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The WWD Walkthrough: Hollister

WEST NYACK, N.Y. — Hollister Co. is Abercrombie & Fitch’s lower-priced California-lifestyle, 49-store chain geared toward teens. This particular Hollister store was located in the mammoth-size Palisades Center Mall, here. <br><br>The mall,...

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WEST NYACK, N.Y. — Hollister Co. is Abercrombie & Fitch’s lower-priced California-lifestyle, 49-store chain geared toward teens. This particular Hollister store was located in the mammoth-size Palisades Center Mall, here.

The mall, part amusement park, part high school gymnasium and part retail mecca, featured over-the-top diversions like a merry-go-round and a working Ferris wheel, nonretail outlets such as a New York Sports Club and a Loews Theatre, as well as major retailers from Target, Lord & Taylor, H&M, Filene’s and Old Navy to Best Buy, Bed Bath & Beyond, Home Depot and Circuit City.

Nestled on the second of the mall’s four levels near a J.C. Penney and a Nextel hut, the first striking aspect of the Hollister store was its facade. The shop had been entirely built out to look like a charming California bungalow replete with a Spanish-tile roof at the entrance, a series of French doors and fitted shutters. Two couples of male and female mannequins were situated at the entryway like sentries, but done up in Hollister surf garb against a backdrop of an enlarged, grainy photo of a sultry, shirtless male surfer and two worn club chairs beckoning shoppers into a laid-back West Coast environment.

The casual atmosphere, with its low-key lighting and upbeat, ska-influenced tunes, made one immediately feel at home. The decor was brilliantly conceived with hardwood floors painted gray, burnished pressed-tin ceilings and the predominant use of dark wood. Clothes were displayed in wood bookcases, hung on wooden hangers or folded on heavy, distressed-wood tables. Even the sales associates were properly styled: Only young, teenage boys were working the store on that Monday afternoon, dressed in baggy jeans, knit shirts, flip-flops and shell necklaces. They took a very hands-off approach to customer service, but their unobtrusiveness seemed fitting.

The “girls” clothes line was on the right side of the store, while the “guys” was on the left. The new merchandise was featured in the front room and consisted of low-rise flared jeans in several rinses, lace-up jeans with embroidery, shrunken rugby shirts, jean and corduroy band-aid minis, novelty T-shirts with surf or athletic themes on them, and khakis in several basic colors. All in all, the assortment was very cute: stylish pieces with a forward, directional feel to them. For this type of store, the quality and fabrics were top-notch, typically 100 percent cotton in great colors, from aqua blue to hunter green, with a good variety of looks.

The prices were reasonable, too, ranging from $15 to $35 for most pieces, including knits, jeans and shirts.

After sifting through the racks and stacks of neatly appointed clothes, I hoisted a mound of picks under my arm (there were no shopping baskets to be had) and headed for the dressing rooms. Well, let me clarify that, dressing room. Hollister takes its laid-back, casual, let’s-all-hang-out-together approach right into the dressing room, which was simply one long, narrow, darkly lit room with no dividing walls or doors. At least, thank heaven, they still separate “guys” and “girls.”

Despite protracted bewilderment and horror at the idea of changing in front of other women — teenagers and their mothers no less — I began trying on items. However, finding a spot to put the clothes was difficult as the one bench situated in there had discarded merchandise piled high and most of the hanging hooks were also filled with clothes. Clearly, the solely “guy” staff can’t go into the “girls” dressing room to tidy up.

That discomfort aside, the tops were a great fit, and despite being a little “young” for me, I decided to spring for them. The fit on the jeans was a little more troubling, only in that the styles were baggy and not slim through the legs, so those were nixed. But a pair of loose, navy khakis did the trick.

In the midst of my scrupulous note-taking in the dressing room, two teenaged girls walked in, and one remarked, “This is so creepy.” And no, she wasn’t talking about me. Clearly, I wasn’t the only one unhappy with the lack of privacy.

A bemused boy cashier agreed to hold a pile of clothes for me because I wasn’t done shopping and had nowhere else to put the load. In the back of the store there was more regular-priced apparel, such as racks of corduroys and drawstring pants, as well as tables and racks with messy displays of sale merchandise, including bikinis, surf shorts and more novelty T-shirts.

Back into the dressing room: A teenager had tripped over someone else’s ice cream, and it spilled all over her mother’s laptop. It was about to get ugly, but instead, the mother stormed out, leaving the girls staring balefully at each other. Clearly, the “pro” argument to the open dressing area is that it keeps the shopping experience interesting, to say the least.

After assessing the validity of a few more ensembles, I headed to the register. Situated in the center of the store, the checkout was the highlight of Hollister because it was a lounge/living-room area set up with woven rugs, worn leather club chairs and side tables covered with magazines. The register itself had more CDs and magazines for sale and surfboards on display. My purchases included a cropped jean jacket, a shrunken rugby shirt, a cream, hooded cable-knit sweater, a dark green and turquoise T-shirt, a western-style shirt with embroidered flowers, navy khakis and The Hives’ new CD. The grand total came to $177.68.

The salesboys, in their first real gesture of proactive-ness, coaxed me into becoming a member of Hollister’s Club Cali. It’s basically a retail program in which you get a special card and can receive gift certificates after you accumulate purchases of $250, plus you can get notification of sales and other special events.

Although this expedition was over, I was compelled to pop into Hollister’s brother store, Abercrombie & Fitch, a few doors down to see what was going on. It had wainscoting and white walls, and was very brightly lit. Black-and-white photos in black frames were artfully arranged, and the overall effect was that of a gathering point of Northeastern teenagers cavorting gleefully between their lacrosse and rugby games. Weezer was playing overhead, and the store was a bit more crowded than Hollister, but certainly less welcoming and, truth be told, less fun. Perhaps Abercrombie should look to Hollister for a dash of pep.

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