Still gracious, but also funky and hip


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Or how a legacy 55-year-old retail legend remakes itself and seeks a younger, trendier clientele


Photos



  • The sun-lit interior of the modern new Gracious Home at 498 Broome Street in SoHo, which opens its doors on Sept. 27. Photo: Gracious Home




  • Esther Eaton, CEO of Gracious Home, at the SoHo store. Photo courtesy of Gracious Home




  • Storefront on Third Avenue and 70th Street in May 2017. Photo: Charmaine P. Rice



“At least one a day, someone tells how much they miss us on the Upper West Side.”

Company CEO Esther Eaton



Gracious Home is roaring back to life.

Ever since its founding in 1963, the iconic home-and-housewares retailer has been the go-to destination for upscale Manhattanites in quest of homes, furnishings and lifestyles that were, well, gracious.

Now, the retailer is modernizing and relaunching its brand, with a grand reopening in SoHo on Sept. 27, rebooting its merchandise — and looking ahead to a prospective return to the Upper West Side.

Even as it keeps the faith with a graying customer base, the stylish household emporium is putting out the word loud and clear: This is not your grandfather’s Gracious Home anymore.

“My goal is to bring in younger customers so the brand can survive,” said Esther Eaton, the company’s CEO since March. “You can’t survive if you’re only tending to the needs of your older core customers.”

Upper East Siders who’ve flocked to the original store at 70th Street and Third Avenue since Robert F. Wagner occupied City Hall and Lyndon B. Johnson sat in the White House will still find the welcome mat out.

And they will still be able to furnish their Park Avenue apartments and homes in the Hamptons homes with the finest bedding, bath linens, lighting, glassware, silverware, china, candles, closets, floral, fragrances and other home accessories.

But what they will not see is the panoply of neither-here-nor-there items that was the stock and trade of the battle-scarred retailer that survived two bankruptcy filings in August 2010 and December 2016, eventually shrinking from four stores to the lone outpost on the East Side.

“We’re not going to carry Mr. Coffee, and we’re not going to carry cotton balls!” Eaton said.

“That was the model of the old Gracious Home — an inventory that carried everything under the sun,” she added. “But we do not want or hope to be everything for everybody.”

Under new ownership since billionaire and serial entrepreneur Tom Sullivan bought the company out of bankruptcy for $4 million in June 2017, it is now refocusing its business model and moving, albeit cautiously this time, to become a Manhattan chain once again.

With new management in place, Eaton is now building “that endless aisle” online, repositioning the store as a hybrid that combines digital with hipper, brick-and-mortar operations in a campaign to lure younger high-end shoppers and a greater assortment of luxury suppliers.

To that end, Gracious Home this week is debuting a 1,283-square-foot shop at 498 Broome Street off West Broadway in SoHo that it deems crucial for its sales growth.

Post-bankruptcy, the company recorded annual sales of $5.3 million, of which roughly $1 million came from online transactions, a figure that is expected to head north this year and next, though Eaton says it is too early to release projections.

Once the SoHo shop is up and running, executive plan to develop a design center in its 300-square-foot basement, which will be open to the public and is intended to attract designers displaying of-the-moment merchandise.

The store replaces a shuttered Gracious Home that had a “hard industrial feel” and carried products that was “a bit off for that clientele,” Eaton said. “So we came up with a new formula — a little more contemporary, a little softer, a little more fashion-oriented, with a younger and more funky feel.”

In a nutshell, Eaton sums up the two different markets in which she operates: The younger SoHo customer “wants more color and style,” she says, while the client on 70th Street prefers the “more classic look” in bedding and décor which, she points out, is “very often white.”

On the Upper East Side, she adds, “They’re not looking for funky sheets and crazy designs.”

But even as Soho opens its doors, the 3,000-square-foot UES flagship is begin renovated, redesigned and repainted, with new flooring, new shelf-and-floor displays, modern air conditioning and new merchandise.

“Once the Upper East Side is freshened up and performing well, and once the SoHo store is operating at its peak, we’ll evaluate what comes next,” Eaton said.

And therein lies a huge measure of hope for Upper West Siders, many of whom are still mourning the closing of the Gracious Home at 1992 Broadway on the corner of West 67th Street in December 2016 after an 18-year run.

“At least once a day, someone tells how much they miss us on the Upper West Side,” Eaton said. “I would love to return.”

Don’t get too excited. She hasn’t started scouting locations yet. It’s still early in the formulation of company plans. It wouldn’t be a very large store on multiple levels like the original that bowed in 1998. The chain’s new model is a smaller footprint of 1,200 to 1,500 square feet.

“But in the future, it’s where we very much want to be,” Eaton said.

invreporter@strausnews.com







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