Skip to main content
BoF Logo

The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.

How Hudson Yards Defied Its Haters and Became New York’s Top Mall

Manhattanites had little love for the $25 billion megaproject when it opened five years ago (the pandemic lockdowns didn’t help, either). But a constantly shifting mix of stores, restaurants and experiences is now drawing large numbers of both locals and tourists.
Inside the Shops at Hudson Yards, overlooking the Vessel.
Last year, average monthly visits to Hudson Yards increased 19 percent year-on-year, far outpacing growth at other top malls, such as Bal Harbour Shops in Florida and the Mall of America in Minnesota, according to Placer.ai. (Related Companies)

Key insights

  • Despite a bumpy debut, Hudson Yards has become a top shopping destination.
  • Last year, average monthly visits increased 19 percent year-on-year, far outpacing growth at other top malls, such as Bal Harbour Shops in Florida and the Mall of America in Minnesota.
  • Its developer Related Companies has continually refreshed the balance of retail, food and entertainment, creating a mix of accessible offerings like Uniqlo and Shake Shack as well as fine-dining options and tourist attractions.

When Anna Harman opened an outpost of her piercing studio, Studs, in Hudson Yards in February 2020, some of her friends were sceptical.

“I remember people at the time being like, ‘oh, you’re doing that?’” said Harman.

At the time, the newly opened development was New York’s favourite punching bag. The media characterised the gleaming glass towers and the multi-million-dollar condos and retail they contained as a soulless playground for billionaires. The Shops at Hudson Yards came in for particular scorn, its grey interiors and echoing corridors of French luxury boutiques likened to something you’d find in Las Vegas or Dubai.

The news would only get worse after Harman signed her lease for a small space that once housed a vending machine for expensive juice. A few weeks before her studio opened, a man jumped to his death from the top of the Vessel sculpture outside the mall entrance. On March 13, 2020, two days before the mall’s first anniversary, New York’s lockdown order went into effect.

ADVERTISEMENT

But for Studs, which had just opened its first brick-and-mortar location a couple months earlier in Manhattan’s much trendier Nolita neighbourhood, Hudson Yards proved to be the right fit. Out of 22 locations, the Hudson Yards studio sees the fifth-most foot traffic. Harman said she’s looking to move into a larger space in the mall.

Hudson Yards development; the Vessel
Today, nearly all of the 12 million square feet of residential, retail and office space in the eastern half of Hudson Yards are committed by tenants; condos are about 90 percent sold. (Francis Dzikowski/©2023 Francis Dzikowski/OTTO)

Despite a bumpy debut, Hudson Yards has become a top shopping destination. Last year, average monthly visits increased 19 percent year-on-year, far outpacing growth at other top malls, such as Bal Harbour Shops in Florida and the Mall of America in Minnesota, according to Placer.ai. In March 2024, the mall saw 661,000 visitors, edging out The Grove in Los Angeles.

Hudson Yards has also managed to attract both tourists and locals, a rarity even among top-flight shopping centres. The development’s residents and office workers drop in, as do people living in nearby Chelsea and Hell’s Kitchen. Tourists from around the world funnel in via the High Line, the popular gardens built on disused railroad tracks that terminate at Hudson Yards (which itself was named for the former train storage facility that previously occupied the area).

What changed?

First, it just took time for the new neighbourhood’s pieces to fall into place. When Hudson Yards opened, just a fraction of the 28-acre enclave’s 12 planned office and residential towers were complete. Today, nearly all of the 12 million square feet of residential, retail and office space in the eastern half of the project are committed by tenants; condos are about 90 percent sold, according to Related Companies, the developer.

Related has also continually refreshed the balance of retail, dining and entertainment at the mall itself. Spaces don’t stay empty for long after a tenant leaves, and the developer isn’t shy about swapping out underperforming stores and restaurants for buzzy new concepts.

Today, that means a mix of big luxury brands and high-end dining – buzzy downtown sushi restaurant BondSt is among the latest addition – along with more affordable offerings, like Uniqlo and Shake Shack, and experiences such as the Edge, which is billed as the highest outdoor sky deck in the Western hemisphere. Other newly opened stores include Alo Yoga and Bulgari. Fine jewellery in particular has been a strong category, according to Webber Hudson, head of retail leasing for Related Companies, with Monica Rich Kosann, Messika and watch brand Panerai coming on board in recent years.

