TOSHIRO: ART WORKS

Byline: Elaine Glusac

CHICAGO--Art in the retail setting has long been decoration. But in one Chicago specialty store, art takes on the much broader role of guiding traffic--stimulating both ears and eyes and ultimately encouraging shoppers to linger.
"The installations are about giving customers another experience besides just retail so they want to come back," said Nana Naisbitt, owner of Toshiro, a 10-year-old contemporary shop on Chicago's North Side. Naisbitt decided to renovate her three-story shop when she began losing sales to the two new Urban Outfitters stores and catalogs like Tweeds, which knock off several of the lines she carries, including designer J. Morgan Puett's. So she teamed up with artist Douglas Philips this spring. Philips, an Idao Gallery artist, makes tinted opaque resin panels within which he "traps things," such as photographs. He then adds lighting and sound, creating a magnetic effect.
For Toshiro's centerpiece, Philips installed a luminous yellow resin panel on the back wall of the first floor, which, said salespeople, draws customers in off the street. Creating a sense of discovery, the panel contains antique registration ledgers from a Wisconsin lodge circa 1940.
"It was a dead spot," said Naisbitt. "The back lefthand corner is supposed to be the worst spot in a shop, so we made it as inviting and alluring as possible.
As a result, first floor sales are up 25 percent, she said.
In studying the store, Philips also observed that store traffic was stymied by a somewhat hidden staircase. "We always had a problem getting people to know we had a second floor," said Naisbett, who carries suits and dresses on the second floor, casual clothes on the first and antiques and housewares on the third.
The artists' solution was to line the stairway wall with a series of "light boxes" to engage passersby. Embedded in the warmly backlit resin are old, pastoral photographs of friends and family, pairings that evoke a sense of eras past. The boxes also emit a changing eco-soundtrack of crickets, storms, streams and Midwestern song birds.
"Through the senses, it draws people into the hallway," said Naisbitt. "[Once there], you can't miss the fact that it goes up to a second floor." Thanks to the redesign, she said the amount of time people spend in the store has increased threefold.
While compelling emotionally, the art also provides a map to the merchandise. Said Philips, "We give viewers a route and lead them through it like a ride so they can take in as much as possible."

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