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New York’s Best New Stores Put Design and Experience First

Manhattan has long played host to some of retail’s best and brightest innovations, attracting gliterring global flagships enlivening retail destinations from longtime stalwarts like Fifth Avenue, SoHo and Columbus Circle to newcomer Hudson Yards.

A range of newly designed stores help to cement New York City’s status as a true “retail marketplace,” said Ray Ehscheid, director of client services for IA Interior Architects, creator of spaces for apparel and footwear brands like Asics and Combatant Gentleman, a suiting startup serving the modern millennial man. IA designs “people-centric environments” that “enrich the human experience, create wellness, strengthen brand and culture and integrate technology,” according to the company’s website.

Here’s a selection of some of the most interesting new stores that opened last year and the design and experiential elements that make them tick.

SoHo

Starting in the downtown neighborhood of SoHo, Ehscheid, speaking on an NRF Big Show panel highlighting new NYC stores, cited 34 Howard Street’s R13–the denim brand founded by Christopher Leba in 2009–for opening a retail space ushering customers on a “journey through endless contradictions.”

While exposed brick and concrete foster that juxtaposition, expansive floor-to-ceiling LED screens showing dynamic imagery and serving as aisles and product display space also catch the eye. With no clothes visible when looking into the store from the street, consumers have to venture past the digital screens to see what’s behind the monolithic panels, essentially inviting passersby inside.

When the edgy Canadian luxury outerwear player Moose Knuckles opened its first U.S. flagship last year, also in SoHo at 57 Greene Street, the brand elected to employ gold glass, polished mirrored stainless steel, and a multi-level screen at the ground-level store, in addition to rich red velvet walls outfitting the lower level. “An aura of the surreal dominates the space,” Ehscheid said of the space, which also features reclaimed cast-iron columns and railcar tracks to amplify the raw visual experience.

Last year, The North Face opened a new 8,000-square-foot location in SoHo on Broadway that now serves as its prototype for new stores. Dubbed a “basecamp for exploration,” the store is designed to inspire experiences as opposed to simply selling apparel and gear. A dedicated section highlights the brand’s sustainability efforts.

“The museum-like space is dedicated to The North Face exploration,” Ehscheid said. Included in the displays are historical items used by known athletes, such as the sleeping bag used by rock climber Emily Harrington.

Meatpacking, Hudson Yards and Columbus Circle

Manhattan's Nordstrom flagship, The North Face's SoHo outpost, and the new "family experience" Camp store show the best of retail design.

A look at the Comme des Garçons shop inside Nordstrom’s NYC flagship.

The Meatpacking District’s new two-story, 5,300-square-foot Hermès store opened in April, bearing floor-to-ceiling windows “streaming natural light,” Ehscheid said.

Shoppers can enjoy a drink while charging their phones in the communal sitting area, and the product assortment is oriented toward attracting a younger, hipper customer, Ehscheid said. Consumers can browse skateboard bags, sneakers, other active-lifestyle items mirroring the neighborhood’s vibe, in addition to signature entry point items, such as silk scarves, ties and perfume.

Hudson Yards, which opened in March, is now home to Forty-Five-Ten and Neiman Marcus. The former occupies multiple store fronts, with each site aimed at a different category, from men’s and women’s wear to home and vintage.

Neiman Marcus, spanning 188,000 square feet across multiple floors, includes a sixth-floor space that hosts live performances and events like “guest speakers or book clubs. There’s also a digital styling lab where [customers can] engage with a digital stylist,” Ehscheid said.

Nordstrom‘s new Columbus Circle women’s flagship store occupies 320,000 square feet across three different buildings, said Murf Hall, Nordstrom’s store design director and fellow NRF panelist.

The flagship’s clear facade features a translucent wave design flooding the interior with light for a warm and open effect. “The LED lights can change [to] coordinate with holiday and in-store city events,” Hall said. High ceilings–at 19 feetand natural white stone complement warm metal finishes.

Nordstrom focused on a pared-down design using flexible design features that can be easily rearranged as needed. Shoppers can take advantage of nine stylist suites in the high-tech stylist lounge in addition to a movable fitting room. All seven floors offer a service outpost so customers don’t have to travel far to seek assistance, and some departments offer differentiating features denim alterations sections, Hall said.

Balenciaga’s new 4,400-square-foot store, at the corner of Madison Ave. and 59th Street, boasts futuristic, tech-heavy influences, Ehscheid said. The interior mimics the urban vibe more common to public, outdoor environs, and mannequins throughout the store have been cast from the silhouettes of real people, he said.

Let’s go to camp

Camp reimagines what a family experience and play-themed retail store can look like.

In the wake of Toys “R” Us going out of business, former BuzzFeed chief marketing officer Ben Kaufman decided to reimagine toy stores and play experiences for kids and families by creating Camp.

“In the eye of the retail apocalypse and the toy store slash toy industry apocalypse,” former BuzzFeed chief marketing officer Ben Kaufman decided it was a good time to enter the retail market with a fresh spin on what a store for kids and families could look like.

“I watched marketers spend so much money on popups that were so far removed from transactions, so far removed from the actual point of consideration, that it felt like there was a way to capitalize and also improve the behavior that is driving people into popups,” he said at NRF’s Big Show earlier this month, “but create a real community around these shared experiences.”

And thus, Camp was born. The one-year-old retail startup Kaufman co-founded already boasts a store footprint spanning New York City (Brooklyn, Fifth Avenue and Hudson Yards), Dallas and Connecticut’s South Norwalk. Billing itself as the “family experience store,” Camp merges commerce with experiences to become a place for the whole clan “where everyone is having fun,” said Kaufman, who also serves as CEO.

Camp’s Fifth Avenue location, Kaufman said, is intentionally designed to resemble a throwback general store, with a hodgepodge of bric-a-brac strategically gathered to invite interaction. “It’s meant to look like it’s been there for 100 years,” he added, emphasizing Camp’s nostalgic references to millennials’ childhood summer escapes.

A little further inside, the “magic of Camp” unfolds behind a special door and tunnel ushering visitors into the store’s heart and soul: a themed experience that rotates every 12 weeks.  Complete with all the trappings of a professional theater, the space is home to full-size set pieces that tell a changing story in a program that integrates merchandising into play spaces, Kaufman said.

Because its themes change so regularly, Camp doesn’t sell fixed selections of merchandise, but rather offers product in categories like apparel, toys and gifts designed to amplify the experience visitors get in stores. Beyond the entry-level “base camp,” the store invites customers to experience travel camp—and explore global destinations like Paris and London—or indulge their gastronomic proclivities with a farm-to-table jaunt into cooking camp, Kaufman noted.

Standing up a new retail venture like Camp has helped Kaufman disprove many misconceptions about experiential, he said, which some believe can be executed only by sacrificing productivity per square foot. Not so, says Kaufman, who chalks up the balancing act to a “design challenge,” pointing to how deftly Camp packs play spaces’ in-built shelving with merchandise kids might want to enjoy in the moment or take home when it’s time to leave.

And people, Kaufman continued, deliver on Camp’s magical promise. Musicians, actors, stand-up comedians and more compose Camp’s workforce and bring the stores to life.

Though Camp wants to be a place for families, the retailer also offers a date-night service where couples can deposit their progeny for a three-hour window. “We really wanted to build a brand that was part of a family routine,” Kaufman said.

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