Retail Spec: Asics Times Square Flagship

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Published on Architizer, October 19, 2015

An unusual relic beckons passersby inside this street-level store in Times Square: a section of an actual subway-train car appearing circa the 1970s, complete with graffiti tags and retro advertising. The client, Japanese athletic footwear and sportswear brand Asics, desired “a contextual, New York City-specific environment while still maintaining the look and feel of the global brand,” explains Colin Brice, partner and cofounder of the store’s design firm Mapos. It’s only one — be it the most obvious — of many touches of localism that the project team implemented, however.

A massive, 47-foot-wide-by-17-foot-high wall echoes the Manhattan grid, for instance, but it also addresses a number of retail design needs at the same time. “Early in the design, we were looking at a few issues: how to present the full colorways of the brand’s complete shoe collection, how to activate the back wall to draw customers to the rear of the space, and how to create a dynamic element that is visible from the sidewalk,” says Brice. The custom millwork answered all of these issues and accommodates the full range of Asics’ color offerings.

Additional urban elements also keep the backdrop neutral to showcase the colorful footwear. “Product is king,” emphasizes Brice. The space’s existing concrete floors, marked by cracks and color gradations, were simply polished; soaring industrial ceilings were left exposed and complemented by a mix of track-, spot-, and suspension-lighting; and metal mesh panels were specified throughout the store, from the ceiling canopies to custom display fixtures.

Since Asics is a brand highly regarded by runners — and a major sponsor of the New York City Marathon — Mapos held informal discussions with running and triathlon athletes for input on what they wanted to see in an Asics store. Overwhelmingly, they desired a runners’ clubhouse of sorts, whether they were locals or out-of-town travelers.

The project team responded by designing a custom wall of hexagonal lockers that visitors use to store their belongings while taking select Asics loaner gear for a test run in Central Park. An interactive table at the center of the sales floor allows athletes to visit the Asics website and access their MyAsics account in order to track running routes and times. At the front of the store, steel frames on sliding hardware moves displays aside if the store needs large, open floor areas for stretching classes, presentations, product launches, and running-group gatherings. And each location has a runners’ board that serves as a meet-up where locals can post ideas on routes.

As for the crown jewel in this flagship store: “In one meeting we were talking about incorporating a ‘shop-in-a-shop’ within the store to display heritage collection products,” recalls Brice. “I’m always looking for nested two-for-one solutions and started thinking about a New York City icon. Once the subway car was on the table, the client latched onto it, so we were off and running” (no pun intended).

After a search on Google, Mapos located a subway car for sale in the Mojave Desert and enlisted Los Angeles-based Big Disco to, first, restore it with authentic parts, then “degrade” it to resemble a gritty 1970s train. Because it needed to be a functional retail space showcasing the heritage products, it features working HVAC and sliding doors, its own sound system, mannequins, and just a few added display components that blend in with the subway fixtures.

While Mapos has always added regional materials and symbols to previous Asics locations (a meat freezer found onsite in the Meatpacking District store, a heavy slab of red rock in Scottsdale, Ariz., and surfboards in South Coast Plaza), this subway-car spectacle takes the cake and has become an icon that “visitors get their pictures taken in front of,” says Brice. “A true tourist magnet.”

Interior DesignSheila Kim