Once, Times Square had the largest concentration of theatres in the world. Time, technology, and changing tastes have forever altered the landscape of the Great White Way. However, Paramus, NJ-based Toys “R” Us has recently added a new attraction to Broadway – enhancing the area, as well as redefining its own corporate image.
Toys “R” Us Times Square, the new flagship store, is situated on the bowtie where Seventh Avenue crosses Broadway. Originally, two theatre spaces (the Roundabout Theatre and a Loews movie theatre), the modernization presented many challenges. “The building is ideally located on 44th and Broadway, but the space inside is totally unexpected from the façade,” says Joanne Newbold, principal, J. Newbold Associates, New York City.
The alleyway between the two existing structures was bridged over, and the facility was opened up to create a unique, expansive space. Adds Newbold, “When you go in there, it is an explosion of space. It was very exciting and a great opportunity.” New York City-based architecture firm Gensler created the design for this project.
In addition to the challenge of adapting the original facilities within a tight timeframe, Toys “R” Us issued a challenge to its design team. “John Eyler, the chairman and chief executive officer of Toys “R” Us, challenged us to come up with something that would be a new tradition for kids in Times Square – something they would remember always and want to take their children to someday,” says Newbold. The retail company operates 1,588 stores around the globe, and the flagship store marks a new era in its overall retail design. The traditional warehouse look of the retail chain will be updated to a more personalized specialty design.
In response to the Times Square design challenge, the team installed a 60-foot Ferris Wheel with custom toy-inspired cars. This feature is especially startling because the facility’s smallest footprint is its ground floor – and floor space is a precious commodity in retail. “We wanted people to come in and immediately know they were in the biggest toy store in the world,” says Newbold. The Ferris Wheel creates a dramatic statement, as well as giving children a bird’s eye view of the store’s other attractions.
Designed with a child in mind, Toys “R” Us Times Square is unlike average retail spaces. Instead of being divided into boys’ and girls’ sections with traditional signage, large icons signify different areas, attract small shoppers, and help with wayfinding. A 20-foot animatronic T-Rex reigns over the action figures; blue and pink spotlights dazzle visitors of the 4,000-square-foot Barbie Doll House; and the sweet shop (author’s favorite) is a life-sized Candy Land, complete with giant gumdrops and sculpted textured surfaces.
“We feel today that the retailer is really in competition with all other retailers for a moment of the customers’ time. We use theatrical techniques to focus the viewer’s attention on the store,” says Paul Gregory, principal lighting designer, Focus Lighting, New York City. The store uses theatrical lighting design, externally and internally, to captivate its customers.
“Times Square is such a complex and chaotic space with the NASDAQ sign and with all the different images. We took the glass box Gensler had designed beautifully and we collaborated with them to create a system that could be transparent or opaque, changing from minute to minute,” explains Gregory. On the store’s exterior, a scroller system of rollers carries seven images that can conceal the store’s interior or allow the inside to be viewed quickly. “Our idea was that the façade could go white … to catch attention, then the scroller changes to clear so people can look into the building. It’s a memorable effect where people say ‘What ever you do, don’t miss this,’” says Gregory.
After rigorous testing, Toys “R” Us chose 1,000-watt metal halide lamps to front light the façade, due to their energy efficiency and longevity. The exterior scrollers can also change to solid colors, to Toys “R” Us graphics, or to toy or film advertising images. In the middle of the excitement that is Broadway, the facility glows like a lightbox.
On the inside, the 110,000-square-foot retail facility features numerous vendors in playful settings, ranging from a Cabbage Patch Kids nursery where a “nurse” arranges doll adoptions to a tour of a mini New York City made entirely out of LEGOs. Each attraction is brightly lit, while the surrounding space is wrapped in all one color to add unity. “Other toy stores are very broken up and cluttered. Lighting is used to give this store a cleaner, more enjoyable, less frantic feel,” explains Gregory.
The hard-surface flooring by Amtico was chosen for its durability, as well as its design flexibility. Raised surface flooring solved the problem of uneven floor planes between the original theatre structures, while allowing flexibility for future cabling needs. Strong visuals drive foot traffic throughout the space.
“Each corner has something great in it,” says Newbold. From top to bottom, Toys “R” Us Times Square is much more than a toy store. It is a new destination on Broadway, marking an exciting step for Toys “R” Us and New York City.Regina Raiford (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior editor at Buildings and BI magazines.