With retail, restaurants, and hospitality destinations expanding beyond the traditional high profile areas of Manhattan into Brooklyn and Queens, these new trendy and prestigious destination businesses grab headlines, draw crowds, and provide organizations with an opportunity to turn an ordinary expansion into a notable global event. Nothing creates an instantly powerful brand presence like the flashy unveiling of a new store, restaurant or hotel in a high profile area.
Many of these high profile commercial areas also happen to be in historic districts. Cookie-cutter is out; historic is in. Overseen by The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC), the city’s landmarked sites, which increasingly stand out in a vertical glass and steel landscape, are ideal settings for businesses looking to differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace. Bottom line, historic properties provide the uniqueness that shoppers crave. There are more than 31,000 landmark properties in New York City, most of which are located in 110 historic districts and 20 historic district extensions in all five boroughs.
In vying for attention on the street, first impressions are especially important. Storefronts are the `face’ of the business and have to convey what the brand is all about. Whether the business is an edgy fashionable clothing store or a modern looking farm to table restaurant, the storefront design has to reflect the character of the business inside.
In most commercial areas when designing a storefront, the sky is the limit. You can design pretty much anything, as long as you comply with the zoning and building code rules and regulations. Designing a storefront in a landmarked district is another thing altogether. For those unfamiliar with the building rules in New York, it can be a little confusing. People think that if a building is not an individual landmark, but still in a landmarked district, it is exempt from the Landmarks review process. That’s not true, it still comes under LPC’s guidelines. You must still submit an application to LPC for their review. Whether the business desires a unique design, a lot of visibility, more glass, lighted signage or awnings, it is important to work with an architect who is familiar with the LPC guidelines and rules.
In addition to understanding the Landmarks guidelines, there are also accessibility requirements (ADA- Americans for Disability Act), signage, zoning and building code requirements that impact how a storefront is designed. That means balancing the aesthetics with the practical requirements.
Working with The Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) is often a lengthy and tedious process. The commission approves hundreds of permits each year, but evaluates many more. Meeting federal disability requirements with ramps and lifts, compliance with the New York City Energy Code plus the addition of signage, lighting, loading docks, etc., adds further complications and costs. Work done without the proper permits could also result in Stop Work Orders, Department of Buildings violations and fines, which range from $100 to more than $5,000.
A good first step in the process is understanding the rules. There are some landmarked districts that have their own rules, however, when it comes to storefronts they are generally very similar – Landmarks publishes a guide: Storefronts in Historic Districts – https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/lpc/downloads/pdf/pubs/App_Guide_Storefronts_HDs.pdf
There are two types of approvals – Staff Level and Commission Level approvals. Typically the faster of the two are the Staff Level approvals. The Staff Level approval is faster because there is no public hearing process. The storefront design that is submitted already complies with the LPC storefront guidelines. Commission Level approvals take longer because they require public hearings, both in front of Community Boards, local preservation groups and the Landmarks Commission itself.
Things to consider the following when submitting a storefront proposal:
- No significant historic fabric should be removed.
- New storefront infill should be framed by the existing or historic piers and lintels.
- If piers and lintels have been removed, a new opening should conform to the building’s bay rhythm.
- If the original storefront opening was reduced, it must be restored to its original size. If interior conditions prevent this, the storefront opening should be enlarged to the greatest extent possible, and the storefront surround should be consistent with the materials and details of the historic base of the building.
- Proportions, configuration, details, materials, and finish of the storefront should be consistent with the age and style of the building.
- Design of the storefront should be harmonious with other storefronts in the building ARCHITECTURE and
- Modern storefronts may be approved if they evoke the scale and proportions of historic storefronts elsewhere in the historic district where the building is located.
- Security gates must roll down on the interior of the storefront.
A staff-level approval may be granted if:
- No significant fabric is removed.
- Your proposal meets LPC’s “Restoration Rule,” (Section 2-17)
- You submit photographic evidence, physical evidence, or drawings documenting the authenticity of the proposed design of the restoration
- No evidence of the historic storefront is available and the applicant certifies a search was undertaken using the resources listed ARCHITECTURE in the Restoring Architectural Features chapter of the manual – in this case, the design may be based on the designs of buildings of similar age and style. https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/lpc/downloads/pdf/pubs/App_Guide_Restoring_Arch_Features.pdf
- The building is in the Jackson Heights Historic District, the Stone Street Historic District or along Madison Avenue in the Expanded Carnegie Hill, Metropolitan Museum and Upper East Side historic districts and meets the storefront rules or master plans for each of those districts.