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One year ago, Macy's bought Story, a New York retail store founded by Rachel Shechtman that curates merchandise around a theme or set of ideas. Inside the quirky, colorful space in the Chelsea neighborhood, experience matters more than the products.
It was an interesting pairing — when Macy's bought Story — and industry watchers have been curious ever since. Now, Macy's plans are starting to unfold.
The department store chain announced on Wednesday it's adding 1,500-square-foot Story shops to 36 Macy's stores across the country, including at its Herald Square flagship, as part of its grander scheme to divvy up some of its real estate and look for new uses to fill what's now excess space, with more shopping moving online.
Macy's hopes the new spaces, which will rotate inventory every two months and bring in different local brands through the course of the year, will encourage shoppers to keep coming back to stores. There, they'll encounter goods like one-of-a-kind Crayola-branded Levi's jackets for kids, chocolate bars, bags and makeup that they can't find elsewhere.
Story "gives new customers a fresh reason to visit our stores and gives the current Macy's customer even more reason to come back again and again throughout the year," CEO Jeff Gennette said.
The first version of Story, called Color, will be live in 36 Macy's stores (see a full list of locations below) from Wednesday until June 26, Macy's said, at which point a new theme will be rolled out. Color will include items from makeup retailer MAC Cosmetics, crayon maker Crayola, denim brand Levi's and more than 70 small business owners, Macy's said, amounting to more than 400 products in each space.
"Think about a magazine or digital media company. Our version of editorial is merchandise curation ... and event programming," said Shechtman, now Macy's brand experience officer. "One thing that was important, and that we learned over the years at Story, is to create a model that is relevant. ... We are doing something that will appeal to 5-year-olds ... and 40- and 50-year-olds."
At Macy's Herald Square, Story will span more than 7,500 square feet, about 3½ times bigger than in other cities. The larger space will allow Story at Herald Square to include interactive experiences, Macy's said, like a massive Lite-Brite light-up display (the biggest in the world, it said), a pingpong table and plenty of other "Instagramable moments."
Macy's said it has trained more than 270 people to staff the 36 Story shops, immersing them on everything from building out a Story store to holding events there, and talking to potential customers.
"The Story training experience is a bit different because it's storytelling-involved," Shechtman said. As a customer, "you don't know what you're looking for when you go to Story." So that's why it's vital to make sure these employees are educated on the brands inside and the setup of the space, she said.
Macy's, like rivals Nordstrom and Kohl's, is trying new things in stores to avoid the same fate as department store chains like Bon-Ton, Sears and J.C. Penney, which have either been forced to file for bankruptcy protection or are struggling more than the rest to keep afloat.
As more brands like Nike and Coach go the route of selling as much as they can directly to consumers, avoiding middlemen, companies like Macy's need to find other ways to differentiate themselves and still attract customers. Story could be one solution. And Shechtman could be the visionary to help pull it off.
Shechtman said Gennette and his team have given her "all the support in the world" to try new things, which could include taking Story nationwide. When asked about the possibility, she wouldn't rule it out.
"Whatever process we create for 36 is the same process we can use to go to 200," she said. "Let's cover the bases, do a number that can result in processes that can scale, then reassess this."
Here are the 36 Macy's locations where Story will be opened, starting this Wednesday:
• Macy's South Coast Plaza – Costa Mesa, CA.
• Macy's Newport Fashion Island – Newport Beach, CA
• Macy's Stoneridge – Pleasanton, CA
• Macy's Union Square – San Francisco
• Macy's Westfield Valley Fair – Santa Clara, CA
• Macy's Boca Raton Town Center – Boca Raton, FL
• Macy's Dadeland – Miami
• Macy's Orlando Millenia – Orlando, FL
• Macy's Lenox Square- Atlanta
• Macy's Perimeter – Atlanta
• Macy's State Street – Chicago
• Macy's Woodfield – Schaumburg, IL
• Macy's Castleton Square – Indianapolis
• Macy's Fayette – Lexington, KY
• Macy's Ridgedale – Minnetonka, MN
• Macy's Las Vegas Fashion Show – Las Vegas
• Macy's Bridgewater – Bridgewater Township, NJ
• Macy's Freehold – Freehold Township, NJ
• Macy's Short Hills – Short Hills, NJ
• Macy's Willowbrook – Wayne, NJ
• Macy's Brooklyn – Brooklyn, NY
• Macy's Roosevelt Field – Long Island, NY
• Macy's Herald Square – New York
• Macy's Queens Center – Queens, NY
• Macy's Cross County – Yonkers, NY
• Macy's Kenwood Town Centre – Cincinnati
• Macy's Easton – Columbus, OH
• Macy's Polaris – Columbus, OH
• Macy's Center City – Philadelphia
• Macy's Ross Park – Pittsburgh
• Macy's Northpark Center – Dallas
• Macy's Houston Galleria – Houston
• Macy's Memorial City – Houston
• Macy's Bellevue – Bellevue, WA
• Macy's Alderwood – Lynwood, WA
• Macy's Metro Center – Washington, DC