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Sharper Image Times Square holiday pop-up shop marks short-term physical store comeback

  • A sign outside of the pop-up shop says it's "Sharper Than Before," but visitors to the two-level space in New York's Times Square, which quietly opened last week, might be surprised by the sparsely filled store and its line-up of gadgets and gizmos, which includes a fair number of toys and drones.
  • More products, such as additional spa gear and speaker sets, will arrive before the store's official opening on Nov. 9, Conn says.
Sharper Image store
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The Sharper Image is back, but it may not be the store you remember.

For the first time in 10 years the brand known for stuff you don't need but can't live without, such as massaging chairs, talking bathroom scales and fancy air purifiers, has opened a physical store — albeit for a limited time.

A sign outside of the pop-up shop says it's "Sharper Than Before," but visitors to the two-level space in New York's Times Square, which quietly opened last week, might be surprised by the sparsely filled store and its line-up of gadgets and gizmos, which includes a fair number of toys and drones.

"We wanted a lot of room to do product demos," David Conn, the chief executive officer of ThreeSixty Brands told USA TODAY. "We wanted it to be an experiential place and have room for people to play (with our remote controlled) cars and fly drones. We like the extra space."

More products, such as additional spa gear and speaker sets, will arrive before the store's official opening on Nov. 9, Conn says. As of late last week, the showroom mostly contained what he considers the company's best products including a drone that lets the user see what the drone sees, temperature-controlled memory foam pillows, remote control toys and robotic dinosaur dogs.

In the midst of what feels like a retail apocalypse, when brick-and-mortar stores are closing at an unprecedented pace and shifting online, the notion of moving into a physical store seems like a risky venture. Especially when connected to a brand that went through years of declining sales and a bankruptcy that led to the shuttering of all of its stores. But Conn says the brand offers people something new.

"We think this is what's missing from retail today," he says. "You have to give consumers a reason to come into the store, something they can't do online. We want our customers to come in, be engaged, try products, ask questions and be entertained. Experience is critical and that's what this brand is all about."

The Sharper Image was founded in 1977 and grew to include more than 300 retail locations throughout the U.S., famous for its line of rare, but pricey products. But the unusual items had one big downfall: few repeat customers. The Sharper Image went into bankruptcy in Feb. 2008, closing all of its shops the same year.

When asked if the company was planning to open other shops, Conn said: "It's possible. We're going to focus on this one first."

ThreeSixty Group, Inc., the parent of ThreeSixty Brands, which also owns the iconic toy seller FAO Schwarz, acquired the Sharper Image brand in Dec. 2016. ThreeSixty manufacturers and sells products through than 70,000 retailers around the U.S., including Target, Walmart and Bed Bath & Beyond. The Sharper Image catalog and website are owned and operated separately, but ThreeSixty sells merchandise to both wholesale.

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The busy Times Square intersection, which attracts more than 50 million visitors each year, was the ideal spot for the temporary store, Conn says because it invokes the spirit of fun and leisure.

"What better place to have the store than the entertainment capital of New York City?" he says.

And for all the New York tourists and shoppers hoping to stop by the shop to take a breather or even a snooze in one of those big comfy massage chairs: keep on stepping.

Says Conn, "We want to keep the crowds on their feet and exploring all the fun our store has to offer."

The pop-up shop at 4 Times Square is expected to be open through the middle of January.