NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 15: A view from the Vessel at Hudson Yards, New York's Newest Neighborhood, Official Opening Event on March 15, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Clint Spaulding/Getty Images for Related)

NEW YORK — Tens of thousands of tourists, out-of-towners and locals descended on Hudson Yards this weekend, eager to be among the first to experience the nation’s biggest private development, scale its centerpiece sculpture called The Vessel — and take in some new shopping and dining opportunities.

Traffic stayed strong since the “VIP” party Thursday night, which drew an estimated 17,000 to 20,000 guests, with Neiman Marcus alone pulling in 3,000 guests — including a performance by Liza Minnelli — for its launch event, described by executives as the store’s biggest party ever. Estimates for traffic on Saturday, the busiest day for The Shops & Restaurants at Hudson Yards, ranged from 60,000 to more than 80,000 visitors. It houses 100 stores including about two dozen restaurants in 750,000 square feet of retail space.

Friday morning’s ribbon-cutting with Anderson Cooper and Big Bird drew 1,000 politicians, media types and executives from The Related Cos. and Oxford Properties, the developers of the 28-acre complex, and then thousands of others followed.

“I’ve been doing this for 45 years and never seen such intense crowds consistently for such a long period,” said Ken Himmel, president and chief executive officer of Related Urban. “Friday and Saturday were the biggest days. I think the pattern of this project will be Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays will be packed, no matter what time of year.”

Over the weekend, “I literally stopped about 15 small groups of people,” Himmel said. Almost everyone was from Manhattan, many from the Upper East Side, he said, adding, “Everybody thought it would be a modern version of what we did at Time Warner Center. They had no idea of the breadth and depth of what we have merchandised here.” Retailers, said Himmel, will discover there’s “a much deeper market” for upscale and luxury products than they initially thought.

On Sunday at noon, the restaurants and food stops inside The Shops & Restaurants seemed busiest, with big crowds at Blue Bottle Coffee, Fuku casual dining by chef David Chang; the Citarella grocery and wine bar; Dylan’s Candy; Belcampo, the organic and ethical California butcher, and even at Neiman’s prototype epicure Cook & Merchants concept.

While it’s difficult to determine how many people were actually purchasing, as opposed to browsing, many were visiting Muji, Uniqlo, b8ta, H&M and Zara, which seemed to have some of the larger crowds Sunday.

Retailers and restaurateurs are betting that tourists and New Yorkers will visit the sprawling complex, which will continue to add office and residential space over the next few years, and spend time shopping in a part of town that is untested in retail.

It’s important that for any kind of store or shopping center, there’s a big initial crowd, though the first few days are not decisive or portend future business trends. Not surprisingly, retailers contacted by WWD on Sunday were bullish about the opening weekend and the prospects.

“We had a plan for the weekend, which we hit by midday Saturday, and the plan was not a low one,” said Geoffroy van Raemdonck, ceo of the Neiman Marcus Group. “We feel really good we achieved our plan much faster than we thought we would. Men’s got tremendous traction, probably twice what it is in general. We also did very well with beauty, shoes and women’s contemporary,” van Raemdonck said, crediting Neiman’s “differentiated point of view.” As the store builds a customer base, he expects shoppers will migrate to fine apparel and precious jewelry as well. “Cook & Merchants, not our largest volume area, was packed at all times,” particularly where the chocolates and New York State wines and beers are merchandised.

Still, van Raemdonck acknowledged, “It’s too soon to draw any big conclusion, but we are very encouraged by the foot traffic and the fact that we exceeded our plan. I do think there will be continued excitement for the months to come and then it’s up to all of us to earn the customer and get them to come back. We have activations planned for the whole spring. What’s important is that it doesn’t stop. This store was five years in the making. The team back then dreamed it up and has worked tirelessly on it. Most of the work preceded me. It was so amazing to see how the company came together. We even had merchants on the floors selling product this weekend” to gauge what’s working.

