Sugar Cookies’ Sweet Move: Stay in Chelsea
BY DUSICA SUE MALESEVIC | There’s nothing cookie cutter about Sugar Cookies, a lingerie boutique going on nine years in Chelsea.
The secret to the store’s success is owner Susanne Alvarado — and her memory. “When someone comes into the store, I make a point of listening to what they want and just paying attention,” Alvarado said. “And when they come back I will remember.”
When a couple recently came into Sugar Cookies (sugarcookiesnyc.com), Alvarado recalled that their one-year anniversary was coming up. “They were completely taken away by that,” she said. “They were like, ‘How did you remember?’ ”
That personal touch is something Alvarado excels at, and its rewards work both ways. When Chelsea Now visited the store recently, she had just received a bouquet of white flowers from an appreciative customer.
Alvarado used to work in the buying and merchandizing divisions for large companies that sold intimate apparel and clothing. However, she said she felt that her hands were tied, as she knew what customers wanted but was told, “ ‘Well, there’s no need for that, no one’s looking for that,’ or, ‘You don’t need to carry that size.’ ”
Realizing there was a demand, she decided to take the leap and open up a lingerie boutique. “Luckily I haven’t had to turn back,” Alvarado said as she knocked on wood.
Sugar Cookies opened at 203 W. 19th St. just off Seventh Ave. in June 2008. When the building was bought, however, it was clear that her lease was not going to be renewed, Alvarado said.
“We were sad ’cause we were there since the beginning. But we were lucky enough to find something still in the neighborhood, which we wanted to be in, just a block and a half away. It’s been good. Still miss the block, though,” she said.
The new location — at 122 W. 20th St. between Sixth and Seventh Aves. — opened last September. Staying in Chelsea was important, Alvarado explained, as they have a strong, loyal customer base. She said she was fortunate to find something that happened to be near Kleinfeld Bridal (110 W. 20th St.).
“When we were at the old space we did do a significant amount of bridal and bachelorette [customers], but we found being right on the block of Kleinfeld has also made a significant difference — like every day we’re pretty much getting a bride-to-be coming into the store,” she said.
The new store is about 300 square feet bigger, and comes with a backyard, which she is “really excited” about as Sugar Cookies also hosts private events that have included bridal showers, bachelorette parties, girls’ nights out and, soon, a book club, Alvarado said.
Alvarado says many customers like the intimate feel of the store, which allows people to feel comfortable. “We also keep a great record of every customer’s profile on file,” she said.
Keeping customers’ likes and preferences on file also helps when a significant other wants to purchase a gift. The trope of the uncomfortable man shopping for lingerie for his partner doesn’t apply at Sugar Cookies.
“The feedback that we get from a lot of our male customers — generally it is intimidating going into a lingerie store but we don’t portray that feeling. My dog is here,” she said with a laugh. “Right there that alleviates any type of pretentiousness that you might expect to have at a lingerie store. We just really make them feel at ease.”
Her dog, Kodi, is also a hit with customers. “It’s funny how a lot of the customers will know his name; [they] just know that I’m the owner, but know Kodi by name,” she said.
Alvarado handpicks everything — bras, pajamas, shapewear, hosiery, swimsuits, lingerie and more — that comes into the store. She keeps in mind a range of sizes, which run from extra small to large, and price.
In addition to well-known European brands, the store also carries locally made New York brands such as Sapphire Bliss and Graffinis. “We’re always looking to carry other small independent brands,” she said.
Unlike other local shops where online shopping is a competitor, it has been a boon for Sugar Cookies as the store’s website has increased sales and promoted awareness of the boutique. Alvarado said, “Several times someone will come in and say, ‘I saw this on your website, do you have this here?’ ”
People outside of the city who have checked out the site or bought something online often make a point to stop by the store when they come to New York, she said. Out-of-towners also book bridal showers and bachelorette events at the boutique, she said.
Alvarado has lived in Chelsea for around 20 years, and she and her husband, who also helps with the store, live near the High Line. “What prompted me to move into Chelsea several years ago was I loved the artistic feel that it had to it,” she recalled. “It was very creative back then. I love being along the West Side.”
Even though more tourists frequent Chelsea, it still has that neighborhood feel, she said — although the one thing that’s challenging is commercial rents. When looking for a new space, Alvarado said, rents had doubled or tripled since 2008.
“It’s great that you have the big chains that are moving in, but I think there just needs to be a better balance of the chains as well as the small mom-and-pop stores,” she said.
She appreciates her customers’ support and said, “They’re always asking, ‘How are doing, are you doing okay? We want to make sure that you’re going to be around.’ That’s nice.”
Alvarado said that while owning a business can be stressful, she wouldn’t trade it in for anything. “I pretty much live here. I really enjoy doing what I do,” she said. “Every day I get help them to feel beautiful about themselves. Who wouldn’t want that job?”