San Francisco Chronicle
New Anthropologie concept stores go big, and go home.
On the corner of South Main Street and Olympic Boulevard in Walnut Creek, shoppers pour into Anthropologie & Co., a new warehouse-size shop that used to house a Barnes & Noble. At roughly 20,000 square feet, it’s the kind of place where you could while away an entire afternoon, daydreaming about how to adorn your fairytale home.
Inside, it feels almost like a series of shops within shops, from outdoor terraces filled with hanging plants and succulents to an antique beauty emporium with a decidedly European flair to an ethereal bridal suite of gowns that seem to float in midair. It’s both warm and cozy and completely overwhelming, two floors packed with merchandise that requires at least an hour to peruse — and that’s without trying on any clothes, flipping through custom color swatches or talking to a decor specialist about the endless furniture customization options. And that’s exactly the point.
The company unveiled the first of its new concept shops in September — think of them as the original Anthropologie on steroids, with the addition of sister brands BHLDN Weddings and Terrain garden center, all under one roof. The idea is for the customer to have access to everything she needs to linger for hours without ever having to leave the store. Not so much a rebranding as an expanding, the new Anthropologie & Co. seems like a modern approach to the traditional department store, with all the quirk and eclecticism that Anthropologie is known for.
At a time when the focus seems to be shifting to smaller, more local businesses, Anthropologie’s “supersize me” approach seems counter to what the consumer wants, but CEO of Anthropologie Group, David McCreight, told the Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this year that the rollout of bigger stores was a direct response to customer demand. “Customers
are shopping across multiple product categories, spending a longer time in stores and traveling a greater distance to expanded locations,” he said. “It was impossible to express the richness of the brand in our core shops,” adds Heith Mann, executive director of stores.
So they went big — really big. More than three times the size of the average Anthropologie, the new stores (located in some of the brand’s top markets, including Palo Alto) vastly expand upon the company’s furniture, beauty and shoe offerings — all of which resonate best with customers through in-person interaction. The shops also present a greater selection of petites, intimates, accessories and home decor.
In true Anthropologie fashion, each store has its own distinct personality while maintaining that uniquely “Anthro” feel (soft, feminine, eclectic, well-traveled), which, though hard to define is instantly recognizable.
In Walnut Creek, the vibe is upscale California bungalow,
with reclaimed whitewashed wood, hand-plastered wall finishes, ebony-stained reclaimed lathe, and an antique French pharmacy fixture in the beauty section, all meant to evoke a casual West Coast attitude.
The Palo Alto store at Stanford Shopping Center is more luxe bohemian loft. Soaring ceilings give way to a skylight above a grand timber-treaded staircase. A hanging art installation made up of thousands of clothespins serves as a dangling centerpiece for the store. Plaster walls in soft finishes like pale greens and whites make for a warm but muted backdrop, and reclaimed wood floors tie it back to the Walnut Creek space.
Despite their grandeur, Anthropologie & Co. stores create intimate moments with cozy showroom treatments that reflect the local style: moody in Portland, Ore., bright and airy in Newport Beach (Orange County). “While the structure is roughly the same in all stores, our room vignettes feature different merchandise depending on the market,” says divisional merchandise manager Chris Stoz. “That might translate to a blue velvet display in one store and white linen in another.”
Movement throughout the store is key, and cohesiveness across the Anthropologie brand comes from the layout and organization of each store, which is meant to mimic the flow of a private home — from entry to living room to bedroom. “Because of the larger format of Anthropologie & Co. stores, we have to be more intentional and prescriptive with the layout and messaging, while still maintaining a sense of wonderment,” says Chief Creative Officer Missy Peltz.
With the addition of space comes the addition of departmental specialists, plus a full calendar of in-store workshops and events. “We can finally provide the kind of elevated service that our customer has come to expect,” says visual special projects manager Tyler Ingle. “These things all bring the brand to life even more for her.”
Another touch point is new Design Center kiosks — where dedicated Anthropologie home stylists help shoppers customize furniture from hundreds of styles, colors and fabric options. “Our average customer is pretty design savvy,” Stoz says. “She brings magazine tears and inspiration boards. She wants to put a unique stamp on her space but wants the help of a professional to style all her ideas together.”
Part of that unique stamp comes from the company’s many artist collaborations, which have always been part of its DNA. From special collections to one-of-a-kind works for a specific store location, the emphasis on local talent is even greater at these new concept stores. The Palo Alto store features work from Oakland’s Creative Growth (a center that serves adult artists with developmental, mental, and physical disabilities), hand-painted textiles and kitchenware by San Francisco artist Jen Garrido, and terra cotta pottery by Point Reyes Station ceramicist Susan Hall.
The Palo Alto store is also home to Anthropologie’s first dining experience, Terrain Cafe, where James Beard Award-winning chef Marc Vetri (Philadelphia’s Vetri and Osteria) has curated a menu of dishes using seasonal ingredients from local farms — yet another example of how the brand is keeping the shopper engaged longer.
“Walnut Creek and Palo Alto are the truest representations of our goal with these Anthropologie & Co. stores,” Peltz says. And depending on how well the concept is received by customers, the company may open as many as 30 or 40 concept stores across the country over the next several years.