JCPenney’s new Manhattan store – the 107-year-old retailer’s first on the island – received an in-your-face welcome from The New York Times’ “Critical Shopper” column, which wondered, “Why would this perennially square department store bother to reanimate itself in Manhattan – in the sleekest, scariest fashion city in America – during a hair-raising economic downturn?” Chairman Myron Ullman counters such skeptics thus: “With our assortment of great brands, we will offer Manhattan shoppers the style they want at affordable prices.”
JCPenney also counts the store’s locale in the Herald Square shopping district as a plus, along with the fact that it can be accessed from several mall entrances, a subway station and a PATH train station. “It’s in a high-profile, high-traffic site,” says John Wise, the company’s vp/director, store planning and design.
On the other hand, the store site also offered some significant architectural and design challenges, including a lack of street-level selling space and two levels of underground sales floors saddled with low ceilings. Those realities meant designers faced the two-fold task of creating a store that can “accommodate the fast pace of the city while simultaneously overcoming some rather serious constraints stemming from the space’s architecture,” says Scott Jeffrey, chief creative officer at Interbrand Design Forum (IDF, Dayton, Ohio), which worked with the JCPenney team on the project.
To draw attention to the store’s below-ground entrances, portals leading into the space from the subway and PATH stations are painted and tiled in the company’s signature red. In addition, the mall atrium housing the escalators and elevators that take shoppers down to the store contains glass showcase windows displaying JCPenney’s goods, as well as additional promotional signage.
The store itself consists of 153,000 square feet of space on two underground floors. The ceiling height on both levels is 8 feet, rather than the 12 feet typically found in new-build Penneys. To help create a roomier feel, designers installed light-reflecting floating panels to provide the illusion of added height and depth.
The lower ceilings also meant the retailer’s standard fixture package wouldn’t work in much of the store. As a result, “more than 1000 merchandise fixtures were created or modified for the store, not only to accommodate the lower ceiling height, but also to hold more merchandise,” says Wise.
Has its move into Manhattan paid off for JCPenney? Though tight-lipped about specifics, so far, so good, the retailer says. “The store’s grand opening was a huge success, and it continues to experience heavy customer traffic,” says Wise. Even the Times’ “Critical Shopper” offered this grudging praise for the store’s reception by shoppers: “It’s crammed to the gills with a widely diverse clientele, the majority of whom seem very pleased.”
JCPenney, Plano, Texas -- John Wise, vp/director, store planning and design
Interbrand Design Forum, Dayton, Ohio -- Lee Carpenter, chairman/ceo; Scott Jeffrey, chief creative officer; Garrett Thompson, senior environmental designer; Amanda Kohnen, creative director; Brady Harding, vp, project architect
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