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NEW YORK — Aéropostale’s first street-front flagship here, on West 34th Street steps from Herald Square, drew a crowd Tuesday for its soft opening.

This story first appeared in the November 18, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The 5,700-square-foot unit — the chain’s mall units average 3,500 square feet — is taking up residence in one of the city’s busiest retail districts, near 15 subway lines, Penn Station, Madison Square Garden and Macy’s.

“We’re doing over $600 a square foot as a chain,” said Thomas Johnson, executive vice president and chief operating officer, predicting that sales per square foot at the 34th Street flagship “will be much higher.” He declined to be more specific, saying, “We’re trending on our plan in terms of sales.”

The majority of Aéropostale’s units are in malls, including one at Manhattan Mall, blocks away from the 34th Street store.

Johnson, who next year will become co-chief executive officer with Mindy Meads, Aéropostale’s president and chief merchandising officer, said, “The new store could have an effect on the Manhattan Mall unit,” but added that the stores appeal to different kinds of shoppers, one seeking a mall experience and the other geared to street customers. “We gave that [Manhattan Mall] store a facelift and added 800 square feet. We put a P.S. Aéropostale [geared to elementary school kids] next to it.”

More than a decade ago, Aéropostale opened a store on Manhattan’s East 86th Street, another heavily trafficked retail corridor, but closed the unit because “it was way too early for our evolution to be on the street,” Johnson said. “We had many more mall stores left to open.”

The new flagship “gives us an opportunity to see how we operate” a street store, he said. “There’s a variety of locations that we’re looking at. When you go around the different boroughs, you see Aéropostale on a lot of people. We want to give them a lot of distribution.”

The flagship represents a new prototype for Aéropostale. By the end of the year, 250 stores of the total 939 units will be in sync with the latest model.

“In the last 12 to 24 months, we’ve taken a more thoughtful approach to store design, including the store’s exterior,” Johnson said.

Above the cash wrap is a 20-by-9-foot graphic of young, fresh-faced boys and girls wearing Aéropostale’s colorful hoodies, T-shirts, sweaters and jeans. “We wanted something to attract people to the back of the store,” Johnson said. A stronger attention-getter may be found in the store windows: signs reading “Graphic Ts for $5 while supplies last.”

Dressing rooms have a grid ceiling with lights that cast star shadows, a red bench and dressing room doors that fog up when a customer enters. Johnson said the doors were tested to ensure they provide coverage. “We’re very careful about being appropriate,” he said. “In our lifestyle imagery throughout the store, we like smiling, friendly, upbeat people in our photos.”

Aéropostale next week begins a campaign featuring ads on city buses and phone kiosks, airing commercials on Z-100 radio and print ads.

“Thirty-fourth Street is only going to get better,” Johnson said. “Esprit is moving next door. We like being near American Eagle Outfitters, which is across the street. It adds to our traffic.”

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