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Kleinfeld quits Bay Ridge • Brooklyn Paper

Kleinfeld quits Bay Ridge

Say it ain’t so — first the Dodgers and now Kleinfeld.

The giant bridal emporium, a Brooklyn mainstay since 1941, announced Wednesday
it would move to Manhattan this summer.

Kleinfeld, the country’s largest outlet for designer wedding dresses,
has outfitted generations of brides who have perused selections —
by appointment only, of course — at its Fifth Avenue and 82nd Street
flagship in Bay Ridge.

Its new location will be at West 20th Street and Sixth Avenue in Manhattan’s
fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, co-owner Ronald Rothstein announced.
Kleinfeld’s 185 employees will move with the store.

The decision to move was based partly on the fact that about 80 percent
of the store’s customers work in Manhattan, Rothstein said. The new
location would also allow a “grander, more theatrical environment”
and 35,000 square feet of floor space — about twice as much as the
Bay Ridge store, he said.

Built from an initial $600 investment in 1941, the business grew to encompass
three storefronts and become a mecca for brides-to-be and their entourages.
After the store was sold to a French investor, in December 1990, it suffered
a decline, but its resurgence came in 1997, when Gordon Brothers Capitol,
a Manhattan investment firm that buys failing businesses, rights them
and then sells them saved the shop from bankruptcy.

The firm sold Kleinfeld in 1999 to a partnership that included Rothstein,
Mara Urshel and savvy investor Wayne Rogers, the actor who played Trapper
John on the 1970s television series “M.A.S.H.”

“I was not familiar with the wedding dress business when I first
entered into this partnership, but over the last six years I have learned
that absolutely everyone comes to Kleinfeld,” Rogers said this week.

In a 1999 interview with The Brooklyn Papers, Hedda Kleinfeld Schacter,
who founded the store with her father and her husband, Jack Schacter,
credited the artisans she employed with the store’s success.

“People would say, ‘Why did you stay in Bay Ridge?’”
she recalled. “It is because we had the best working staff. It was
a classy labor market. The seamstresses and the sales people had very
high standards but didn’t like the idea of traveling to the city
everyday, so they came here and they had an outlet for their talents,
and it was very good for the reputation of the store.”
That staff will now be bused into Manhattan, Rothstein said in a statement
Wednesday.

The Kleinfield store opened at 8206 Fifth Ave. in 1941, a year after Hedda
emigrated from Vienna with her family.

“It was a labor of love,” said Hedda. “I used to love fashion.
Since I was a little girl in Vienna I would get the American fashion magazines
and just eat them up. It was a love. It was an art and it was a craft.”

Her father, an engineer in Vienna, went back to his father’s business
when he arrived in America and became a furrier.

Hedda’s family worked in the store but Hedda’s father, who wanted
her to spend some time out of the city, allowed her to take a job watching
dogs for a family in Connecticut. The family needed an extra person to
work in the store.

“A cousin of mine recommended Jack as a very hard-working and ambitious
young man to work in the store,” said Hedda. “He started on
Memorial Day and I was already gone but he saw a picture of me and said
he liked what he saw. He said he didn’t even really like the job
but stuck around so he could meet the girl in the picture.”

“I came home at Labor Day and we were engaged by Thanksgiving and
we got our marriage license on Dec. 6, the day before Pearl Harbor,”
she recalled.

The business began as a partnership between the newlyweds and Hedda’s
parents. It was originally a furrier with a millinery department. Jack,
who served in Okinawa during World War II, was absent for some of the
business’ infancy.

“[Jack] came home on St. Patrick’s, 1946, and by then the business
had progressed quite well,” said Hedda. “We moved into also
carrying cloth coats and suits — eventually dresses — but it
was all very high-priced clothing, which was unusual for the area but
we felt that it was needed so we continued giving the service.”

“Then so many people came in for white dresses and we realized that
we could go more bridal,” said Jack.

The couple lived above their store, raising two children there. Both kids
attended Poly Prep and worked in the store after school.
After selling the business, Hedda and Jack moved from their apartment
above the store to a Fifth Avenue apartment on Manhattan’s Upper
East Side.

Rothstein said this week that the company had been looking for larger
quarters in order to accommodate its expanding business, and to continue
its tradition of individualized attention that is Kleinfeld’s signature.
“After an exhaustive search throughout Brooklyn and the greater New
York area, we at last found the perfect space in Manhattan,” said
Rothstein.

“The new Kleinfeld location will be dramatically more spacious and
elegant, but one thing that will not change is our focus on our customer,
which is the magic behind Kleinfeld.”

“We’re delighted to be building a one-of-a-kind retail destination
in Manhattan, and we are extremely proud of the fact that it has been
designed from the ground up with the needs of our brides and our staff
in mind, in true Kleinfeld style,” commented Urshel.

In making the move, Kleinfeld is also building upon recent business success
in Manhattan. In February, the company established an initial presence
there with the opening of Kleinfeld Bridesmaids’ Loft, a 4,000-square-foot
loft space in the garment center, at 270 W. 38th St., which has already
surpassed expectations for customer appointments and sales.

The news of the move came just a day after a freak accident sent a man
hurtling through the shop’s display window.

The Connecticut man, 57, was struck at 7:38 pm on Tuesday by a 2006 Infiniti
that flew onto the sidewalk after colliding with a 1991 Ford Thunderbird.

The man was thrust feet-first into the window with glass shards hanging
precariously above him, according to witnesses, but suffered only minor
injuries.

— with Associated Press

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