When Avi Toledo decided to open his first boutique in 1980, he chose Columbus Avenue as its address. At the time, the area was not the destination it is today, but the budding entrepreneur saw its potential. “Columbus Avenue was filled with a lot of restaurants and cafes and reminded me of Paris,” he explained. “I saw that they needed boutiques and I was the first or second to open on Columbus.”
The brand quickly expanded and at one point had up to five stores around Manhattan. Now, Toledo is focusing his efforts on operating just one store in another ideal location, the Time Warner Center. The retailer opened with the now iconic building in 2004.
How did you get started in the fashion industry?I was working in boutiques as a salesperson and had a lot of connections in the industry with manufacturers. At the time, retail was the only place to shop, not like now. I enjoyed the industry and was good at sales, and that inspired me to open my own store.
You worked as a driver while you opened your first boutique.I drove in Manhattan and to the airports. When you pick up people at the airport, sometimes you pick up people who are famous. I did it part-time at night because I just opened a boutique on Columbus Avenue. It was a small boutique and I was trying to develop it, so I did extra work as a car service. I picked up Miss Universe from Venezuela and Miss USA. At the time, they were staying at an apartment especially for the pageant contestants. And I took them to that building that, later on in my life, I moved to, ironically.
How did you pick Columbus Avenue as the location for your first store?I thought it would be up-and-coming. Now it’s only boutiques and some restaurants. But there was a time in the 80s and 90s where there were only boutiques and not too many restaurants. People would shop at my store after they had dinner because I stayed open until after 11 in those days.
How have you seen the Upper West Side change?Well, it’s developed now. There are new buildings, Lincoln Center was transformed. A lot of fancy chains and boutiques came in because the rent went up. When I started, the rent wasn’t that high. It’s a whole new ballgame right now. That’s why I always aim to stay new and fresh and bring in exciting, new and hip designers, and also those who give back to the community and to charities.
What are the positives and negatives to owning a business in the Time Warner Center?The positive is that it’s a high-traffic area and tourists come in and love it and it’s unique to an average store in the street. It’s a unique mall; there are not a lot of stores. It’s more of a boutique mall. Plus, with all the great restaurants, Whole Foods and Jazz at Lincoln Center, they can make a whole day and night of it. We are also open seven days a week, Monday to Saturday, 10 to 9 and Sunday, 11 to 7. I don’t see any negatives right now; it’s a perfect location and we’ve been here for over 12 years.
What is the atmosphere like in your store?Very customer-service friendly and we have fashions for women sizes 0 to 12, so we get mothers and daughters and it’s welcoming for everyone. It’s just a nice place to shop and nice people work here. The clothing is fun and playful. We keep changing the clothing every week. We sell a lot of dresses. We are also have amazing jewelry, hats, handbags, belts, scarves, whatever you would need to complete your whole look in one place. We also get many celebrities and their stylists who love shopping here for their events and special appearances. We offer in-house stylists who get to know our customers, and know what they like and contact them when new styles come in. We have a great lounge area, to give a place to sit and relax or for the men in our customers’ lives to sit back after a great day of shopping. We also have a great online store and keep up-to-date with social media