MAVERICKS & LEGENDS SERIES: KAREN MURRAY, OWNER, FIVESTORY BOUTIQUES

by Karen Alberg Grossman

“WHEN I BOUGHT THE STORE, IT DID $5 MILLION IN ANNUAL SALES; MY FIRST YEAR GENERATED LESS THAN A MILLION.

It takes a fair amount of courage to give up a high-powered corporate career and follow your heart, but Karen Murray has always been guided by intuition. This was true back when she diagnosed her son’s medical condition well before the doctors did, when she spearheaded a non-profit that raises millions to help those affected by Marfan’s Syndrome, when she rose through the ranks of numerous corporate hierarchies (Bugle Boy, Liz Claiborne, VF, Sequential Brands) to top executive positions and when, at the beginning of the pandemic, she gave up a high-power management spot to follow a dream and purchase a designer re-sale shop in a tony Madison Ave neighborhood. Little did she know her dream shop was about to experience a five-month shutdown.

Despite some initial panic, the move turned out to be a good one. The Upper East Side neighborhood is reviving, tourism is coming back (50 percent of Fivestory’s business is tourists which is why Murray chose a Manhattan address surrounded by luxury hotels), vintage and resale are all the rage, and Fivestory boutiques (featuring both re-sale and unique new designer apparel, accessories, shoes, fine jewelry, objets d’art) have opened in the Hamptons and Palm Beach.

“I’ve always loved fashion,” she confides, “especially vintage. And I love putting looks together for friends and colleagues. Career- wise, I’d had enough of doing financial presentations to shareholders so when the opportunity came along to buy a store, I jumped on it. Of course, it was a risk: I invested my entire savings. And when we had to shut down (and board up) the store for five months, while boxes of pre-paid designer goods kept arriving, I thought it was over. When I bought the store, it did $5 million in annual sales; my first year generated less than a million.”

But surrender is not in Murray’s DNA. That first summer, with the Madison Ave store boarded up, she rented a van and opened a small pop-up in the Hamptons that did $100,000 its first two weeks; it’s now a profitable 2000 square foot gem. A Palm Beach location (2500 sq ft) opened in November to much acclaim (and an opening-day visit by Tommy and Dee Hilfiger). Murray now employs 15 dedicated associates including her son Michael who handles e-commerce and social media.

Special touches make her business truly unique: new and vintage one-of-a-kind pieces from Chanel to Yves Saint Laurent, a dedicated salon for fine jewelry and fine art (intimate art installations from old masters to modern/contemporary are on rotation), an amazing shoe salon, and home accessories from tabletop to objets d’art (including cozy cashmere throws and sculptural vases made to order). All this plus personal shopping, concierge service, closet edits, and rental service for special occasion wear adds up to a truly exceptional, relationship-driven shopping experience.

And through this new journey, Karen Murray remains the lovely, unassuming, creative, committed and compassionate person she’s always been, with a management style that’s uniquely caring. Clearly, it’s her innate ability to connect with people (customers, vendors, colleagues) in a genuine way that makes it all work.

Is there room for menswear in her vision? “Menswear is very relevant to this concept,” she insists. “When Fivestory first opened, before I bought it, the original owners offered some men’s. Since I have a menswear background and since several of the collections I now carry include men’s, I’d love to feature some unique special luxury menswear among our stories. I’m looking into it. We get asked about men’s more often than you’d guess.” 

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