“The opening weekend at Hudson Yards had electric energy and tremendous crowds from start to finish,” said Joshua Schulman, president and ceo of Coach.  “The combination of media hype and the first weekend of spring-like weather brought pedestrian traffic out in droves to the High Line, the Vessel and even to the 10th Avenue corridor. It was a mix of shoppers, diners and curiosity seekers checking out the new destination. The early indications are very positive. Over time, we will understand more how New Yorkers and tourists make Hudson Yards part of their daily shopping, dining and cultural lives.”

Coach has a one-of-a-kind concept store at Hudson Yards, where the parent company Tapestry Inc. also is headquartered. “We introduced a lighter, brighter, more transparent version our store design with the most complete Coach Create customization shop globally, enhanced interactive features including digital styling tools , and first of its kind custom sneaker shop. With our headquarters right above the store, we will continue to use this location as testing ground for new products and customer experiences,” Schulman said.

I’ve never seen actual crowds of shoppers like this in 35 years of working in retail,” said Brian Bolke, founder of The Conservatory, adding that there was no lull in traffic. “It was every minute, open to close.”

While certainly not everyone was buying, there was palpable curiosity. “There was no one kind of shopper,” Bolke added. “Tourists, families, couples, wanderers and dogs. Lots of dogs…and, for sure, a lot of retail insiders taking it all in.”

The Conservatory, a new concept debuting at Hudson Yards, offers an edit for men, women, home, jewelry and apothecary. Bolke said floral and jewelry were strong areas, as was home. “Our signature candle was a huge hit.”

Forty Five Ten of Dallas set up four distinct freestanding retail spaces for a range of categories including designer ready-to-wear, emerging designers, home, art, jewelry, vintage, designer shoes and accessories. The most popular over the weekend were women’s designer rtw and accessories, followed by emerging designers, said Kristen Cole, president and chief operating officer. “A lot of clients were checking us out in particular, or excited to see what the Shops & Restaurants are all about.”

Mack Weldon, a men’s underwear and basics brand, chose Hudson Yards to launch its first brick-and-mortar store, as did several other digitally native brands. “Saturday was a big day for us with three times the revenue of Friday,” said Charley Moore, Mack Weldon’s vice president of finance and operations. “Pretty much all metrics were up across the board,” including average order values, which were $20 higher.

On Saturday at the mall, “You could barely move around; there were lines for every escalator, and I would say our store had 10 to 20 people shopping at all times,” Moore said. Bestsellers included underwear and sweatpants, he said. “That mirrors our online business.”

Moore said the store offered its “volume-based” pricing — spend $100 and get 10 percent off, spend $200 get 20 percent off. Card cases and luggage tags were gifted to customers making purchases. The store also developed an arcade video game and ran a competition all weekend. The winner got a “year of socks” box with 12 pairs.

While opening weekend is not a great indicator, Moore said, “We feel really good about the potential traffic that will be coming through this center. It was the main reason we signed on to the project. As soon as the initial heat from opening dies down, the office tenants of 30 Hudson Yards will be moving in, the Equinox Hotel will open, and the residents of 15 Hudson Yards will move in. Then, we expect summer to be big with tourists on the High Line and visiting the Vessel. If Related’s estimates are right, once fully operational, you’re going to have 60,000 people living, working and visiting Hudson Yards on a daily basis. Most of those customers will be right in our target demographic, making it a great opportunity for us to introduce our brand to new customers as well as support our existing customers in the New York City area — our largest online market.”

Barbara Nealey, director of retail for Rhone, a men’s activewear label, said foot traffic and sales on opening weekend “far exceeded our expectations. We definitely saw an exciting build-up since the ribbon-cutting, with foot traffic and sales more than tripling from Friday to Saturday.” She said best-selling items included Rhone’s commuter, train and recovery collections. It’s Rhone’s first permanent location, after a couple of pop ups around town.

Nealey called Rhone in Hudson Yards “a pivotal point in our brand growth. Opening weekend is an exciting indication of what’s to come for this store and for Rhone as a brand.”

