between the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, in an area riddled with reminders of its former life, first as a bustling landing for the pre-Brooklyn Bridge Fulton Ferry, then as a rundown and virtually abandoned industrial district.

The neighborhood, too, is a study in contradictions. Million-dollar apartments and sushi restaurants sit side by side with warehouses and parking lots still ringed with rusting barbed wire. ABC Carpet & Home plunked down a store on Jay Street, while the former pastry chef at Le Cirque opened Jacques Torres Chocolate on Water Street.

West Elm is the newest resident to join the retail menagerie. And typical for this neighborhood of new and old, the 5,000 square foot store, located at 75 Front Street, is below an old-timer: Gleason's Gym, known for its boxing champions.

Stepping into the store seems something akin to walking through the pages of the catalog, not just in merchandise skus, but in capturing the feel of the presentations.

Inside, West Elm continues the industrial feel of the surrounding buildings, with concrete floors, stainless steel railings and a fluid interior design that cross-merchandises displays by color, similar to the catalog's layout.

In the rear of the store, one section is devoted to green products and another to purple, each with two dressed beds surrounded by shelves of bedding, floor cushions, decorative pillows, candle holders, vases, towels and shower curtains. Rolled rugs are displayed in bins throughout the store.

The assortment includes purple printed 200-count duvet covers ($79, full/queen), embroidered bath towels ($22), and two-foot-by-three-foot graphic cotton rugs ($19).

Playful decorative pillows include 12-inch-by-16-inch tonal sequin pillow covers ($26), swirl printed velvet pillow covers ($19) and pillow inserts ($8), along with hand tufted soft velvet gusset floor cushions ($49).

This inaugural store also features the retailer's first introduction of holiday merchandise, including ornaments and embellished stockings, which are displayed along with tabletop products such as napkins and placemats.

Printed velvet placemats are $39 for a set of four, silk organza napkins with sequin fringe are $29 for four, and beaded velvet stockings are $19.

The front of the store features several furniture collections, and hanging window treatments were found in several solid color styles in the back of the store.

Customers can also browse West Elm's on-line catalog.

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