Four Questions: Retail Magic in the Meatpacking District


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Jeffrey Kalinsky, the founder of the high-end chain Jeffrey, at his store in Chelsea.

Credit
Andrew White for The New York Times

If you find yourself walking the Belgian-block streets of the meatpacking district, you are likely to be near a clothing boutique. It wasn’t always that way. Jeffrey Kalinsky, the founder of the high-end chain Jeffrey, was something of a retail pioneer when he opened the second location of his namesake store in the neighborhood in 1999. “Everyone thought it was radical,” he said.

In 2005, the Seattle-based department store company Nordstrom acquired the Jeffrey stores, but Mr. Kalinsky continues to oversee them. Since 2007, he has served as Nordstrom’s executive vice president for design merchandising. He is also known for Jeffrey Fashion Cares, the annual fashion fund-raiser, now in its 15th year, for charities that benefit the gay community.

Why did you choose the meatpacking district?

In 1999, brands really cared about distribution in a different way than they do today. I wouldn’t have had enough money to open uptown, and if I did, the brands I wanted to carry might not have sold to me. They would have perhaps said, “Jeffrey, we love you, but we already have this store, and this store, and this store.” I wanted to look for an area where there would be no reason not to sell to me. I wanted to find a location where I could afford the rent and the build-out. And I felt the address was good, because you would know how to get to 14th Street between Ninth and 10th. I wanted people, in their brains, to know how to get there.

What’s the main thing driving you?

Service has been what I’ve focused on since I got into business. To me, it’s all about the art of the sell. I’m not going to say we perfected it or we’re always able to deliver it, because there are too many moving pieces, but it’s my truest, deepest desire: to try to be a place that is welcoming and friendly and customer-service-oriented, but in a real way, not in a canned way. It’s hard. It’s like a Broadway musical. How do you keep delivering that opening-night magic?

What is the most rewarding thing about what you do?

To know that you love what you do — so many people just have to do what they have to do, and they search their whole lives for that passion. I’ve always loved this business, and I don’t mean the fashion business. I mean the retail business.

Is there anything that you just can’t keep on the shelves?

Well, it amazes me how many shirts we sell.

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