“[Related] is constantly remerchandising the centre, keeping up with what people are looking for,” said Fokke de Jong, chief executive of Suitsupply, a men’s suiting retailer that has been in Hudson Yards since October 2019.

ADVERTISEMENT

A Pandemic Boost

Initially, Covid-19 was widely seen as a potential death knell for physical retail, particularly the sort of risky, ambitious projects that Hudson Yards represented.

That’s how the first months of the pandemic played out at the Shops, which remained closed for about six months after the lockdown order. During that time, Neiman Marcus shuttered its store, which occupied three floors and a quarter of the mall’s retail square footage (the space was leased to Wells Fargo for its offices in a deal announced late last year).

Studs piercing studio in Hudson Yards.
Studs piercing studio in Hudson Yards. (Studs)

But in many ways, the lockdowns and social isolation boosted the utility of Hudson Yards as a local hub. At a time when consumers were largely homebound, the centre became a rare site for socialising and other excursions. That image gradually supplanted, at least for some, the early views of the development as an invading force.

“Hudson Yards had to really change to be geared toward a local population,” said Brian Bolke, founder for The Conservatory, a multi-brand retail store in the mall, who has an apartment in the development. “If you’re a local, it took a long time for Hudson Yards to be built and it was a big construction site that turned into a big tourist explosion, but it’s now really settled into the fabric of the neighbourhood.”

Related leaned into the community idea, bringing in a barbershop, a cobbler and a wine store; this spring, Plaza M will open a day spa.

“After we absorbed the body blow of the pandemic and the Neiman Marcus bankruptcy, we were able to double down on the successes we saw in our first year,” said Hudson.

Retailers say the visitor mix today is a balance among local residents, both American and international tourists, and the office workers who occupy the more than 7 million square feet of commercial real estate at the development.

“Recently it’s been a lot busier,” said de Jong of Suitsupply. “All in all the centre has become a way more dynamic and commercial place.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Mixing It Up

Tenants also agree a key component of Hudson Yards’ success is a constant sense of newness, particularly in food and beverage — a major driver of repeat visitors in retail.

Related practises what Hudson calls “up-leasing,” where it allows struggling tenants to leave before their lease is up (or they default on rent), so a stronger retailer can move in. For instance, when fusion restaurant Wild Ink struggled to recover from the pandemic, BondSt took over the space. Wild Ink’s operator, Rhubarb Hospitality Collection, continues to operate another dining space nearby, Peak.

Neiman Marcus’ closure also didn’t touch off an exodus of luxury retail; most of the boutiques that opened with the mall in 2019 are still there. Louis Vuitton, which had a shop-in-shop inside the department store, opened its own location on the ground floor in 2022.

Some of the development’s most vocal critics have come around. Last June, New York City Comptroller Brad Lander told a local television network that the development is contributing significantly to city taxes — “$200 million more a year than we expected,” he said.

Another reason the Shops have lost their status as the city’s lightning rod is that Related has found new ways to court controversy. The developer’s latest proposal for Hudson Yards: a 2.7 million-square-foot casino and hotel. The plan is already facing resistance from local groups.

Further Reading

The New Rules of Brick-and-Mortar Retail

Amid an ongoing 'retail apocalypse' that’s wiping out thousands of stores, retailers are staking their future on a new generation of brick-and-mortar shops that are radically different from their predecessors.

About the author
Cathaleen Chen
Cathaleen Chen

Cathaleen Chen is Retail Correspondent at The Business of Fashion. She is based in New York and drives BoF’s coverage of the retail and direct-to-consumer sectors.

© 2024 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions

More from Retail
Analysis and advice from the front lines of the retail transformation.
view more

Subscribe to the BoF Daily Digest

The essential daily round-up of fashion news, analysis, and breaking news alerts.

The Business of Fashion

Agenda-setting intelligence, analysis and advice for the global fashion community.
CONNECT WITH US ON
© 2024 The Business of Fashion. All rights reserved. For more information read our Terms & Conditions, Privacy Policy, Cookie Policy and Accessibility Statement.