Shinola, a new maker of watches, bicycles, leather goods and journals — all manufactured in Detroit — has opened a flagship store at 177 Franklin Street in New York City.
The store’s dramatic interior, with its high ceilings and clean, 1930’s-inspired vibe, embodies both Shinola’s commitment to authentic American craft and Tribeca’s industrial past, says designer and architect David Rockwell, founder and CEO of the Rockwell Group. Rockwell designed the store, as well as Nobu, Nobu Next Door and the Greenwich Hotel in the same Tribeca neighborhood.
Classic Brand Revived
Shinola shoe polish was sold in the U.S. from 1907 to 1960 and is famously associated with the World War II-era colloquialism “You don’t know sh– from Shinola.” In reviving a classic American brand, the two-year-old company is casting an emphatic vote for domestic manufacturing. The company occupies 30,000 square feet of space in Detroit’s College for Creative Studies (a collaborative partner) in the historic Argonaut Building, which previously housed the engineering, research and design department of General Motors. The growing company currently employs 75 people.
The connection between bicycles and watches is hardly far-fetched. At the highest levels of quality, both represent complex machines with large numbers of precision moving parts. Shinola’s watch movements, created in the Motor City factory in collaboration with Swiss maker Ronda AG, are the size of a nickel.
“If we can do that in the U.S., in Detroit, we can do anything,” says Daniel Caudill, Shinola’s creative director.
Celebration of American Craft
At a time when the overwhelming majority of bicycles sold in the U.S. are manufactured in the Far East, Shinola is focusing on the hand-building tradition of bicycle-making, Caudill says. Thus, the steel frames and forks are produced by Waterford Precision Cycles led by Richard Schwinn in Waterford, Wisconsin. Bicycles are hand-assembled and finished in small batches in the Shinola store that recently opened in Detroit, Caudill says.
Two classic models, the Runwell 11-speed and the Bixby 3-speed, priced at $2,950 and $1,950 respectively, were designed by Sky Yaeger, a talented veteran of Bianchi USA and Swobo. Created for urbanites, the bicycles’ city-ready features include internal hub gearing, front and rear disc brakes, a chain guard, fenders and, on the Runwell, an integrated Porteur-style front rack. I got my first glimpse of the striking two-wheelers at the Interbike industry trade show in Las Vegas last September.
In the new store, bicycles are displayed on walls and shelving amidst apparel, watches, cycling accessories, leather goods, books, and other products that invite browsing and discovery. Especially noteworthy, and highly unusual (along with thoughtful merchandising) in the world of cycling retailing, is a spacious, curtained dressing room that provides a comfortable, well-lit place to try on clothes.
Rockwell says the space relates to a “love affair with ‘making’.” About half the fixtures, including a metal spiral staircase leading to a catwalk, were custom-fabricated and the balance are “found” objects, including a large wooden display cabinet at the back of the store, as well as a vintage bronze world-map installation on the west wall.
A Space to Pause
With displays that convert to seating and a large drop-down screen, the store also aims to foster community by presenting programming such as films and demonstrations. Inside the entry, a handsome coffee bar, Smile Newsstand, operated by the owners of The Smile on Bond Street, provides seating and service of espresso drinks, teas and fresh baked goods and also sells books and magazines.
Prior to the store opening, Shinola made an auspicious debut in the Big Apple with a display of its product line in the men’s department of the flagship store of Barneys New York on Madison Avenue; an exclusive offering of limited-edition Shinola watches on the Barneys website sold out within a single day.
In addition to its own branded products, the Franklin Street store is selling additional selections, such as jeans and ceramics, by Detroit craftspeople. Caudill says the store also plans to add products made in NYC.