If you’re dreading the holiday trudge through touristy midtown this season, you’re in for a surprise: Rockefeller Center is rockin’!
Tucked behind the Art Deco façade of 30 Rockefeller Plaza, in a space stuffed with some 10,000 vinyl records, there now lives a rock lover’s paradise. Rough Trade, an independent record store from London, opened at 30 Rock in June after closing its Williamsburg location in March.
It’s helping usher in an edgy vibe to the long-stodgy area, bringing live performances to the outdoor Plaza and inside the famed 65th-floor Rainbow Room alike. Last month, the rarified venue played host to British post-punk band Dry Cleaning and Brooklyn’s The Muckers.
“I feel like it brings a lot of indie and alternative artists to [those who wouldn’t] necessarily hear or see them,” said 24-year-old shopper and East Harlem resident Christian Salhany, of the store’s presence in the district. “It just shows the resurgence that the city can have, and it’s ever-changing — and it’s great.”
Another shopper, 33-year-old Garrett Troy, who lives near the former Williamsburg outpost, said, “It was a bummer to lose them in the neighborhood, but it’s a good draw for midtown — and maybe that’s part of a larger thing that’s going on around here.”
Rough Trade is in good company — and there’s more cool to come to midtown. Last week, Williamsburg’s Detroit-style Ace’s Perfect Pizza opened a 30 Rock outpost — as did Soho’s health-minded, “socially conscious” convenience store The Goods Mart, which sells $5.75 beef burritos flown in weekly from Los Angeles. On the horizon: a tap room for Brooklyn-based brewery Other Half in Rockefeller Plaza; and, across Sixth Avenue at 135 W. 50th St., a Singapore-style food market from Urbanspace and street-food guru KF Seetoh, slated to open next year.
Though a number of these spots were considering a Rockefeller Center move before the pandemic, COVID-19 launched them into action as nearby locations of chain stores like The Gap and Duane Reade shuttered.
“This moment provided us the opportunity to relocate to an area of the city that was bereft of counter culture, that was crying out for independent creative culture activity, that was widely considered to be ‘uncool,’ [while] at the same time being an area that was easily accessible,” said 48-year-old Rough Trade co-owner and director Stephen Godfroy, via email from London.
For the past few years, landlord Tishman Speyer has approached smaller, local businesses about opening in Rockefeller Center to counter the presence of chains, according to the New York Times. What’s more, they’re striking reasonable deals on rents.
For Jill Lindsey — who owns an eponymous combination boutique, café and wellness center in Fort Greene, Brooklyn — a midtown venture presented a unique opportunity to bring up-and-coming designers to a neighborhood known for being a big-brand behemoth.
“It’s been a really good breath of fresh air from what people have said,” founder and owner Lindsey, 43, told The Post. “People were like, ‘Wow, local in midtown? That’s crazy!’ … This is what New York City needs and should be about.”
She opened last November, amidst a lonely lockdown holiday season, selling apparel, accessories and home goods — such as candles by Greentree Home and handbags designed in collaboration with KZ_K Studio and 1 Atelier — in a 13-month deal that runs through December.
Lately, thanks to its location across from Radio City Music Hall, the shop has seen traffic from tourists seeing the venue’s signature “Christmas Spectacular.” And Rockettes fans have mixed with her loyal Brooklyn crew who have crossed the river to shop: “They were the ones that kept us here and they were the ones that really supported [us],” Lindsey said.
Lindsey has even hosted local designer pop-ups in her shop, including one with jewelry designer Karen Karch, 57, who had a store in Soho for 16 years before moving to Gramercy a decade ago. It shuttered last September due to COVID-19.
“I love midtown because it’s like Radio City Music Hall, Rockefeller Center — it’s so New York … but I never thought of it as anywhere I would want to have a store or have a presence,” said Karch.
“I saw what [Lindsey] was doing, which was so interesting for this area — and she told me the management wanted to bring local New York businesses to the area, so the tourists wouldn’t be seeing the same thing they could see anywhere they live.”
Seeing signs of promise, Rachel Krupa, the 41-year-old founder and CEO of The Goods Mart, also hopped on the opportunity for a midtown expansion. She opened inside a lobby-level newsstand at 30 Rock — selling virtuous riffs on snacks, like Cheetos-style puffs made of peas and jars of almond butter.
“Being part of midtown in the heart of the city, we’re able to [reach] more people, and the goal of ‘The Goods’ is to make better-for-you options easily accessible for everyone,” Krupa said of the new outpost.
Eli Sussman, the 36-year-old co-owner of the fast-casual shawarma spot Samesa — which most recently operated out of East Williamsburg before closing due to COVID-19 last September — also didn’t sniff at a midtown debut.
In March, Sussman and his 39-year-old brother Max opened a concourse-level eatery at Rockefeller Center — fulfilling the duo’s long-time goal of putting their concept to the test in a busy area.
“Midtown is a totally different beast, and although it might not have the same coolness cachet as the West Village or the East Village, or somewhere in Brooklyn, if you want to have a successful restaurant, you need to be where the customers are,” said Sussman.
“I think we bring something cool to midtown. Something new and fresh, something that isn’t just cookie-cutter.”