Westfield Corp., the Los Angeles-based developer of the Oculus center at New York’s World Trade Center, wouldn’t permit its retail tenants to put up just any store in its premier development. So when Bergmeyer Associates (Boston) was tasked with designing Canadian apparel brand Kit and Ace’s newest location, delivering the unexpected was top of mind.
“Every tenant was expected to bring something new and exciting,” says Stan Kubinski, Bergmeyer project manager. “You couldn’t just use your last latest-and-greatest prototype. Every concept had to be approved by the developer.”
The ceiling in each store had to be a focal point, per Westfield’s requirements, says Kubinski, “So we created this sculptural ceiling, a modern interpretation of a Canadian West Coast forest. It was intended to give the expression of being under a canopy of big trees.”
Cutouts in the gypsum panels above allowed LEDs to shine through like lightning strikes streaking across the ceiling.The cashwrap echoed the folded modern geometry of the ceiling, while floor fixtures down the middle of the store featured vertical tubes that shot into the air like trees in the woods. Vertical panels along the store’s perimeter also supported the modern aesthetic of the West Coast woodlands, and a decorative back panel with hollow metal tubing running across the store reinforced the tree canopy aesthetic.
But at 1200 square feet, this store had to be more than just a dramatic interpretation of Canadian topography. “Because of the cost of the real estate, every square foot of the store had to be productive,” says Kubinski. “The fixtures were designed for maximum density. The perimeter was put to work, as well. Everything had to drive sales.”
The store opened August 2016, and the retailer was one of the few tenants ready for the transportation center’s grand opening. On April 28, 2017 – just eight months later – it closed. In fact, Kit and Ace, which had opened 52 stores in 52 weeks, closed all of its U.S. stores. Only a few Canadian stores remain, as part of the company’s strategy to eliminate international storefronts and downsize its overall brick-and-mortar operations.
“If you’d told me a year ago that this entire operation would close shop and be done, I’d have laughed,” says Kubinski, who worked on approximately 20 of the company’s stores. “People love the brand and loved going to the stores.
“In fact,” he says, “I’d have predicted another 50 stores by next year.”