Something is germinating on Fifth Avenue.
Floral sidewalk installations — courtesy of Van Cleef & Arpels and beautifying a stretch from 50th to 60th Streets this month — suggest a heightened agenda to enhance the appeal of the nation’s most prominent high street.
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“It’s about creating a sense that even though you’re in New York and feeling its excitement and the sidewalk culture of New York, you’re in a place that feels a little different,” said Marie Boster, who has been president of the Fifth Avenue Association since last December.
“Blooms,” a program that began in May 2021 as a gift from the Fifth Avenue Association to a recovering New York City, has become an annual event, bringing plants and flowers to the avenue. It’s been different this year.
“Van Cleef & Arpels said, ‘We have an idea to make this bigger and more floral and more of a public amenity,’ and has taken beautiful art and beautiful flowers and designed these structures to let New Yorkers and visitors have a new experience on Fifth Avenue. It’s spring and we’re all getting out of our apartments, our homes and looking for some greenery, for some of that natural beauty, and that’s not always easy to come by in our dense urban cityscape,” Boster said.
Ten colorful and immersive sidewalk installations, created by French illustrator Charlotte Gastaut, were commissioned by the luxury jeweler and watchmaker. There are 5,600 blooms in multiple varieties, from zonal geranium and kalanchoes to Geiger begonia and hydrangea, and four constellation dogwood trees at Pulitzer Plaza. Helen King, president and chief executive officer of Van Cleef & Arpels Americas, said Gastaut’s creations bring the sidewalks to life.
In an interview with WWD, when asked whether she brings a new agenda to the Fifth Avenue Association, Boster replied: “There are three main areas that I’m focused on. It’s how to protect Fifth Avenue, how to elevate Fifth Avenue and how to advance Fifth Avenue. Everything I look at is done through those lenses. My predecessors certainly cared about those things, but the way we’re doing it is different. It’s important for us to reflect the culture of the brands that invest in their stores and are invested in Fifth Avenue. So you’ll see a lot of stores, boutiques and maisons collaborating with artists, often contemporary artists.
“Fifth Avenue can’t win on legacy so we have to think about how we can advance it, and what the future of Fifth Avenue is. When I think about elevating it, it’s about making sure everything we do is refined. I want Fifth Avenue to feel that you are deeply rooted in New York City and also that it feels different from every other street in New York,” whether that’s fresh plantings, art installations, maintaining the bronze statuary lamp poles, or having garbage receptacles distinct from those in other business improvement districts.
On Fifth Avenue, several major flagships have arrived or are soon to arrive, including the reimagined Tiffany & Co. The Landmark; Mango, and Chopard, and coming this fall, a Chanel high jewelry store and a Swarovski flagship.
“We are seeing stores invest in the experience, not just the retail,” Boster said. “That’s what stores with larger footprints or floor plans are doing. That’s what Fifth Avenue spaces allow. If you walk into the Nike House of innovation on 52nd Street, there’s very little retail on that first floor. There’s an interactive basketball court. You can shoot hoops while avatars cheer for you.
“Tiffany’s new store has extraordinary art for a different experience,” Boster added. “There’s a room with Audrey Hepburn’s Givenchy dress she wore in ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s.’ There’s nothing you can buy in that room. It’s just the dress and a loop of her stepping out to look in the windows of Tiffany. And Van Cleef has brought new ways to show beautiful plants on the sidewalks.”
The timing of the additional flagships is good considering pedestrian traffic along the avenue is a lot stronger than last year, Boster said. “We are restarting counting the pedestrian traffic. We are hearing from our stores that they are seeing a lot more people on the sidewalks.”
Boster said bringing innovative experiences to Fifth Avenue is “very aligned” with the priorities of New York State Gov. Kathy Hochul and New York City Mayor Eric Adams. “Their top priority is the public realm. Our leaders and government want to see making our streets, our public spaces, more exciting and enticing.
