Malls have been a part of my life since I can remember. Atlanta, where I grew up, has some well-known ones. Lenox Square (a well-stocked behemoth) and Phipps Plaza (its more posh sister) sit across from each other on Peachtree Street, always crowded, parking an exercise in patience. When I was growing up, my mother would take my sister and me to meet my dad for dinner in the food court of Northlake Mall in Decatur. Malls make me feel good—I like being in them, I love people-watching in them, I even like shopping in them.
These days, living in Manhattan, I am rarely in a mall. I shop in the busy streets of SoHo, where half the storefronts are vacant—and I brave extreme conditions, tourists, slow walkers, and people taking selfies in front of bad murals. Classic retailing, based on relationships, has been abandoned for drops and online shopping. So when I started to hear that people were making the trek from Manhattan to get things they could buy in SoHo in an outdoor mall in Manhasset, on Long Island, it made some kind of sense.
Hirshleifers, which was founded in 1910 in Brooklyn and moved to the luxury outdoor shopping center Americana Manhasset in the '60s, is one of the most exciting and long-standing retail stores in the world. It’s a high-end department store combined with a concept shop.
The fourth-generation executive Lori Hirshleifer runs the place with help from her sisters, husband, niece, and son. The family has built something special and personal, a store that can embrace trends without losing its DNA. They’ve harnessed the power of Instagram without losing sight of old-school practices like personal shopping.
They continue to expand and offer the newest products without abandoning what they are known for, giving their customers a place to learn and grow stylistically. Sure, it's about clothes, but it's mostly about trust. Discerning taste cannot be replicated by an algorithm. At Hirshleifers, they aren't too cool to greet you warmly when you walk through the doors.
A while back, friends started sending me Lori's Instagram stories. In every image, she was wearing an eye-popping combination of designers: Chanel, Balenciaga, Loewe, the Row, Dior. But she never looked like a walking billboard; it somehow felt organic and natural. She topped it off with a staggering amount of jewelry, most noticeably Chrome Hearts. After appreciating her style from afar, I decided to go see her world for myself.
The drive is a relatively quick 45 minutes from Manhattan. The air is clean, and the labels are plentiful. I stretch my legs and wander into the store. I tell a sales associate that I am here to see Lori, and she immediately sets me up with an iced coffee from the Ladurée counter. I do a quick browse, resisting a soft-serve from the Kith Treats concession to my right. The selection is already pretty staggering: Off-White espadrilles, leopard print Saint Laurent heeled boots, and Martine Rose snakeskin-effect backless slippers line the shelves. I haven't even scratched the surface.
Lori appears from her office and greets me with a hug. She is wearing her signature layered jewelry, boots from the Row, and an older Balenciaga top. As we settle into the private shopping room to chat, she gets into the history of the store, which is also her family’s history.
"We started over 100 years ago. My great-grandfather was a furrier in Brooklyn, and then he and my grandmother moved into suits, dresses, and ready-to-wear in Forest Hills," she said. Her mother eventually joined. "My mom found this spot in Long Island over 50 years ago. It was tiny but just kept growing and growing." After a brief stint in a buying office, Lori joined her mom at Hirshleifers. "This is the only thing I ever wanted to do."
The former furrier does it all, stocking myriad brands, from Dries Van Noten and Off-White to Celine and Chanel. "We've had Chanel for over 30 years," Lori says. "It's the only Chanel store that is not owned by Chanel that looks like a Chanel store." (What a flex!) But it's not just top-tier designers, there's also Nike, Adidas, Rimowa, Chopard, Diptyque, and Cire Trudon.
The store stocks books, incense chambers, and watches (Cartier and Rolex, of course). This selection attracts moneyed locals, and streetwear-loving kids and their parents, as well as rapper Lil Uzi Vert ("He buys Chanel ready-to-wear," Lori says) and the wellness magnate Gwyneth Paltrow ("She's fantastic").
After touring the store, we head downstairs, the lower level houses back stock, shipping stations (Hirshleifers partnered with Farfetch for its online business), a large kitchen, and an office that Lori shares with her husband, David Sills, who serves as chief creative officer. The room is chock full of books, art, toys, and even a Chanel construction helmet. The wall above Lori's computer is full of family photos. As I get up to leave, she offers to walk me out and says, "I am really proud of what we do here."
Maybe the future of brick and mortar retail lies in its past. The feeling I got at Hirshleifers reminded me of discovering clothes at those malls in Atlanta. It felt like a hug. This more modern version of the mall worked for me. I will be back. Maybe I’ll even run into Gwyneth.