Recessionary Tremors: Larry Ortiz

By Chris Caggiano

Originally published on Advocate.com November 05 2008 1:00 AM ET

When Larry Ortiz and his partner, Lenn Shebar, opened the upscale clothing store N on 116th Street in New York City 2½ years ago, they knew they’d hit a ripe market. Thanks to Harlem’s gentrification, there was a steady stream of affluent new homeowners, priced out of more expensive neighborhoods downtown, but there was no place to shop for fashion. “In Harlem you don’t have the same range of stores that you have in Chelsea or the Upper West Side,” says Ortiz, who helped open the chic Meatpacking District emporium Jeffrey in 1999. “We wanted to create the same sort of commercial retail that those of us who live in Manhattan are used to.”

N’s product mix, featuring both men’s and women’s clothing, includes established labels like Hugo Boss, Nicole Miller, and G-Star Raw as well as local designers like Byron Lars and B. Oyama. Prices range from $100 to over $3,000. But as retail sales have fallen nationally, so have those at N.

“We’ve seen a decrease in the number of visits [by regular customers] as well as the number of items people purchase per visit,” says Ortiz, 38. “We’re definitely seeing the same faces but not as frequently, and they’re leaving with less.” He’s also noticed that customers seem to be buying more accessories than basics or entirely new outfits. “It’s probably because people are trying to do more with what they already have,” he says. “We see a lot of people mixing it up with a new hat, belt, or scarf, updating their look.”

As a couple, Ortiz and Shebar, 42, have responded to the souring economy by scaling back how often they go out to dinner. But when they do, they make sure to patronize one of their fellow Harlem businesses. “The downturn has made us more conscious of other businesses,” Ortiz says, adding that he and Shebar make it a habit to check out a new restaurant or retail store at least once a week.

As for their own business, Ortiz says they’re confident they can weather the recession. After all, he says, when “the economy goes back to where it needs to be, we want to be around to enjoy it.”

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