Ginny From the Block: The “Crowning” Achievements of Virginia Pittarelli


Virginia Pittarelli, better known in the brokerage industry as Ginny, left Madison Retail Services last year to join the retail real estate investment firm Crown Equities, where she leads a new brokerage offshoot of the company called Crown Retail. Now, about a year later, Ms. Pittarelli sits down with The Commercial Observer to discuss how the new venture has panned out and a resurgent retail market that has kept successful deal-makers like her very busy.

Virginia Pittarelli.

The Commercial Observer: The office market is definitely in a summer slowdown, perhaps even a more pronounced slowdown, given the data. How is retail doing in the city right now?

Ms. Pittarelli: Manhattan is on fire, we are so busy. Everyone has been reading about the leasing in some of the primary markets, like Upper Madison Avenue and Fifth Avenue. Go back to ICSC in May, which was a positive show in Vegas, where the environment was one where people were positive and activity was brisk, in a climate that is still fragile and turbulent. Look at our own situation and of course Europe too. New York is somewhat isolated from that.

What retailers have you been working with lately?

I’ve been doing deals with the next retailers that are coming into the U.S. I can mention one in particular, Jack Wills from London. Peter Williams [the CEO] is a terrific guy and has amazing things to say. We’ve done 12 stores for them, and they continue to grow. They’re one of several new clients we are fortunate enough to have. Everyone is expanding. The tenant demand side is almost at an all-time high. Not in all areas, but the primary markets. Rents are escalating,

Fifth Avenue is realizing per-square-foot rental rates that would have been unheard of just a short time ago, 3,000 a square foot. That’s the market there, north of 48th Street. South of 48th, people are quoting $1,000 a foot, which is incredible. Sometimes we even get a little concerned—not all retailers can afford this. Madison Avenue is back, Greenwich Avenue (in Greenwich, Conn.) is back, Third Avenue in the 60s, which had really softened, is back. In Times Square you can’t even find any space.

Do you do most of your business in the city?

We’re a national company, we rep our clients in Washington, D.C., South Beach, Chicago, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles. We go where our clients need us. Our primary focus is tenant rep and helping retailers to expand their store network.

Before joining Crown Acquisitions, you were with Madison Retail Services. Tell me about the decision to move and how it has been at the new firm.

Madison Retail Services was part of Madison Marquette. Their core biz, I would say, kind of modified itself, not too different from a lot of other companies after 2008, and it was time to create a new partnership where the core businesses were more aligned. Madison became more focused on third-party investing, rather than servicing the portfolio in terms of leasing deals. I was with them for over 10 years. It was and still is a wonderful company. It’s been proven you need the resources, the platform and relationships to be competitive in retail brokerage, to provide your clients with best services and the information they need and deserve, you need to have a good infrastructure. A parent allows us to have resources at our fingertips. It’s a way for the company to grow. Everything we did, this whole marriage, we want to be the best with respect to servicing our clients.

What are the synergies between the retail leasing side, which is your area, and Crown Acquisitions, which is involved in buying retail real estate assets?

We’re looking at it from a market information standpoint. We can see where the next market is emerging. And that gives them the idea of where to invest. You also have a Chinese wall at the company. I may or may not be able to say I’m working with someone who is looking for a space in an area. We’re very careful about that.

What has the past year been like since joining Crown?

It’s been a whirlwind, servicing our clients and going out for new clients and building the infrastructure here and the staff. You know it’s always a little more hectic when you’ve moved and there’s change and you want to brand yourself. It has been mostly client services and building a strong foundation here.

How are you branding yourself?

We’re never going to be as big as C&W and CBRE. We want to offer the best of services. We understand retail and love it with a passion. Our success is the success that our retailers enjoy and feel after they do a deal. We look at ourselves as an extension of their team. We know what their criteria is and their concerns and goals.

Do you do deals within Crown’s portfolio?

It depends on where we are. If Crown has properties in some of the markets where we’re looking, our job is to identify any availability for our retailers and bring them every opportunity.

Brooklyn has become attractive for retailers. Whole Foods is coming to Williamsburg. The Fulton Street Mall continues to pick up major tenants. Are you doing deals in these areas?

We are doing deals in Brooklyn; we’ve been looking for spaces there on behalf of several of our clients. It’s an area of growth for many of our clients. It’s under-stored and underserved. Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens, Boerum Hill, Williamsburg, Park Slope—the residential population in all of these places has exploded, and those residents who would have had to come into Manhattan to shop are now more interested in shopping there locally. H&M has gone there, and Express. Many of the owners, as leases come up, are now able to do deals with quality national brands. Stores like J.Crew [rumored to be doing a deal in Williamsburg] will be able to service the new residents in a neighborhood that’s already drawing people in because it’s an exciting and great place with great restaurants and bars.

Which retailers are you working to bring to the borough?

That’s hard for me to say. You know who our client list is and the people we represent. Several of them. When Whole Foods did its deal, I think that opened people’s eyes.

What neighborhoods in Brooklyn have you been focused on?

The top streets for us would be probably Atlantic and Fulton. We’re looking in Williamsburg. Prospect Heights. We’re watching the landscape, seeing how it develops, how the synergies develop. You never want to lose the classic feel and character of the neighborhood and of the retail. That’s what will make these markets unique, if they keep their character and have unique stores or retailers—an eclectic feel with local purveyors, and mixing that in with these top chains. That’s what will make these Brooklyn retail markets thrive and draw people from in and out of the neighborhood. You don’t want it to be like a shopping mall situation.