There’s a lot of history in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, if you’re looking for it. For Stacia Canon, owner of the Canon NYC store at 150 Sullivan St., that history is personal as much as it is part of her business.
Canon’s grandparents were married across the street from her store in the 1930s, and each grew up in the neighborhood. The basketball court on MacDougal and Houston used to be the site of her family’s theater, before the city bought the property to expand a subway line.
Despite her family’s roots in the neighborhood, there was a lot Canon learned after she opened her store in March. The “old-school Italians” still run the neighborhood, Canon says. Her neighbors pop into her store to tell her so.
SoHo’s Thompson-Sullivan Historic District, where the Canon NYC store lives, was home to plenty of mafia outposts. The last of the mob strongholds closed in 2011, then was converted into the Sullivan Street Tea and Spice Co. And Canon’s eponymously named storefront today was a mobster hotspot-cum-speakeasy during Prohibition, once upon a time. Through a window, you can see the basement staircase that served as the getaway route when cops busted the bar.
With NYC’s retail diminution in an age of high rents and ecommerce, (there’s a “retail space for rent” sign on nearly every city block), it’s a brave venture to open a business, especially without the resources a big-name retailer might have. Canon says she’s been planning her store opening for over a year and had to order her clothes before even moving into her new location. What’s more, she didn’t have any shopper data to study before placing her orders; she had to trust her gut on which designers to bring into the store, a risk that may pay off. Or not.
“Before you open, you’re committed to buying things for the next season, and I haven’t yet established what my customers want,” Canon says. “Come September, I’ll be looking at reports. But it’s more than that, I can walk in here and see what sold, and I’m here a lot. I see what people are responding to, I see how the brands fit.”
But this wouldn’t be the 45-year-old retail veteran’s first time opening a shop in Manhattan. Canon previously owned the store Dernier Cri (which closed in 2008) in the Meatpacking District, and built a reputation for being among the first to stock designers like Isabel Marant.
As fondly as Canon reminisces about her Dernier Cri days, she’s eager to look toward the future, hoping it brings with it success for Canon NYC. After a near 10-year-long hiatus from being a store owner during which Canon worked briefly for an ecommerce startup, she says she’s excited to work in her own space again.
And as Canon has grown up, her aesthetic has, too — the vibe at the Canon NYC store is “more refined” than the rocker-girl outfits that filled Dernier Cri. Gone are the “pierced-heart pendants, patent leather Nina Peter gloves, eccentric Ostwald Helgason multi-suspendered skirts.”
Instead, there’s a Wonder Anatomie bomber jacket that looks like the wearable version of a Firecracker popsicle (from Bangkok); an Anita Bilardi metallic sack (Korea); silver foil shorts from JT by Jessica Trosman (Argentina). And if you want to know the detailed stories about how Canon found each of the designers she’s stocked, just ask her.
Canon’s carefully curated inventory holds roughly 25 designers for her first season, a roster she says she plans to cut to roughly 20 by the fall. It’s clear that while Canon’s aesthetic has shifted, her commitment to authentic, fashion-first designers — not the “mass-produced” things you’d find elsewhere in SoHo, say a few blocks east on Broadway — hasn’t.
“This store isn’t about, ‘Oh, pencil skirts are big, so we’re going to buy more pencil skirts.’ That’s something for a Neiman Marcus to do; That’s not something for me. I have a different customer. It’s all very unique.”
And so the clothes, like the people who wear them, all have their unique stories indeed.
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Alexandra Mondalek is a writer for Yahoo Style + Beauty. Follow her on Twitter @amondalek.