Deals & Dealmakers
By Roland Li
When Karen Bellantoni was growing up in Canton, Ohio, she would go to sprawling suburban malls and shopping centers. Her home state is known for retail: Cleveland-based Halle Brothers Co., for which the actress Halle Berry is named, was a major presence until it closed.
Bellantoni’s grandmother was also a big shopper, and she knew from an early age that she wanted to be a buyer for a retail store, and retail has become her career as well as her passion.
After attending Ohio University for communications, Bellantoni worked as an import program designer for the May Company in St. Louis and the Charlotte, N.C.-based Belk Stores as a buyer and merchandiser. She was also retail director at Corporate Property Investors, now Simon Property Group.
She entered real estate with Robert K. Futterman, just as he was founding his eponymous retail firm, in 1999. Bellantoni said she wanted to be a broker because she thought she would have more free hours, but the first few years of her career were frenetic. She often worked from 7:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., including weekends.
But as she gained experience and referrals, she “started to roll,” and some of her first clients continue to work with her today.
Bellantoni now serves as an executive vice president at Robert K. Futterman & Associates, and has represented a vast number of high profile retail clients, including both tenants and landlords.
She is the broker for Jamestown Properties’ Chelsea Market and recently, completed a lease for 16,163 s/f with Anthropologie, an apparel retailer.
She also represent Apple in its three newest Manhattan locations, including its 22,500 s/f store at the G.M. Building at 767 Fifth Avenue, and was a consultant for Related’s Time Warner Center. Bellantoni has also worked with J.Crew, Hugo Boss, and Godiva, and is exclusive national agent for the apparel retailer Intermix, having completed over 20 deals around the country.
She sees designer-driven clothing brands as especially active in the leasing market, such as H&M and Uniqlo, which signed a record $300 million lease at 666 Fifth Avenue for around 89,000 s/f. Although smaller spaces are appropriate for some retailers, others are looking for more space. Temporary pop up stores are also a good short-term solution, and she noted that Uniqlo started in New York as a pop up store on Mercer Street.
“It piques people’s interest,” said Bellantoni on the pop up concept, adding that co-tenants can be just as important for prospective retailers as location.
Despite the recession, Bellantoni said she didn’t see a huge dip in asking rents for retail spaces. Even the most affected neighborhoods, such as a part of Madison Avenue with around 30 empty storefronts, are seeing recovery.
“It seems as if the downtown markets have held up well.” she said. “We didn’t see asking rents ‘correct’ themselves.”
On Broadway around the Village, rents still range from $300 to $400 per s/f, while side-streets range from $125 to $400 per s/f.
In terms of neighborhoods, Bellantoni sees strength in markets below Midtown, including Union Square, the Flatiron District, and Soho. She is particularly active in the Meatpacking District, and cites Chelsea Market as a good example of a location with heavy foot traffic and where shoppers could easily spend hours. As she attributed to Ralph Lauren, “Go where young people are,” and downtown has become a magnet for young shoppers.
Bellantoni knows a bit from experience: her two daughters, who are 14 and 18, are also big shoppers. One even critiqued a retail space that she was marketing, commenting on its out-of-place staircase and size.
Bellantoni said she enjoys biking, golfing, and yoga when she’s not working, but retail is her main hobby, and beyond the leasing numbers, she’s encouraged by the health of the market.
“I’m seeing a lot of bags, “she said.