By  on December 6, 2004

NEW YORK — Setting a higher standard for airport shopping and easing the angst of overseas travel, The Shops at Terminal 4 at JFK International Airport officially took off Thursday night.

And it was all systems go, with a runway show, raffles, a pasta and lo mein party and a lot of steep discounts spotlighting the four-block-long, 100,000-square-foot linear array of fashion and jewelry boutiques that have been steadily debuting for the past few seasons at the site.

It didn’t matter whether you had a plane ticket or not. About 500 airport employees, travelers and those picking up or dropping off passengers saw the show. The Shops at Terminal 4 is located before security checks, making it accessible to everyone. It’s a major component to the 150 million-square-foot, $1.4 billion Terminal 4 [formerly known as International Arrivals], which is the cornerstone of a $10.3 billion revitalization of the airport.

While hardly another Madison Avenue, The Shops at Terminal 4 is a stratospheric departure from the usual array of mundane convenience and souvenir shops that most domestic airports serve up.

It’s also more in the spirit of conventional downtown retailing. For example, price promotions and special events, even possibly more fashion shows in an effort to create stronger ties to the community, are in the works, according to Alain Maca, president of JFK IAT LLC, the private joint venture that designed and built Terminal 4 and continues to operate it.

“We will be religious about this,” he said, while gazing at the fashion show, which featured a mix of fashions in the shops and some vintage airline uniforms covering six decades. “We expect that travelers, the airport community and people who live in nearby neighborhoods that are now connected to Terminal 4 by the AirTrain will want to shop here.”

Amid the silvery, stainless steel, modern environment, the lineup of retail ranges from an 11,000-square-foot DFS Galleria to an 800-square-foot DKNY. The pale sleek look enables the merchandise and the modern architecture to speak for themselves, while the exterior store design is generally uniform.

There’s also Swarovski, H. Stern, The Metropolitan Museum of Art Store, and several “wall huggers” or 100- to 200-square-foot nooks selling such brands as Tie Rack and Fossil.A unique concept is a series of 12 specialty stores under the Runway banner, including Runway Delight for gourmet food; Runway Toys; Runway Beauty for cosmetics; Runway Voyager for leather goods and luggage, and Runway Fashion, selling top brands including Guess, Diesel, Hugo Boss and Lacoste. Sand, a Danish designer selling casual sportswear and denim sport coats, also is sold in Runway Fashion, marking its U.S. debut.

Runway Exclusive is expected to open in January selling Hermès and Ferragamo.

The Runway retail grouping is operated by a joint venture between Aer Rianta International, a duty-free company based in Ireland, and Saveria, a Vienna-based company running retail shops in that city and in the Vienna Airport.

The same group operates the Swarovski, Tie Rack, DKNY, Fossil and The Brew Store [for liquor- and beer-related apparel and accessories] in The Shops at Terminal 4.

The complex is fully leased and stores are averaging just more than $22.50 in sales per departing passenger, a common measure of productivity for airport retailing. “That’s above average,” said Carol Fish, commercial director. “But it’s very different for each tenant. A jewelry tenant would do better than a souvenir store, and if you have strong Asian populations traveling through your environment, sales per enplanement will be significantly higher. They’re still the world’s biggest spenders.”

With retail on a roll at Terminal 4, more shops on the concourse will be added. “We don’t know precisely what stores will be included. We are doing a space analysis,” said Fish. “We are also developing the Arrival Hall for shops,” more in the vein of convenience-type stores, she added.

JFK IAT is a private joint-venture company, based at JFK, between Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam; LCOR, a real estate developer, and Lehman Brothers. The venture designed, built and continues to operate Terminal 4. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is the landlord.

The massive Terminal 4 and its retail environment was constructed without any discontinuation of the usual flight operations. “It was like performing surgery on a marathon runner while he’s running,” said Maca. About 50 airlines representing 40 countries utilize the terminal.Asked about the performance of the stores, Maca said, “They had a great year. They’re feeling a snap back from 9/11. All retailers enjoyed a nice uplift.”

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