June 3rd is the grand opening of the flagship Harry Potter Store New York.
Spanning three floors and over 21,000 sq. ft., the unparalleled retail experience will house the largest collection of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts products anywhere under one roof, and offer interactive experiences in 15 different themed areas.
Karl Durrant, VP and General Manager of Warner Bros. Retail Destinations, told Blooloop why he is so thrilled to be opening the experience.
See also: The trend for magical attractions
“It’s a 22,000 square foot flagship location in the centre of the famous Flatiron District.
We are looking at it not as just a distribution point. It is retail and entertainment coming together.
“We are bringing the best of our retail offer, we’re bringing the best of our theming, and we’re bringing entertainment together in one space. We truly believe the Harry Potter Store New York is unique. There really isn’t anything else like this anywhere in the world; we believe it will be a first in the marketplace.”
Retail and theming
The store brings together the best of the Harry Potter offer.
“We’re able to create our own product within the store. Large parts of the products in the store will be completely exclusive. 80% of the offer in the store will either be totally exclusive to New York, or for very limited distribution, as in only available in about four or five locations around the world.
“With regard to theming, we have the luxury of working with the filmmakers, so we have been able to recreate many elements of the film that you’ll see inside the store. We’ve got a gigantic Fawkes the Phoenix model that will hang over the entrance on Fifth Avenue; we’ve recreated Dumbledore’s beautiful Gryphon staircase model.
The Gryphon stands in the centre of the store and rotates, as Dumbledore’s staircase did. In addition, we’ve got a Nagini in the basement that will speak Parseltongue to you, and many other really exciting things that fans will recognise from the films.”
VR experiences to open
“We’re aiming at all age groups,” he says, “We don’t really have a specific target, although we do want to make sure that the store has something for everyone.
“If you are someone that knows about Harry Potter and wants to come in and have an experience; if you’re a fan, if you’re a super-fan, or if you’re one of the elite uber-fans, you will find something in the store that will appeal to you. It’s open for everyone. At any level of fandom, we’ll have something that will surprise and delight.”
With regards to entertainment, two state of the art virtual reality experiences will be opening later this year: “One is called Chaos at Hogwarts, and one is called Wizards Take Flight. In the first, you can take an adventure around the Hogwarts castle, and in the second you can ride a broomstick down the River Thames.
There are fifteen themed areas in the store, each taking inspiration from the Wizarding World.
Fifteen themed areas
“I won’t go through all fifteen, but we have a local area, NYC Local, which is on Fifth Avenue. That is very much a designed product for the NYC consumers, so it’s branded NYC.
“In this area, we also have a MACUSA range, which is very relevant because the headquarters of MACUSA (The Magical Congress of the United States of America) are actually in New York. There is a whole range of exclusive designs for MACUSA.
“We’ve got a House Celebration area, where we bring our four houses together: Gryffindor, Slytherin, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw. Then we have a big part of the store where we have over 50 wands available.
“We have a confectionary area, very much themed after Honeydukes; we also have a toys and games area, which is themed after the Forbidden Forest; a Dark arts area.; a jewellry area; a Platform 9 ¾ area; a house robes area. And there are more. There are lots of areas to explore in the store.”
Harry Potter Store New York will also include America’s first House of MinaLima shop-in-shop. MinaLima, the graphic design duo that worked on the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts films, will showcase a large collection of their work from the Wizarding World:
“We have their shop-in-shop in our basement, which themed to look exactly like their store in London.”
A Butterbeer bar for Harry Potter New York
There is also a Butterbeer Bar, where Potter afficionados can relax and find refreshment: “It is the USA’s first Butterbeer Bar. We will be serving Butterbeer, Butterbeer ice-cream, and some additional themed food items in the store. Butterbeer is very much based on the books and the films; a sweet treat with a foamy head.
“The ingredients are very secret, but it’s a themed item that will look and taste exactly as you would imagine. We actually have two versions of the brand, a draught Butterbeer, and, for the first time in North America, bottled Butterbeer. This is actually a vegan-friendly version of the drink.
“It is available in two different label types. We have it with an original medieval label which is inspired by the original recipe from the Leaky Cauldron, and then, again exclusive to New York, we have a MACUSA labelled bottle, designed around the Ministry of Magic USA. All our bottled Butterbeer labels are designed by MinaLima.
The store is, Durrant feels, a real tribute to the Wizarding World: “I think our fans will be delighted about the things they see in the store, and how we have brought those magic elements to life in a celebratory way.”
Getting it right
As a company, Warner Bros has had aspirations to open a flagship store for several years.
“We have taken our time to find the best location for us to open a flagship. We looked outside of the UK for the first time.”
In the UK, fans of the Potterverse have the Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter.
“It has been a journey: starting to get the concept together, and then the design process. The construction has been a long process because of the current COVID constraints. It has taken around three years to get it completely right, in terms of location, the offer, and the presentation of the store.”
