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Fashion Week Leaving Lincoln Center Means Loss of 'Millions' for Eateries

By Emily Frost | February 12, 2015 7:34am
 Local restaurateurs and managers said Fashion Week helped their business and they're sorry to see it go. 
Fashion Week at Lincoln Center
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LINCOLN CENTER — While some community activists are cheering the departure of Fashion Week, which kicked off for the final time at Lincoln Center Wednesday, local bars and restaurants said they'll miss the financial boost the twice-yearly event provided.

"[Fashion Week] was a boon to local businesses, especially restaurants," said Greg Hunt, owner of Cafe Tallulah about seven blocks north of Lincoln Center. "And it was a thrill to have this internationally famous event in our neighborhood.

In late December, a judge ordered that Lincoln Center could not renew IMG Fashion's sublease, nor could the city-owned Damrosch Park be used for future Fashion Weeks. The decision marked a victory for New York City Park Advocates, the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development and Friends of Damrosch Park, which had fought for it to move since the event moved to Lincoln Center five years ago. The groups claim IMG Fashion commandeered the 2.4-acre public space for private use and destroyed the park's trees and plantings. 

In response, Hunt said advocates only regained "territorial sovereignty over 10 square yards of obscure public space" at the expense of all the community benefits of Fashion Week. 

Geoffrey Croft, president of New York City Park Advocates, argued "the park belongs to the public" and that "restaurant owners may have been able to make public park policy during the Bloomberg administration, but thankfully that is not an issue here anymore."

Hunt, like other restaurateurs, said it's hard to quantify the exact amount of money Fashion Week generated for local businesses, especially when the winter event falls close to Valentine's Day and Restaurant Week, but he estimated it contributed to about a 20 percent increase.

"Multiply that increase by the hundred or so restaurants and retail stores in the neighborhood, and the total lost revenues could be in the millions," he said. 

In fact, a 2011 Fordham University study found that Fashion Week contributed $20.9 million to Lincoln Square, with $9 million going to local restaurants. The September 2014 Fashion Week counted 100,000 attendees at 300 shows, the New York Times reported. 

The crowds of 2011 are not the same as those today, however, as more designers showcase their work elsewhere during Fashion Week. Major designers like Michael KorsVera Wang and Diane Von Furstenberg and others have increasingly looked to show their new collections in spaces beyond the official Fashion Week tents in recent years to make an even bigger splash in creative spaces. 

Ed's Chowder House, which sits almost directly across from Lincoln Center, went to great lengths to lure in Fashion Week crowds, including designers, media members, socialites and celebrities, as well as the crews who worked behind the scenes, explained maître d' Kako Matsu. 

The restaurant hosted parties for designers and even had waiters stand outside offering free samples as a way of attracting passersby, she added. 

As a result, "there is a general increase in our reservations" during the fall and winter events, Matsu said. 

Ed's Chowder House is among the more than two-dozen restaurants that have participated in the Fashion Plate Prix Fixe, an event organized by the Lincoln Square Business Improvement District to encourage Fashion Week-goers and residents to dine out locally. 

In addition to the monetary value of increased foot traffic, "the event brought a tremendous buzz to Lincoln Square, and many will miss the fashionistas," said Monica Blum, president of the BID. 

Pamela Elizabeth, the owner of fast-food vegan eatery Blossom du Jour in Lincoln Square, joined the chorus of merchants ruing the loss of Fashion Week. 

"People attending or participating in Fashion Week are especially health-minded and often vegan-friendly," she said, "so we always loved seeing people pop into Blossom Du Jour after an event there."

'Wichcraft, the sandwich chain with a Lincoln Square location, also saw a boost in customers, co-founder Jeffrey Zurofsky said.

Still, both he and Elizabeth mentioned that a lot of Fashion Week participants grabbed meals catered inside the tents.

The BID is reassuring restaurants that it will get creative in coming up with ways to make up the lost revenue. 

Matsu, of Ed's Chowder House, shares that optimism. 

"We wanted it to stay up here," she said. "But I’m sure [the neighborhood] will have other events."