Taking the Asics Train

Japanese sportswear retailer Asics’ recently closed New York outpost took shoppers on an immersive urban journey
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Posted October 30, 2015

Asics (Kobe, Japan) executives recognized New York’s Times Square as an irresistible tourist magnet. Opening a 5000-square-foot flagship within the celebrated crossroads of the world on 42nd Street – between Sixth and Seventh Avenues – made perfect sense.

But despite good intentions, the store has closed in less than a year, due to a licensing dispute between Asics America and its retail partner, Windsor Financial Group (Minneapolis), which had exclusive rights to operate the brand’s stores in the U.S., according to New York Post. The midtown Manhattan location marks the last of 13 U.S. Asics stores to close this year.

In the design phase, the challenge, however, was to provide a reason for tourists to stop into the store, rather than the many others in the bustling district. Partnering with New York-based design firm Mapos LLC, they found just the right solution to appeal to the athletic masses.

The strategy was to create a New York-centric, locale-specific environment, so they needed an iconic element. In search of a yellow taxicab, a quintessential reference to New York City, the design firm tapped a resource in the Mojave Desert that supplies movie props to Hollywood's most renowned studios. The search turned up something even better than a yellow cab: A New York City subway car, circa 1961.

The aging train car was in bad shape, having baked in the Mojave sun for an untold amount of years. The design team shipped the urban rail runner to Burbank, Calif., to be rehabbed. After being authenticated with ’60s-era advertisements, working doors and lookalike urban graffiti tags, the subterranean vehicle was loaded on a truck and shipped to the Big Apple.

Aside from sourcing and restoring the massive prop, the biggest hurdle was getting it inside the store. After arriving in the city, 42nd Street was closed to traffic, the façade of the building was opened, and a crane hoisted the subway car into the store.

Once positioned and merchandised with lifestyle presentations and heritage products, the repurposed "A" train became a store within a store and an enticing Instagram moment for curious passersby.

Colin Brice, design principal at Mapos explained, "In addition to the subway car, we needed an impactful back-wall feature that was visible from the sidewalk.” The solution was a canted shoe wall, evocative of a New York City street grid. This slanted, floor-to-ceiling wall unit allowed Asics to display its entire shoe collection. Although slightly disorienting where the slanted shelves met the horizontal floor, the wall was a true attention-getter. Brice continued, “These features provided two New York moments for tourists and locals alike.”

The design firm’s concept also intended to connect with the loyal Asics customer. The design solution integrates a grouping of steel merchandise fixtures suspended from the ceiling on rails. The fixtures easily roll away, creating an event space at the front of the store for morning stretches, yoga classes and evening product presentations. It’s also a warmup space for runners preparing for a weekend run. Additionally, a branded, hexagonal locker wall at the rear of the space allowed out-of-town runners to stow their gear while trying out Asics products, usually by jogging through nearby Central Park.

A polished concrete floor, complete with character cracks, provides context to the actual space and a reference to the city’s “concrete jungle.” Lightweight fixtures complement Asics’ footwear aesthetic, while custom perforated steel panels on the walls and ceilings are evocative of the woven textiles used in its apparel.

Under different circumstances, the store’s concerted effort to connect to the customer, along with an intriguing blast from the past in the form of an iconic New York City symbol, could have put Asics Times Square on the fast-track to success.

PROJECT SUPPLIERS

Retailer
Asics, New York

Design
Mapos LLC, New York

Architecture
Sawicki Tarella Architecture & Design PC, New York

Props & Decoratives
Warner Brothers, Burbank, Calif.
Big Disco, Los Angeles

General Contractor
Shawmut Design and Construction, Boston     

Outside Design Consultants
Big Disco, Los Angeles

Audio/Visual
Technomedia Solutions, New York        

Ceilings
Cord Contracting, New York

Fixtures
Rodgers Wade, Paris, Texas

Flooring
Tangent, New York

Furniture
Rodgers Wade, Paris, Texas
MG Concepts, New York

Lighting
Lido Lighting, New York

Photography: Garrett Rowland, New York