REI Takes on Manhattan

REI’s mission statement is wrapped around the center staircase, which connects the main floor with two sub-grade shopping levels.
A bike and ski “quick” stop is located on the main floor.
Original stone printing tablets are displayed near a cashier.
Two 14-ft. flywheels from the building’s original steam power plant are showcased on the cellar level.

REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) has opened its first Manhattan location, in the landmarked Puck Building in SoHo. The 35,000-sq.-ft. space (14,000 sq. ft. of selling space) has been restored to honor the iconic building’s more-than-century-old history — with a respect to detail evident throughout. How did REI come to select the Puck Building?

“The space itself was unique, and we felt the location and history of the building really fit well with REI,” said Elizabeth Dowd, director of visual merchandising, REI, Seattle, and project manager for REI SoHo. “We thought it would make a compelling store for our first location in New York. It was not your typical vanilla shell, and now that it’s completed, we feel we couldn’t have chosen a better spot.”

The design blends REI’s outdoor ethos and nearly 75-year heritage with urban energy, while bringing to light the historic attributes of the Puck Building. The retailer consulted local historians in the renovation process.

“The design concept is all about respect — to nature and the building itself — authenticity and playing with the natural world, and how they all tie back to the REI ethos,” said Alex Shapleigh, design principal/designer, Callison, Seattle.

As part of the extensive renovation, decades of paint were removed to expose the building’s original brick walls and ceilings. The steel columns, which also had been painted over, were stripped down to expose their original cast iron finish. Two original chandeliers were refurbished and made focal elements of the space. Wood from the original construction was repurposed into the store’s cash wraps and canopies, display tables, chair railings, mirrors and other elements.

“Joists that were removed from the original floor were used for the stair treads in the new staircase,” Shapleigh said.

Historic items and original elements found in the Puck Building during the project were incorporated into display tables, fixtures and decor elements used throughout the space. Approximately 30 original stone printing tablets discovered during construction and dating back to the early 1900s are displayed near the cellar-level cashier area. (The Puck Building was the original home of Puck magazine and J. Ottman Lithographic Co.). Two 14-ft. iron flywheels — remnants of two steam engines that powered the printing presses for the building’s original owners— are showcased on the cellar level, not far from a hand-painted mural depicting REI founders Lloyd and May Anderson. Another wall reflects the history of the building.

“Nothing feels applied. All the components work well together and are tied together to deliver the message of REI. They are all integrated so that one doesn’t stand out,” said REI’s Dowd.

A newly constructed central staircase works to physically and visually connect the main floor (street level) with two sub-grade levels. REI’s mission statement, spelled out in steel letters, is wrapped around the stairwell, reinforcing the brand.

“Multi-level spaces are challenging,” Shapleigh added. “But with this staircase, the customer can see all three levels and have visual access to what’s on those levels.”

The main floor is home to camping, climbing, cycling, snow sports and travel products. In keeping with REI’s standard design, back-stock is stored in industrial metal cabinets above the displays.

In addition, just inside the main entrance, there is a “quick-fix” repair area for easy fixes on bikes, snowboards and skis (a full-service bike and ski/snowboard repair shop is on the sub-cellar level). The quick repair area is unique to REI SoHo, as is a kiosk providing customers with information on local and global trips offered by REI.

The cellar level is home to men’s, women’s and kid’s clothing, along with footwear. In addition to the full-service bike and ski/snowboard shop, the sub-cellar level features a rental shop for skis and other outdoor gear, and a community room that is used for classes and as a meeting space for local nonprofit REI partners and special events. 

REI SoHo has a lived-in, natural feel, enhanced by the use of natural materials throughout the space.

“The natural materials really represent the brand and its overall aesthetic,” Shapleigh added.

Oversized black and white photos of people engaged in outdoor adventures speak to the brand’s passion. The flooring is made of reclaimed oak wood. The lighting, a combination of LEDs and fluorescents, casts a warm glow.

“We left most of the wood (floor) unfinished by design,” Shapleigh added, “which ties back to the notion of authenticity.”

The store has an open feel, with good sight lines.

“We took advantage of any opportunity we had to make a visual connection,” Shapleigh said, “even taking walls down when necessary.”

REI operates 122 stores. Looking ahead to 2012, the company’s new locations will include Woodbridge, Va.; Oxnard, Calif.; Medford, Ore.; and Indianapolis.

mwilson@chainstoreage.com