Byline: Peter Braunstein

NEW YORK — The Hennes & Mauritz frenzy moved down town Friday when the Swiss chain’s new store at West 34th Street and Herald Square opened its doors at noontime and a beyond-capacity crowd quickly inundated the three-floor complex.
By 12:30 p.m., staff had to limit escalator access to the second floor, which houses accessories, cosmetics and lingerie, and periodically rope off the front entrance to avoid overflowing the store’s 3,000 person capacity. But H&M’s staff seemed unfazed by the commotion and interpreted the bonanza for what it was: a very good omen.
Asked by WWD whether H&M was expecting this type of reception, store manager Paul Munoz said: “Yes, we were. We were expecting a replay of what happened at Fifth Avenue.”
Par Darj, country manager for the U.S., also sounded a high note about the opening when he said, “We sort of anticipated this, but you’re not sure until you see it.”
From the reaction of customers and staff alike, it seemed that H&M’s new 34th Street store was constantly being assessed in relation to its seven-month-old predecessor unit at 640 Fifth Avenue, which has seen hyper-traffic since opening day.
Simone Blumling, a customer who arrived at the store with her daughter, was actually on the subway heading to the Fifth Avenue H&M when she saw a flyer and got off at 34th Street.
“I like that it has a children’s department, as opposed to the uptown store,” she remarked.
Darj described the opening-day clientele as “the type of customers we’re used to in Europe: families, people who look for good bargains, as opposed to the uptown store, which gets more tourists, more people who just came from the Gucci store.”
Customers left no item unturned, from the leather-looking polyester blazers with acetate lining priced at $49.95 to the children’s “Disco” clothing line, which included side-slit purple luminescent denim pants marked at $15 to $21. Especially hot sellers were such opening-day specials as $3.50 T-shirts and $6 children’s jeans, as well as trendier items like a frilly pink cardigan priced at $59, which H&M staff had to continually replenish.
One woman, who refused to identify herself but dressed like Carrie on “Sex and the City,” commenting on the store’s appeal, said: “I buy designer, but I love to shop at H&M to mix it up and get eclectic.”
Staff were resolutely friendly and informative, thanking customers at escalator stops, registers and exits. Sales associate Leila Zimbel attributed the positive attitude to the three-week training program that H&M conducts in Stockholm for all new employees.
“We’re trained to relate to customers and to each other in a more European way,” she said. “You’ll see managers on cash registers. It’s just more of a communal environment.”