Inside NYC’s Brick-and-Mortar Shopping Revival


There was some talk of late, albeit in hushed tones, that New York isn’t a great city to shop in—or at least isn’t as great as it used to be. That the city’s great shopping institutions like Barneys, Jeffrey, Opening Ceremony, and Totokaelo have been bulldozed in favor of chopped salad bars, bank chains, and jumbo-size drug stores. That the pandemic somehow sucked the wind out of the sails of a robust and lively retail scene, and that no boutique can compete with the reigning e-comm titans. But spend an afternoon shopping in New York this summer and you’ll discover why this notion is flat-out wrong.

Now, is shopping in New York different today from what it once was, even just two or three years ago? Yes, absolutely. How could it not be? The city is in a constant state of reinvention, like a snake shedding its skin, and the way it shops is in a constant state of flux. Shopping in New York today is less about worshipping at the few great temples of retail, and more like visiting an archipelago of many small islands scattered across the city, each with its own particular language, customs, rhythms, and quirks. Indeed, its own culture. Walk through its front door and you’ll be transported into a distinct world.

I thought of this recently as I stopped off at the earth-toned sliver of a shop, Colbo, to speak with Eldar Hadad; my mission was to discuss the store, which she runs with her business partner Tal Silberstein, but it was hard to pin her down as she worked the sales floor and greeted customers who were, as often as not, friends.

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Colbo
NEIGHBORHOOD: Lower East Side
Founded: 2021
Owned by: Tal Silberstein, Eldar Hadad, Ryan Dougherty, Daniel Reitten
Brands: Hed Mayner, Camiel Fortgens, Yoko Sakamoto, Sillage, Kartik Research, Porter Yoshida, Cawley, plus a wide selection of ’90s-ish vintage
Vibe: Laid-back Middle Eastern coffee shop

Hadad, Silberstein, and their two other cofounders flung open their doors on a bustling stretch of Orchard Street in the Lower East Side in 2021, and it was, almost instantly, a hit. What they sell is by no means revolutionary: The pair offer up a smattering of culty menswear brands—Adish, Kartik Research, Hed Mayner, Satta among them—plus a rack or two of discerningly chosen vintage items, with an emphasis on ’90s finds from Dries Van Noten, DKNY, and Armani. But the Colbo experience is way more lively and dynamic than what you’d expect from a typical multi-brand boutique.

“It’s hard for me to call it a store,” said Silberstein, who has wanted his own shop since he was a child. “For me it’s so much more than that, it’s my vision of life, it’s a creative expression of myself.”

The day I dropped in, the space was thrumming: guys huddled, holding roomy trousers or embroidered shirt jackets, outside the two dressing rooms while others queued up for coffee or iced chai doled out by a tattooed barista. A DJ was spinning music in the front, where plain white benches and wood-block stools were crammed with chattering customers. Outside, a chef from Japan was serving warm chicken curry and dal at a makeshift stove top, part of a party for a collaborative capsule collection the store was launching with the brand Ernie Palo, from Tokyo. On the sidewalk in front of the store, a bottleneck of pedestrians was swelling from the skateboard competition that had shut down the adjacent block. The crowds gravitated toward Colbo to see what the fuss was about, lured by the sound of music and the smell of food. The whole thing had an incredibly cozy, neighborhoody vibe—you were destined to see a friend, or make one. Hadad, wearing all black and with a tangle of thick dark hair, was running back and forth in the shop, stopping to greet friends with a winking, if frazzled, smile or discreetly tucking behind the checkout to enter a discount.



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