Stephane Cremieux, ceo of Cremieux, a preppy-inspired men’s label, said the VIP opening Thursday night “was amazing” and that his brand had a successful opening. “The next day most [visitors] were only looking to discover the place and visit the mall,” he said, but Saturday was “super successful,” with many high-end shoppers. “That’s ideal for our products.” Cremieux relocated its store from SoHo to Hudson Yards.

The store didn’t offer any price promotions, but provided Champagne and cookies and introduced customers to its shirt tailor, who creates custom pieces.

Among the more unusual experiences at Hudson Yards is 3DEN, where for $6 for 30 minutes, people can refresh and recharge with sound-proof phone booths, nap pods, a  lounge, refreshments and take a private shower. “There’s so much traffic coming to 3DEN,” said Ben Silver, founder of 3DEN. “We saw on Friday office workers from Hudson Yards buildings, and this weekend, we definitely saw the demographics we thought
would come – tourists, and locals from across New York. There’s so much interest in it. It’s really incredible….I wouldn’t be surpised if it were like this every weekend.” He’s anticipating people coming from the High Line and the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. “We’ll see how the next week goes with traffic and see if it normalizes,”said Silver. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it continues.”

“We were very happy with this first weekend,” said a Zara spokeswoman, when asked about the open days’ business. Flower dresses, and vividly colored dresses for spring were among the bestsellers at Hudson Yards. “This new neighborhood is full of people who really have a feel for fashion and trends. One lady came up to me and said she lived in the neighborhood and that there weren’t many fashion stores in the area, and that she had to shop outside the neighborhood. She was very happy to see Zara move in.”

The store can ship products ordered online. Store executives prepare packages within eight minutes of an online order being received, and customers residing in the neighborhood can receive a delivery within a day or two. Zara’s Hudson Yards unit is among its most eco-efficient stores operating on 30 percent less energy than one of its conventional units, and 40 percent less water, as well as using more wood hangers and recycled plastic hangers. The wood for the hangers has been harvested from forests that are being replenished.

Hudson Yards could be challenged by the lack of public parking, with the 900 spaces on site mostly for residents and potential bottlenecks on cross streets such as 33rd Street, which as delivery receiving spots. Construction is expected to continue through 2025. There is also only one subway that takes visitors right there, the 7 line, though Penn Station is only about two blocks east. It’s also one of the windier parts of town, potentially deterring some people from hanging outside on the public spaces. Still, as the landscaping and construction advances, the appeal of the location is expected to grow.

Asked about parking concerns, “I haven’t heard that from anybody,” said Himmel, adding that shoppers from other neighborhoods will take cabs, Ubers or the 7 subway.

“I’m still awed by all of this, I’ve been working on this project for 11 years. It’s still hard to believe it’s real today,” said Stephen Ross, chairman of Related. “As a real estate person you need to be optimistic by nature, but this one took a lot more than that. We’ve got something for everybody here. It’s the biggest development job ever done in the U.S. — two and half of New York City’s GDP.”

“This is an incredible moment,” said Anderson Cooper at Thursday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Hudson Yards broke ground six years ago. I’ve had bathroom renovations that took six years.…This is a monument to New York’s limitless potential.” He was followed by performances by singer Andra Day, dancers of The Ailey School, and the National Chorale and The Professional Performing Arts High School Choir.

Among the first to hike up The Vessel were van Raemdonck, José Andrés, Carmelo Anthony, Daniel Arsham, Tony Danza, Roger Goodell, Robert Hammond, Thomas Keller, Steven Kolb, Henry Kravis, Padma Lakshmi, Michael Lomonaco, Curtis Martin, Debi Mazar, Bill Pedersen, Hilary Rhoda, Adam Silver, Martha Stewart, Adam Weinberg and Ali Wentworth.
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - MARCH 15: A view of the celebration at Hudson Yards, New York's Newest Neighborhood, Official Opening Event on March 15, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Related)

The celebration at Hudson Yards at its Vessel sculpture, at Thursday’s grand opening. Photograph by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for Related.  Getty Images for Related