Since the 1970s, certain types of upscale restaurants, cafés, and stores have emerged as highly visible signs of gentrification in cities all over the world. Taking Harlem and Williamsburg as field sites, we explore the role of these new stores and services (“boutiques”) as agents of change in New York City through data on changing composition of retail and services, interviews with new store owners, and discursive analysis of print media. Since the 1990s, the share of boutiques, including those owned by small local chains, has dramatically increased, while the share of corporate capital (large chain stores) has increased somewhat, and the share of traditional local stores and services has greatly declined. The media, state, and quasi‐public organizations all value boutiques, which they see as symbols and agents of revitalization. Meanwhile, new retail investors—many, in Harlem, from the new black middle class—are actively changing the social class and ethnic character of the neighborhoods. Despite owners' responsiveness to community identity and racial solidarity, “boutiquing” calls attention to displacement of local retail stores and services on which long‐term, lower class residents rely and to the state's failure to take responsibility for their retention, especially in a time of economic crisis.