By Cheryl Wishover
Recent visit to BOC410 Columbus Avenue at 80th Street), I listened to the mother of a middle school student pour out her heart to the sympathetic salesman behind the counter. Both shared stories about their children’s tantrums and how their Upper West Side schools were helping their families. The customer thanked the store clerk for listening and left with a purchase. This is a common scene at BOC.
BOC owner Boing “Bo” Kim says people come in to buy clothes, of course, but they’re also coming in to talk. Like most of them. Sometimes they open the wine and talk.
Independent neighborhood stores like BOC are meeting the need for people to come out and touch the goods and perhaps have a real conversation with the people who help you – and give you wine. In addition to high-touch service, Kim discovered what Upper West Side shoppers wanted to wear a decade ago and has been iterating on that discovery ever since.
BOC sells clothes and shoes, with a sprinkling of accessories like bags, beauty products and fine jewelry. The goods are placed in the “modern” price category, between the difference between fast fashion (Zara) and luxury (Chanel). ). Sweaters and leather boots are a few hundred dollars, and on the high end, there’s currently a low leather cleat for $1,800. It carries brands such as Apiece Apart, Frank & Eileen, Musi Jeans and Italian footwear brand Officine Creative. Transit Par makes these kinds of pants very popular in the store, when the brand is on sale, it has prepared another batch especially for BOC.
Kim said customers are aware of the quality of clothing and want items that are not too popular but are “clean and simple”. The fashion media called this look “Quiet luxury” and that is what has been proposed by the BOC for years. The palette is generally neutral, with lots of cashmere and cotton. Sneakers and boots are simple and unadorned.
Kim, 40, became a street trader. She studied journalism in Korea and then came to America to study fashion design at FIT. After a few stints at brands like Alexander Wang and Theory, she struggled to find an employer who would sponsor her work visa. Then she got pregnant and had to gather again.
Kim started her own fashion collection when her first child was still a baby. She packed up her baby and drove to every little NYC boutique she could find. In the year In 2013, she first appeared in BOC’s “Boutique on Columbus,” but at that time she was on Broadway. The owners mentioned to Kim that they wanted to sell the store and convinced her to buy it. Within three months, she even owned a shop without any experience.
The Broadway landlord wanted BOC out, so the first thing Kim had to do was find a new location, which is now across from AMNH. She has to learn the business as she goes. “The first three, four years we didn’t know what we were doing, we didn’t know the customers and the clothes. So it was hard,” she says.
But now Kim knows, and her customers sometimes come in twice a week to see what’s new in the store. One woman spent several thousand dollars on several days in one week. While Kim herself lives in New Jersey, most of her seven-person staff lives on the Upper West Side. They message regulars about new treasures in the store. Some have become close friends with customers. (Kim generally stays in the back of the store. She declined to be photographed for this story.)
During the lockdown, Kim and her store manager of seven years, Stephanie Silvers, rushed to photograph all the merchandise and sell the items online. They packed purchases and delivered them to customers on the same day. When factories closed and brands ran out of stock, Kim tapped into her design background and launched her own label, Amana. It features breezy, casual dresses and tops. The clothes are made in NYC’s Garment District, which is unusual these days when so much clothing is produced overseas.
The store is thriving, and Kim has opened a second outlet on the Upper East Side (1321 Madison at 93rd) in January 2023. She hopes to relocate the UWS location to a larger space in its current building. In a refreshing change of pace to the tenant/landlord relationship, Kim says she loves her husband, who has been generous to her over the years and is a loyal customer of the store.
The fashion scene at UWS is definitely not the strongest in the city, but Kim appreciates that every store here has its own line. In a move reminiscent of the novel Macy’s sales tactics Miracle on 34th StreetBOC will refer customers to other stores like Liana or Only Hearts if they don’t have what someone is looking for.
Unlike the transient nature of other neighborhoods in the city, UWS has a loyal customer base. “I think the Upper West Side has the strongest stable of customers,” Kim said. “They said, ‘This is the Upper West Side. We need to support our stores!’
Cheryl Wishover is a freelance reporter who has covered beauty, fashion, fitness and retail for over a decade..