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Pandemic Aside, Denim Retailers Cut Ribbons on New Stores

The retail playbook is ripe for a new chapter on the dos and don’ts for opening a store during a global pandemic—a situation that several denim-centric retailers are currently navigating. Though as many as 25,000 stores could shutter this year, according to Coresight report published in June, brands with a laser-sharp focus on their product and identity are charging ahead with expansion plans.


This week Vancouver-based Duer opened its first-ever international store in Denver. Located in the Mile High City’s trendy RiNo district, the 1,600-square-foot space offers the performance denim brand’s full range of jeans as well as its No Sweat and Live Lite collections.

Denver’s active outdoor lifestyle aligns with Duer’s products, which are known for benefits like antibacterial and temperature-regulating properties, power stretch and reinforced seams for durability.

“Denver has been on our radar for quite some time—we chose to not let the current retail climate cloud our eagerness to expand within the U.S. despite the tough year,” said Gary Lenett, Duer co-founder. “We have a strong base of Duer fans already in the Colorado region thanks to our wholesale network of retailers including our latest partnership with Mountain Standard in Boulder.”

But the pandemic and the damaging effects the crisis is having on brick-and-mortar retail did weigh heavily on the type of format the company chose for its foray into U.S. retail. As a result of the current economic backdrop, Duer adapted its strategy in favor of smaller-format stores featuring the brand’s best-selling designs, to ensure they mitigate the risks associated with entering a new retail market.

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Duer did not, however, scale back on experience. The Denver store incorporates the experiential elements present in the three Canadian stores, inclusive of a denim playground complete with swings and performance rubber flooring for shoppers to test the limits of their jeans.

“Our goal is to create an experience for our consumers that extends beyond the traditional retail model and offers them a way to engage with the pieces in the way they are meant to perform,” Lenett said.

Duer’s growth plans include stores in Los Angeles, New York and Seattle.


London-based heritage brand Belstaff’s plans to cross the pond and open a New York City flagship coincided with the start of the pandemic. The company, however, trudged along with building out the 2,000-square-foot space in the Meatpacking District, which opened in early September, by empowering a team of local denim experts and creators to lend their touch.

Located on Gansevoort Street, alongside the future home of Frame’s new store, the flagship features Belstaff’s first workshop concept that offers customers “retail theater” by way of opportunities to restore, repair and renew their existing or just-bought pieces. There, shoppers can also design their own jacket using a new “Build Your Own” service to personalize Belstaff outerwear with myriad customization options—from fabric and patches to laser prints and chain-stitch embellishments.

The workshop will host a program of socially distant events with local makers, including printmaker Fred DiMeglio, who designed a custom bandana for the store and denim master classes with Christine Rucci, founder and creative director of Godmother NYC Inc. A curated assortment of vintage denim and military bags sourced by Rucci, as well as upcycled vintage Belstaff pieces revamped by the denim stalwart are available at the store.

Denin-centric brands with a laser sharp focus on their product and identity are charging ahead with expansion plans during the pandemic.
Belstaff Angela Velasquez

In early 2021, Belstaff will debut a capsule collection of jeans exclusively for the store made by denim head favorite, Blackhorse Lane Atelier in London, which is known for making small batches of jeans for U.K. brands.

This focus on makers is carried into the store’s design. Hammerite green steel, blackened steel, reeded glass and gold or brass details with industrial finishes are used throughout. Glass and timber cabinets sit alongside an antique double-bow cabinet filled with vintage motorcycle props and customized helmets. Persian carpets and vintage military canvas armchairs add to the relaxing environment, while details like the wooden benches outside the storefront are etched with the names of the people who help build the store.

“With its working history, eclectic culture, and art and design community, the Meatpacking District is the perfect home for our New York store,” said Helen Wright, Belstaff CEO. “Today the neighborhood is illuminated by a vibrant collective of people, exciting venues and landmarks old and new. The industrial heritage of the area resonates with our story, and this store opening symbolizes our commitment to community values, authentic style and local craftsmanship.”

Ace Rivington

And on the opposite coast, Ace Rivington founder Beau Lawrence is betting on a change of locale to help jumpstart his brand’s pandemic pause.

The Southern California denim brand and retailer is moving from its spot in Santa Barbara’s La Arcada shopping district to the heart of downtown on State Street. According to Lawrence, this is a long-term strategy for generating more foot traffic.

“I’ve decided to take the next big calculated gamble with Ace Rivington,” Lawrence said. “I’ve cashed in on all of the government loan money I was blessed to get for building new inventory, and we’re moving our brick-and-mortar Santa Barbara store into our biggest ‘Main Street’ location yet.”

This isn’t the first creative move Lawrence made in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, the founder and his staff hand-delivered local denim purchases at a reduced shipping rate—a simple concept that earned him 60 sales in just one week. And leading up to California’s shelter-in-place mandate, he held a four-hour flash sale on the site, which generated enough funds to cover his staff’s pay for the following weeks.

The store will feature Ace Rivington’s line of selvedge denim, as well as offer collection knits, sweaters, outerwear and GOTS-certified organic winter flannel, all made in the USA. Full tailoring service will also be available.

The relocation will give the retailer a more visible brand, as well as proper office space located on the second-floor mezzanine overlooking the store—a significant upgrade for Lawrence, who currently operates the brand out of his garage.