Holiday Previews:

Brooklyn Flea Branches Out
To NoHo For The Holidays

Alex K Returns!

Kiddie Designer Edition

Renovations Unveiled:

Banana Republic Will Welcome You To Death

So, we found ourselves walking past the newly reconfigured Banana Republic in SoHo at what must have been only moments after its soft opening began (the store officially opens on Thursday).
Honestly, we almost didn't go in —not because we are so very jaded that we don't care. The Shophound is always curious, but we know what it's like on the first day. Everyone is raring to go and they are so glad to see you! It can be a bit off- putting to say the least, but the folks at the new Banana have taken customer smothering to new, disturbing heights.
Let us note that the store was filled with more than overeager sales staff. It was also crawling, predictably, with Banana Republic executives who were standing around in typical fashion, either congratulating themselves on their beautiful new store or poking around the place making sure that every piece of merchandise was placed just so —the cuffs and collars on all the hanging shirts turned up at the correct angle, and every faced out coat paired with a suitably coordinated sweater and scarf. It's a salesperson's nightmare —like having 20 managers at once. It puts staff on their best selling behavior, which, paradoxically, is often, at the same time, their worst.
Sohobananaentrance Was it rude for us to enter the store wearing earphones? Probably, but we weren't going to power down our iPod just to wander around a Banana Republic. You would think an observant salesperson would know how to approach someone with earphones who is clearly keeping to himself. It's not like they are a rarity in the iPod age, but we were stunned by how many people eagerly wanted to engage us in conversation even though our ears were obviously otherwise occupied. One determined woman launched into a whole story about how it was a soft opening and the store really was opening on Thursday and something about a charity shopping event and just wouldn't stop even after we looked at her funny,  pulled one earphone out and said, "Okay, thanks". She mostly succeeded in interrupting a perfectly enjoyable edition of the "This American Life" podcast. Of course, she was nothing compared to the effusive gentleman greeting everyone coming and going at the door with wide swinging arms. "Thank you for choosing Banana Republic," he chimed as we exited while yet another person thanked us for visiting their new store at the same time.
There are store managers who will maintain that anyone who complain that too many people said hello to them are just cranky. We would counter that there is always the possibility of too much of a good thing, and salespeople shouldn't confuse engaging a customer with just talking at them. Of course, there are exceptions. We could let the gorgeous kids at Hollister say "Hey! Whatsup?" to us all day long if we could stand the disgusting perfume that store pumps out onto the sidewalk, but that is a special, gimmicky case.
As for the renovated store itself, it is an upgraded, glamorized version of the chain that has been subdivided, department store style, into smaller boutique-like sections, some devoted to the Heritage label or the more luxurious Monogram collection. This would be the store's outstanding modification. If you think the chain has downsized by combining its men's and women's stores into a single unit, think again. An entire second floor as been added for menswear, whose large shop a half a block away is about to be repurposed by The Gap.
The overhauled Banana should be safe to visit in a few weeks when everybody there calms down a little bit. In the meantime, be prepared, for better or worse, for an onslaught of attention.
Banana Republic 550 Broadway between Prince & Spring Streets, SoHo


The center displays in each section are just too big. If one person (with an ipod on) is looking at something at one end, and a couple is over on the other end (which is what happened to me), I couldn't get past them to take a look at this leather jacket that was on the wall behind the display. This is on a weekday, at noon. What if it was Saturday afternoon??

I worked at Banana for a soul-crushing two weeks some time ago, and I promise you, most of those sales staff would like nothing better than to leave you alone. But the managers (of which, like you said, there are ALWAYS too many of) stand around doing absolutely nothing, just watching the sales staff and how they interact with customers. Once I was put at the front and told to greet every single customer with a hello and a little speech about the day's sale event. When I started folding sweaters to have something to do while up there, a manager came up to me and scolded me for having missed greeting two of the 10 customers that had just wandered in. It's like a cult in there, trust me. The ones you want to get down on are the managers who have mainlined the kool-aid, not the entry sales staff who are just doing what they're pressured into.

HA HA, i've worked in Banana Republic for years and know exactly what being pressured into modeling a behavior that you know will actually turn customer off rather than "welcome them in" feels like. I do believe some sort of acknowledgement should be displayed from the staff, such as a smile or eye contact, but there will always be those people who really prefer to be left alone and approached only when they truly need help.

I've even seen some the junior managers and supervisor being bullied and scolded by some the other senior managers for not keeping better tabs on the salespeople. Gotta love retail, man.

WOW- I have never read such nasty comments from such obviously unhappy, disturbed individuals. The store is beautiful and I found it refreshing that the staff was excited about it's opening. YES it's rude, lacks class and any sort of maturity to enter a store with headphones on. Stay home. shop online. Going shopping is about engaging with people and enjoying the EXPERIENCE. Retail is lacking true excitement, passion and inspiration a store. Apathy is so common.
I thank the team at this store for the amazing energy they brought into this gorgeous store, I look forward to making this a must visit when in SOHO.

christophershawn: going shopping is about engaging with things you want or need to buy. Salespeople who are good at what they do, and are not bullied into behavior by their clueless supervisors, understand that some customers do not want to be approached, and learn to read and assess potential customers' needs. When I walk into a store, I expect to greeted, and that should be the end of it unless I indicate that I need assistance.

>>Retail is lacking true excitement, passion and inspiration a store. Apathy is so common. I thank the team at this store for the amazing energy they brought into this gorgeous store, I look forward to making this a must visit when in SOHO.

Chris must be climbing the management ladder. Either that or he's a bot.

>>It's like a cult in there, trust me.

That reminds me of a recruitment pitch from a company of knife-sellers who la-la-loved Dave Matthews Band and would immediately plan their next holidays together after coming back from their latest one.

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