By Cheryl Wischhover
At a recent visit to BOC (410 Columbus Avenue at 80th Street), I listened to the mother of a middle schooler pour her heart out to the sympathetic salesperson behind the counter. Both of them shared stories about their kids’ angst and how their Upper West Side schools were supporting their families. The customer gave a heartfelt thanks to the shop employee for listening and walked out with a purchase. This is a common scene at BOC.
Boyoung “Bo” Kim, BOC’s owner, says that people come in to buy clothes, of course, “but they’re also coming to talk. Like a lot of them. And sometimes we just open the wine and they talk and talk.”
Independent neighborhood stores like BOC are fulfilling a need that people have to get out and touch the merchandise and maybe even have a real conversation with people who understand you—and who will give you wine. In addition to the high-touch service, Kim figured out a decade ago what Upper West Side shoppers want to wear and has been iterating on that discovery ever since.
BOC sells clothes and shoes, with some accessories like bags, beauty products, and fine jewelry sprinkled in. The merchandise sits in a price point category called “contemporary,” in the middle of the spectrum between fast fashion (Zara) and luxury (Chanel). Sweaters and leather boots are a few hundred dollars, and at the high end, there’s currently a down leather puffer for $1,800. It carries brands like Apiece Apart, Frank and Eileen, Moussy jeans, and Italian shoe brand Officine Creative. Transit Par Such makes a pair of pants that have been so popular at the store, the brand produced another batch especially for BOC when they sold out.
Kim says customers “know the quality” of garments and want items that aren’t heavily branded, but that are “clean and simple.” The fashion media has dubbed this look “quiet luxury,” and it’s what’s been on offer at BOC for years. The palette is generally neutral, with lots of cashmere and cotton. Sneakers and boots are simple and unadorned.
Kim, 40, became a merchant via a circuitous route. She studied journalism in Korea, then came to the US to study fashion design at FIT. After a few short stints at brands like Alexander Wang and Theory, she was having problems finding an employer who could support her work visa. Then she got pregnant and had to regroup.
When her first child was still a baby, Kim launched her own fashion collection. She packed up the baby and drove to every small NYC boutique she could find with a lookbook to pitch her collection. In 2013, she happened upon BOC, which originally stood for “Boutique on Columbus,” but was in a location on Broadway at the time. The owners mentioned to Kim that they wanted to sell the store and convinced her to buy it. Within three months, without any experience even working in a store, she owned it.
The Broadway landlord wanted BOC to leave, so the first thing Kim had to do was find a new location, which is the current one across from AMNH. She had to learn the business as she went. “The first three, four years, we didn’t know what we were doing, didn’t know the customers or clothing. So it was hard,” she said.
But now Kim knows, and her customers sometimes come in twice a week to see what’s new in the shop. One woman once spent several thousand dollars on multiple days in one week. While Kim herself lives in New Jersey, most of her seven-person staff lives on the Upper West Side. They will text regulars about new treasures in the store. Some have become close friends with customers. (Kim generally stays behind the scenes at the store. She declined to be photographed for this story.)
During the pandemic shutdown, Kim and her store manager of seven years, Samantha Silvers, hurried to take photos of all the merchandise and sold items online. They packed up purchases and delivered them to customers on the same day. When brands ran out of inventory because factories were closed, Kim tapped into her design background and launched her own private label called Amannna, featuring breezy, casual dresses and tops. The clothes are made in NYC in the Garment District, a rarity these days when so much clothing is produced overseas.
The shop is thriving, and Kim opened a second outpost on the Upper East Side (1321 Madison at 93rd) in January 2023. She hopes to move the UWS location to a larger space in her current building. In a refreshing change of pace for renter/landlord relations, Kim notes that she loves her landlord, who has shown a lot of generosity to her through the years and is a loyal customer of the store.
The fashion scene on the UWS is certainly not the most robust in the city, but Kim appreciates how each store here has its own lane. In a move reminiscent of the sales tactics of the fictionalized Macy’s in Miracle on 34th Street, BOC will send customers to other shops, like Liana or Only Hearts, if they don’t have what someone is looking for.
Unlike the transitional nature of other neighborhoods in the city, the UWS has a loyal potential customer base. “I think the Upper West Side has the strongest stable clientele,” Kim said. “They’re very like, ‘This is the Upper West Side. We’ve got to support our stores!’”
Cheryl Wischhover is a freelance reporter who has covered beauty, fashion, fitness, and retail for over a decade.
Correction: Samantha Silvers was mistakenly called Stephanie Silvers in an earlier version.
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