PORT MORRIS — A fashion boutique and art gallery selling everything from paintings to beaded jeans to soap made from Moroccan oil and lemon zest has arrived in the South Bronx.
Bronx fashion designer Jerome LaMaar, 31, recently opened up what he refers to as a "gallotique" at 41 Bruckner Blvd. called 9J, named after the sum of the numbers on his birthday—5/31—and his apartment number in Pelham Bay.
LaMaar described the business as a "hub for creative thoughts" and said he hopes it shows off some new and different aspects of the South Bronx that may not immediately come to mind when people think of the area.
"Since I was a child, it was very important for me to do something that represented The Bronx in a beautiful way," he said.
"The Bronx isn't what you think," LaMaar continued, "because a lot of people are stuck in this misconception that The Bronx is still burning or that there are tons of shootouts or whatever it is they have in their mind."
He acknowledged that it was difficult to run a business like 9J in the South Bronx and that he has not seen a ton of foot traffic yet but stressed that the store was still creating some buzz and has been getting visitors from places ranging from Lower Manhattan to Paris.
Although some clothes in the store were designed by LaMaar himself, such as tie dye shirts and beaded jeans, he also uses 9J as an opportunity to showcase new and emerging designers from places like the Fashion Institute of Technology and Parsons.
"It’s people that I just believe in," he said. "I think they have a cool point of view."
Prices for clothing at the store range from about $30 for simpler items like T-shirts to $2,000 for fancier garments.
LaMaar said that 9J is and always will be open to everybody who wants to check it out and that he was born and raised in The Bronx himself. He rejects the notion that he is contributing to gentrification.
"I don’t think it represents gentrification," he said. "I think it just represents the creative energy of The Bronx."
The store also represents a lifestyle to LaMaar that he calls "South Bronx Luxe," and he hopes to use 9J to promote and expand on this concept.
"It has the roughness, but it also has the beauty that can be found here in the area," he said. "I want to build it into its own authentic brand."
His business partner in the venture is developer Keith Rubenstein, whose company Somerset Partners is planning to build a residential and retail complex on two sites close to 9J along with real estate company the Chetrit Group.
Rubenstein described LaMaar as both a very talented designer and a very nice person.
“He is a perfect example of the local artistic talent that deserves and needs support,” he said. “I am 100 percent confident in his ability and am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with him.”
LaMaar hopes to eventually open a bigger store and bring a manufacturing company to the borough so that more clothing can be made right in The Bronx.
"There are so many amazing women and men who can sew in this area," he said, "and not even in the area but in the borough."
He said he has been working in the industry since he was 15 and is very happy to be in the South Bronx.
"I’m trying to build something new," he said, "and I’ve always wanted to open up something here."