The muggles take Manhattan!
The world’s first Harry Potter flagship store opens next to New York City’s Flatiron Building on Thursday, after being delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. MarketWatch recently got a sneak peek of the 935 Broadway shop celebrating J.K. Rowling’s coming-of-age series about young witches and wizards. And it’s attempting to cast a spell on both Harry Potter superfans and total strangers to the franchise alike, by offering virtual-reality experiences, wand dueling, a “butterbeer” snack bar and a store-wide scavenger hunt.
“Whether the Harry Potter fan who has ‘everything’ is looking for something new, or someone just wants to come in and and browse and soak up the ambiance — there is something for everyone,” said Doran Finneran, the sales and experience manager for the store.
“This will be the first time anyone has seen the wand table. That doesn’t exist anywhere else .”
First: the loot. Harry Potter New York houses the largest collection of merchandise inspired by Rowling’s books and the blockbuster Warner Bros. movies under one roof. (Yes, even more products than the “Wizarding World of Harry Potter” areas at Universal Studios theme parks in Orlando, Fla.; Hollywood, Calif.; and Osaka, Japan.) The roughly 1,300 items — ranging from $2 stationery pieces to robes and replica flying broomsticks that cost upwards of $100 — include collectibles that will be exclusive to the NYC store, such as bottled (nonalcoholic) butterbeer with a custom label that features the Big Apple’s iconic Woolworth Building ($6 apiece), a “Golden Snitch” magic wand (around $40), and Harry Potter New York-branded T-shirts, hoodies, mugs and more.
There’s also Harry Potter-themed Spirit Jerseys, Loungefly handbags and Pottery Barn Teen decor lining the shelves.
A personalization area on the lower level lets fans customize seven different products, such as monogramming a replica storage trunk like the ones that characters in the movies brought on board the Hogwarts Express; getting their names embroidered onto robes from one of the four Hogwarts houses; engraving a wand; or getting their own personalized acceptance letter to the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. And the store will also be home to America’s only House of MinaLima, the graphic design team on all of the movies, who will create a gallery and a store that showcases their art from the “Harry Potter” and “Fantastic Beasts” movie franchises.
“Around 80% of the product in this store is very, very limited in distribution — and of that 80%, 20% is completely exclusive for New York,” said Karl Durrant, the vice president and general manager of Warner Bros. Worldwide Retail Destinations.
So why did AT&T’s
Warner Bros. bring its very British franchise into the Big Apple? Well, while the main Harry Potter series is largely set around London, the “Fantastic Beast” spinoffs take place in 1920s New York. In fact, the historic Woolworth Building serves as the imaginary Magical Congress of the United States of America headquarters in the films.
“This New York location makes sense for many reasons, but a connection to ‘Fantastic Beasts’ was one of the reasons, and the incredible fan base that lives here,” said Durrant.
“We’re really excited to bring some magic into people’s lives.”
The store has embraced the architecture of its 1860s building in its design — although some early backlash from the local community board caused it to scrap initial plans to put a fiberglass dragon and backlit Harry Potter signs on the building’s facade. “We’ve been very respectful of the original building, and following the guidelines of the Landmarks Preservation Committee constantly,” said Durrant. They have restored the original clock on the building’s exterior, for example, and kept the branding subtle, he said.
Inside, there are Easter eggs from the movies hidden throughout the store. The evil Lord Voldemort’s snake, Nagini, looms over shoppers in the basement level — and occasionally hisses in the snake language of Parseltongue. A 220-pound model of Fawkes the Phoenix greets visitors at the Fifth Avenue entrance. The Enchanted Forest toy section lets little ones peek into a mock Dirigible plum tree to look for the stick-like Bowtruckle creatures (and you might spy Scabbers the rat in one of the tree’s branches). And a central, spiral staircase features a giant rotating Griffin, which is modeled after the one that guarded Hogwarts Headmaster Dumbledore’s quarters in the films.
While the store can accommodate 500 people, it will be opening at 50% capacity (250 people max) and requiring employees and shoppers to wear face masks due to lingering COVID-19 concerns. There will be hand-sanitizer stations at the entrance and various points throughout the store. And the “touch” elements, such as the interactive wand table (more on that later), will be cleaned frequently, Durrant said.
The shop will also launch a virtual queueing system and a digital traffic counter to prevent overcrowding when it opens. Customers will scan a QR code when they arrive at the store. This enters them into a virtual line, and they can leave the store to grab coffee or to window-shop nearby until they get an alert on their phone that it’s their turn to enter the store.
“It’s a great way of managing queues,” said Durrant, noting that Warner Bros. has been using this system to manage lines for the Harry Potter store in the King’s Cross railway station in London.
Interactive elements abound. Shoppers are encouraged to download the Harry Potter Fan Club app to join a scavenger hunt throughout the store. There are nine cases holding 12 actual movie props from the hit films, such as Harry’s “Firebolt” broomstick, Tom Riddle’s diary (complete with basilisk fang) and the jeweled Ravenclaw Diadem. Scanning the “enchanted keys” at each prop case with your phone grants access to behind-the-scenes footage from the movies, and fun facts about the prop. And once you’ve collected all nine keys, you get a secret password to whisper to one of the store’s cashiers, which bags a free gift.
There are Instagram-ready photo opps for Muggles to mug in, such as a red London telephone booth, or the “Hagrid Measure-Up,” where guests can step into the half-giant’s enormous boots and see how their stature compares to the nine-foot tall Hogwarts groundskeeper.
There’s also a wand table featuring the magic wands of fan-favorite characters like Harry, Ron and Hermione from the “Harry Potter” films, or Newt and Tina from the “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” spinoffs. Grasping each of these wands launches interactive features where guests can have a “wand duel,” or see snippets of movie scenes or quotes from that character appear on the domed digital screen.
“This will be the first time anyone has seen the wand table. That doesn’t exist anywhere else,” said Finneran.
The Butterbeer Bar will serve butterbeer (a butterscotch-flavored, cream soda-like drink with a thick, whipped head), butterbeer ice cream and themed cupcakes, and snacks in case shoppers feel peckish.
Two multiplayer virtual-reality experiences will open later this summer. They include “Chaos at Hogwarts,” where aspiring witches and wizards will journey to Hogwarts Castle and “become part of the adventure where magical creatures and secrets await,” according to the description in the press release. And “Wizards Take Flight” will let guests virtually fly on broomsticks while battling dark wizards known as Death Eaters.
“We’re really excited to bring some magic into people’s lives,” said Durrant.