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Urban Outfitters Liquor License Denied by Community Board Committee

By Meredith Hoffman | October 4, 2013 12:30pm
 Urban Outfitters was denied a liquor license by a committee of Community Board 1.
Urban Outfitters was denied a liquor license by a committee of Community Board 1.
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DNAinfo/ Emily Frost

WILLIAMSBURG — Urban Outfitters' grand plan for its first multi-sensory consumption haven in New York, where shoppers down booze and drunkenly buy floral skirts, might not have a shot at seeing the light of day.

The chain store, which is proposing a three-story center in a converted North Sixth Street warehouse, was denied its liquor license by the local community board's liquor license committee Thursday night after an hour-long exchange between impassioned Urban Outfitters staff and perturbed local residents.

The staff insisted the booze was part of a way to become "an integral part of the community" with a restaurant, pop-up booths and a rooftop space, but the committee didn't buy their pitch.

"I get the kumbaya moment, but why do you have to be blasted to do that?" asked board member Rob Solano. "I go to Ikea and have a sandwich with meatballs, and I don't need a drink. I have no idea where the alcohol fits in."

The decision by Community Board 1's liquor license committee will be followed by a full board vote next week, but boards nearly always follow their committees' recommendations.

Still, the board's vote is only advisory, and the State Liquor Authority makes the ultimate decision regarding the license.

Board members said their biggest objection stemmed from what they said was the lack of accountable leadership.

"Is this an integral part of the future of Urban Outfitters?" one of the members asked, to which representatives said yes. "Then why isn't the owner here? Will he provide us his cell phone?"

The representatives could not answer those questions, but they assured residents that the store's management would be responsive to community concerns. They also said they were not trying to create a "nightclub" or anything of the sort.

The center, explained Urban Outfitters' director of store development James Smith, would only offer alcohol in the restaurant on the second floor and roof, while the basement would provide pop-up shops for local crafts.

The whole space, Smith said, would be called "The Space Ninety 8."

"We want to be able to create not just a store but a location with multiple uses that our customer enjoys," Smith said. "We see a need to be more than just a clothing outlet given how much you can buy online."

The promotional literature for the center included references to a music venue and a rooftop where customers could go to parties, events, outdoor movies, and "enjoy drinks and WiFi...and sometimes just sunshine."

Instead, Smith insisted that the concerts, movies and parties were just part of the original plan, and that the Space Ninety 8 would just have a mellow restaurant.

The eatery would be run by Elan Hall, the current owner of the Gorbals restaurant in Los Angeles' Alexandria Hotel, who said he wanted to open an eatery in Williamsburg since it was "a hot spot for new great restaurants" and that he needed to serve alcohol to succeed as an establishment.

And Smith said the Brooklyn warehouse would take Urban Outfitters' Los Angeles successful shopping center the Space 15 Twenty to the next level. The Space 15 Twenty includes a handful of shops and eateries in addition to Urban Outfitters, but the businesses sublet the space.

"For us as a business [having them sublet] is less than ideal," Smith said of the increased profit they would make by operating business throughout their building.

But to the board and to some local residents, the Space Ninety 8 would swallow the already busy block and would continue to push local businesses out of the area.

"I'm not going to be the guinea pig," Solano said of the plan.