Roxy Kirkpatrick saw the announcement on Facebook first, for a three-day shopping event called Retail Therapy. Young designers, joined by a few established ones like Tory Burch, were setting up shop in vacant apartments at Miraval Living, a brand-new condo conversion near her Upper East Side home. Kirkpatrick, who had never noticed the building before, came away with a bag and a belt and a surprising new appreciation for luxury apartments. “I wish I could move in,” she says, adding: “Maybe I should talk to my parents about buying.”
The developers of Miraval Living are hoping to hear just that. Selling condos is a shaky business right now, after all, and, as Elaine Diratz of Corcoran Sunshine, which handles Miraval’s sales, puts it, “When you go into so many of these spaces, one tends to run into the next.” The solution, she says, is to do something memorable; this draws people in and showcases the apartments simultaneously. “It’s important to come up with creative ways to drive traffic.” Especially when there isn’t that much: “There’s a certain reluctance to come to the sales office,” admits Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Frances Katzen, a condo specialist.
A few years ago, during the boom, the splashy events took a different form. Launch-party one-upmanship, involving lots of Champagne and chocolate fountains and celebrity appearances, was the order of the day. But that’s so 2006. “Many people want a purpose now,” says Andrew Harris of Madison Equities. (Madison’s West 18th project, Chelsea Modern, recently hosted a design forum with Harry Allen and the furniture consultant Smallpond.) If there’s a do-gooder aspect to the event, so much the better. Last fall, the Renwick in West Soho hosted a screening for a nature documentary on wild horses, while the Miraval event asked attendees to donate to Bottomless Closet, an organization that helps underprivileged women reenter the workplace.
Do the events work? Katzen says six buyers signed contracts weeks after the screening, five of whom had been in the audience that night. At Miraval, more than 500 people turned up; 100 expressed further interest; and, said Diratz, “If we get one apartment sold, it’s terrific.” We checked back a few days later, and it turns out that she didn’t have one serious buyer on the hook—she had three.