Some are happy, some are offended as mall stores invade ritzy Manhattan

It wasn't quite what Truman Capote had in mind when he wrote "Breakfast at Tiffany's." Now, Holly Golightly might have to share her coffee with Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd.

At the once-exclusive intersection of 57th Street and Fifth Avenue, Tiffany's, the jewelers to Manhattan's moneyed, has as its newest neighbor a Warner Bros. theme store, where the sales staff includes roving cartoon characters.


Two blocks away, the imminent opening of a Disney superstore has Mickey Mouse displacing the Ladies Who Lunch at venerable La Cote Basque, a fabled watering-hole in the sort of tony Manhattan that increasingly is under siege by mall-style chain stores.

The New York Observer, a weekly news-cum-gossip sheet to the smart set, is calling this "the Middle-Americanizing" of New York. For better or worse, it's the dawn of the mall culture in Manhattan.


Also negotiating leases for space on the choicest cut of the Fifth Avenue shopping district are Nike and that well-known designer, Levi Strauss & Co., each planning its own superstores only steps away from such pedigreed names as Bergdorf Goodman, Bulgari and Chanel.

For years, New York had everything that nobody else in America had -- exclusive European boutiques, legendary toy stores, handmade-shoe emporiums -- and nothing that everybody else had -- Sears, Kmart and Toys "R" Us.

That's all changing now. And if there was any doubt, the recent announcement that Kmart -- that most ubiquitous of all giant discounters -- is coming to town this year effectively sealed the city's fate.

In time for Christmas 1995, commuters arriving at Penn Station will be greeted by one of the nation's largest Kmarts: 140,000 square feet and four stories of blue-light specials.

Sears, currently in talks to open a store across the street from Macy's at Herald Square, undoubtedly will not be far behind. And, said Faith Hope Consolo, managing director of Garick Aug Associates, a brokerage for retail space, "This year we're going to see a lot more. I know, because we have several deals on the boards."

Reluctant in the past to enter the nation's largest center city because of its stratospheric costs and its finicky fashion-sensitive customers, chain discounters are turning to Manhattan as they are beginning to saturate growth opportunities in their traditional suburban markets and the rents there have become a bit less daunting, retail analysts said.

The new entrants' way into the city is eased now by the ready availability of retail space suitable for big stores.

In a city of cramped and crowded spaces, it often had been difficult -- sometimes virtually impossible -- to find the expansive floors and street-level access chain stores demand.


But, thanks to the recessionary failures of several major department stores and the merger-related closings of bank branches, plenty of those properties are open. Warner Bros., for example, found its berth at a former Manufacturers Hanover bank branch.

And, as much as they may turn up their noses at the homogenized atmosphere of the chain store, Manhattanites are opening their wallets. The truth is the cosmopolitans' disdain for suburban shopping comes mixed with a lot of envy.

Nothing about apartment life makes claustrophobic narrow aisles any more inviting inside of stores. Nor is the trudge from shop to shop to buy item by item any less wearing along city streets. And even Gucci handbags feel better if, after a day at the stores, they have a little money left inside.

Across the Hudson, the New Jersey outlet stores beckon. To the east, the Long Island strip malls call.

On weekend trips into the country, city consumers have seen them, they have shopped in them and they have loved them: Stores with register receipts that read low and, all in one place, merchandise of many types. The aisles are open and wide, like superhighways for shopping carts.

So, when Bed, Bath & Beyond brought to Sixth Avenue its airy, brightly lighted superstore, stocked with comforters of all colors and draperies of all designs, the shop proved so popular it already is expanding, two years after opening.


"This is the way it should be: a lot of merchandise, well-displayed, fair prices and helpful sales people." said Patricia Linden, a 40-year-old financial risk manager, pushing her poodle, Sammy, through the store in a shopping cart.

Ms. Linden, who makes her home in Greenwich Village, a Bohemian enclave not known for its embrace of mall culture, exemplifies the present mood, said Ms. Consolo, the retail property broker.

Of course, people come from all over the world to Manhattan's stores precisely because they aren't like the suburbs. And Madison Avenue doesn't want the mall rats.

"It's terrible," sniffs Ursula Bauer, of Stuttgart, Germany, a regular patron of Manhattan's shopping districts during her twice-a-year visits to New York. "I think it's just bringing down the class of people."