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New York Post

 

How The De Blasios' Furniture Imports Boost New York

August 11, 2014

By Nicole Gelinas

First Lady Chirlane McCray chose West Elm to donate $65,000 worth of furniture to Gracie Mansion because West Elm is based in Dumbo. “We brought some Brooklyn flavor with us,” she said.

In spirit, yes — but not physically. West Elm makes almost nothing in New York. Yet the 58-store chain is emblematic of New York's economy — which thrives on trade and travel.

Most of what the de Blasios chose is imported, and most of the imports are from Asia. The closest they got to the five boroughs was one couch made in Mississippi and one made in North Carolina.

Stroll around West Elm's Upper West Side store, and most anything you see made of wood comes from southeast Asia: India, Vietnam, Indonesia, China.

Among the smaller stuff, you can find a wine carafe and tea towels and a few other cool sundries made in America, but you'd have a hard time filling your mansion without buying from China.

West Elm does have stuff made locally, but the local wares in the Upper West Side store are mostly jewelry, coasters and notebooks — stocking stuffers, not anything to sit on or sleep in.

Could the de Blasios have bought “made in New York”?

Sure. Gothic Furniture makes bookshelves and coffee tables, beds and dressers, in Queens.

Gothic started out 45 years ago selling dorm furniture to NYU students. Customers came back years, even decades, later to say their furniture was in excellent shape — and wanting to buy more as they rented or bought a bigger apartment.

“Someone [else] sees a bed go for $900, and they go to Ikea” for a cheaper option, says Ari Zaharopoulos, whose dad founded Gothic. “But in the long run they buy the same thing over and over.”

Gothic employs 85 master carpenters and associates in the city, many of them immigrants. But most furniture-making has gone the way of the rest of New York's manufacturing — to the South and overseas.

Just listen to the mayor. Campaigning last year, Bill de Blasio lamented that “New York City was once a beacon of manufacturing . . . Since the 1970s, manufacturing employment . . . has dropped precipitously” from a million post-war jobs.

Just since 1998, the city has lost 119,600 manufacturing jobs — over half the 195,900 that remained.

Zaharopoulos survives because “we own our own factory. . . Real estate was much cheaper [when they bought] . . . I don't think somebody starting out today” would make the same choice. His biggest challenges are retail-store rents and labor costs.

Though candidate de Blasio wanted New York to “rediscover [its] manufacturing roots,” his Gracie Mansion furniture choices show how hard that is.

Yes, New York has gained 600 manufacturing jobs in two years. But there will never be enough people looking to buy made-in-Brooklyn to support mass industry.

Does it matter?

West Elm creates jobs. On top of 90 in-store jobs, it has 320 people working here in management, marketing, design and administration.

And why did West Elm put management here? Because it's selling to richer, urban consumers, and it won't learn what those folks want from a cheap suburban office park.

West Elm is not cheap (unless you're mayor). The Upper West Side store is in one of the most expensive apartment buildings in the world — 15 Central Park West. Its third New York store is in Chelsea, the most unequal congressional district in the country.

People shop at West Elm not because they have to buy imports, but because they want to spend time browsing at a beautiful and conveniently located Manhattan (or Brooklyn) showroom— even just to buy a fluffy towel (made in Portugal or Turkey).

As low- and middle-market stores in America's suburbs struggle, West Elm is doing fine by locating in rich cities from New York to London.

Thanks in part to the financing power of its parent company, Williams-Sonoma, West Elm can do better than a smaller firm with retail space targeted toward the rich. Sales grew by nearly 19 percent in the first quarter compared to last year.

That demand has helped buoy New York's economy. Since 2008, New York has gained 39,800 retail jobs — far surpassing the peak before the 2008 financial meltdown.

And some of the demand comes from people who run the factories that make our furniture.

Last Thursday, Five Zeng and Jason Wu were waiting to get into the Abercrombie & Fitch store on Fifth Avenue. They're two 16-year-old kids from Guangdong, China. After buying clothes, “I want to buy an iPad,” said Zeng.

They're in America for 16 days, practicing English with a traveling summer camp and dropping money from San Francisco to Washington to Boston. That's the global economy, of which the de Blasios are an oblivious but exemplary part.

Original Source: http://nypost.com/2014/08/10/how-the-de-blasios-furniture-imports-boost-new-york/

 

 
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