“We need to find new and creative ways to excite and delight visitors to our streets in New York,” said Boster, a native New Yorker originally from the Upper West Side who has been involved in politics and policy roles. According to LinkedIn, Boster was most recently Pace University’s assistant vice president of public affairs and earlier executive director of communications for the school. She also served as executive vice president at DKC public relations; as a partner at O.T. Solutions, a firm specializing in New York politics and labor union issues, and a chief of staff for Anthony Weiner, a former U.S. Congressman who resigned following a scandal.
The Fifth Avenue Association and Van Cleef & Arpels have been hosting free weekly musical and dance performances, children’s programs and other events during weekends in May at the Pulitzer Fountain. Also in May, Longchamps did crystal readings and complimentary embossing; the Peninsula Hotel has been offering Peter Rabbit-themed suites; David Yurman this month offered live fashion illustrations, handwritten Mother’s Day cards and packaging calligraphy, and The St. Regis Hotel staged sabrage classes with Champagne, among other events and activities during the month.
“That’s what we love to talk about — things on the avenue that you can’t do anywhere else,” Boster said.
The Fifth Avenue Association was founded in 1907 to support all of Fifth Avenue from Washington Square Park to Marcus Garvey Park before there were BIDs. The association became a BID 30 years ago and covers 46th Street to 61st Street along Fifth Avenue, as well as 57th Street from Madison Avenue to Sixth Avenue.
Among those on the association’s board are Darcy Penick, president of Bergdorf Goodman; David Kamilar, flagship leader at Apple; Brett Herschenfeld, managing director of S.L. Green; Cardinal Timothy Dolan of St. Patrick’s Cathedral; Laurent Claquin, president of Kering Americas; Anish Melwani, CEO of LVMH North America, and Mark Levine, Manhattan Borough president.
Last December, Adams revealed a plan to study a redesign of Fifth Avenue. The chief adviser of the Fifth Avenue Association, Madelyn Wils, co-chairs the planning group. “Our board is very invested in a reimagined Fifth Avenue streetscape that supports pedestrians. The big emphasis is widening the sidewalks so pedestrians have a better experience,” Boster said.
Last week, Adams and other city officials mapped out a strategy that aims to curtail shoplifting, robberies and organized retail theft in the five boroughs of New York City. “The Fifth Avenue Association is working with Mayor Adams and his administration on preventing retail theft,” Boster told WWD last week. “We are proud to have one of the most successful and productive relationships with our local NYPD precinct and are grateful that when people come to Fifth Avenue and to 57th Street they feel safe. Our community safety officers and security supervisors are on the street seven days a week and are always proactive in their work and know that it’s critical to focus on repeat offenders, as a relatively small number of people are responsible for the majority of retail theft.”
Historically, some retailers have complained about street vendors illegally setting up shop along Fifth Avenue. Asked about that, Boster said, “The association has always been very proactive about making sure that regulations are enforced. So street vendors are not permitted on Fifth Avenue six days a week. You will see [vendors] on side streets, but we are constantly monitoring that. That’s why we have seven days a week community safety officers who are working to make sure that regulations are followed, and that the sidewalks are maintained for pedestrian access.”
Boster noted that the Adams administration recently moved the enforcement authority to the Department of Sanitation, which has an enforcement arm. On Sundays, vendors are allowed on Fifth Avenue.
The Fifth Avenue Association has a staff of 43 people working the avenue. “I love our community safety officers and sanitation team. They come from all walks of life. We have a very diverse and wonderful staff.
“Historically, the association has operated 363 days a year. We didn’t operate on Christmas and New Year’s [Day],” Boster explained. “One of my board members sent me pictures of overflowing garbage cans on New Year’s Day. And that means there’s a lot of people around, which is a wonderful thing, and now that also means the association will be working 364 days a year on cleaning services, including on New Year’s Day. Because we know a lot of tourists are here, we want their impression of Fifth Avenue to be an excellent one. We see Fifth Avenue as New York City’s front door.”
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