Interactivity and immersion
JK Rowling’s Harry Potter brand has a timeless appeal. Many of today’s fans are the children of the original audience:
“I think it is generational,” Durrant says: “People read the books, went on to watch the films, and are now having children that are reading the books, and watching the films. We have the new Fantastic Beasts film coming out. We have the, continuation of the story with the Cursed Child on Broadway.
“So it’s generational, but there’s a continually evolving storyline. And ultimately, it’s the story of the regular kid that finds strength within him. It’s a really empowering story, and one that will continue to have legs.”
There are immersive elements throughout the Harry Potter Store New York’s three floors.
“We have an immersive wand experience. There is a digital wand screen in our wand area, where you are able to cast spells and patronuses. There is an interactive wand table, where you can interact with the wands of the nine key characters across the Wizarding World.
“We have multiple photograph opportunities. For example, we have a London telephone box like the one in Whitehall which served as the visitor’s entrance for the British Ministry of Magic Headquarters. We also have an area where you can measure yourself against Hagrid.
“There are lots of exciting immersive opportunities in the store, as well as the opportunity just to immerse yourself in that pretty incredible environment.”
Something positive after the pandemic
Opening the Harry Potter Store New York at the beginning of June will be, he feels something positive after a very dark time.
See also: Ten benefits to come out of the pandemic
“It’s been a very difficult time for many people. We’re aiming to bring a bit of magic back into people’s lives. We’re managing the opening as safely as we can, conscious of the current situation.
“As of our planning right now, we’re opening with a reduced capacity to make sure we can maintain social distancing in the store. All of our staff will be wearing a face mask.
“We will be asking all of our guests to wear a mask when they come into the store; if they don’t have one, they will be provided with a free mask. We’re also upping our cleanings in the store, and offering hand sanitising stations at all points through the store. We’re also operating a virtual queuing system for the Grand Opening.”
Visitors to the store will scan in with a QR code, which will give an estimated wait time, followed by a reminder 15 minutes before they can enter, to give them time to return to the store, if they have left to do something else in the interim. They will then scan their phone, and enter the store.
Inside and outside Harry Potter New York
“Keeping our fans safe is our number one priority,” Durrant says: “That will mean that we’ll have reduced capacity in the store, but we know that the digital queuing will help people manage their time. If there is a wait time of a couple of hours to get into the store, they don’t have to spend that time in a queue. They can go and get a coffee. The Flatiron District is absolutely beautiful; there’s lots to do.”
The store has a distinctive, Potter-esque visual appeal from the outside as well as the inside. He says: “We wanted to choose a vibrant location within New York, and the Flatiron District really ticked that box. The building is from 1860, so predates the Flatiron Building. The architecture is very beautiful, and fits perfectly with the Wizarding World.
“Outside, we have Harry Potter New York branding, and on Fifth and on Broadway, you will see two bronze statues of Hungarian Horntail dragons over our clock. You definitely can’t miss the building.”
“It’s beautifully designed; eye-catching, but at the same time fitting in with the aesthetics of the surrounding area. We really feel that we’re opening at the right time. It’s a good moment. There is a momentum; things are starting to shift.”
Creating the Harry Potter store New York
The project has been a collaboration between a number of companies, he says: “We worked with the Warner Brothers studio archives to understand the original elements from the films.”
Over 1,000 Wizarding World props are on display, including authentic items which featured in the movies: “In terms of bringing the store to life, a number of agencies were involved.
“We worked with a company called Household Design, based in London, on the initial design and concept of the store and with Cod Steaks out of Bristol; their background is very much in the creation of elements for museums and retail.
“Technically Creative, a company based out of York, in the UK, worked on the digital content.”
The immersive experiences orchestrated by Technically Creative are a large part of the magic that crosses (or appears to cross) from the Wizarding World to the Harry Potter Store New York.
Marc Broadbent, Founder and Director, Technically Creative Keeping the Potter brand heritage at heart
“Working with Warner Brothers and this exciting brand enabled our team to really get creative. While keeping the brief and brand heritage at heart, we were able to pioneer a catalogue of special effects and mixed media solutions that work wonderfully within the fabric of the new store design and storyline.
“In a time when people are craving to enjoy retail therapy once more in a tactile manner, we have been able to interpret magical features and interactive immersive installations that will truly ‘wow’ the visitors in a world of fantasy, with film-like quality and precision.
“Working closely with Warner Brothers brand ambassadors and staying faithful to all available style guides and assets, we worked our magic to create even more magic.
“The results speak for themselves, all set within what you would dream of as a Harry Potter landscape. From concept interpretation, R&D, manufacturing, programming , animation, special effects and show control, we took care of the process from start to finish in-house, and installed across the water with ease. Our project management and communication skills enabled us to work closely with the client to realise the challenge and final vision.
“We are truly delighted and proud of the result.”
Harry Potter New York opens June 3rd at 935 Broadway.
All images kind courtesy Warner Bros.