PEARL RIVER At Chelsea Market : the "friendship store"
how to redefine a brand by redefining retail
Location: Chelsea Market , NYC Completion: 2018 Size: 3,500 SF Type: Retail and Community space
Pearl River Mart Chelsea
Pearl River Mart started almost fifty years ago, when the relationships between the US and China, were non-existent, it was since the beginning a symbol of friendship between the two countries, an attitude which, during the years, evolved into a beloved neighborhood Institution. TRA studio has worked with PRM since 2001, when we were approached to design a vast 20,000 square feet space in SoHo, followed in 2008 by the 10,000 square feet Pearl Home, to house the vast Emporium that constitutes the Pearl River Mart’s diversified merchandise, encompassing over 15,000 products, ranging from inexpensive home goods to the most curious and expensive. The SoHo store already incorporated some of the support spaces that are now becoming an essential aspect of experiential retail: a quiet tea-room for workshops, iconic photo opportunities, (long before the rise of Instagram) and even, included ample public restrooms.
The 2016 Tribeca Pop-up store, continued the Pearl tradition of reaching out to the Community, through the inclusion of an active Art Gallery. PR Chelsea represents the first retail environment designed by TRA after Joanne Kwong joined PRM as the new young President of the 50 years old company, who brought back the brand to brick and mortar stores, after the closing of the SoHo store.
The evolution of the PRM brand can be followed in their history, the Chelsea store is the natural development of the previous ones: it still functions very much as an emporium and the political statement that inspired the original PRM is still the inspiration behind the experiential attitude of brand. The new store, which, reflecting the current retail downsizing is about 1/10th of the previous one, represents the prototype, the evolution of the PRM environment from “Mart” to “the Friendship Store”. The Chelsea location continues Pearl’s tradition to consciously select architecturally interesting spaces in significant locations, making them available for use by the neighborhood and drawing in turn inspiration from it, they always understood location matters, the design always drawing from the area.
A fresh storytelling approach to an old story, informs the design and celebrates the heritage and equity of the Institution, while remaining conscious of keeping the familiar connection with the old customers.
The educational aspiration of the brand identifies with a yearning for traditional values, authenticity, and stability and a desire to be part of and serve the Community. The space, although limited in size, allows for the dense display of the many items sold, all very varied in type and scale, but is also used as a warm gathering place for all sorts of amplified experiences, such as cultural events representing the Asian Community and beyond, from tea-serving ceremonies, to workshops, screenings, book signing and live performances and, simply, having fun perusing the merchandise, thru the sinuous artificial landscape created by the fixturing system. The large round table in the center serves as a tiered display, a lectern, a demonstration stand or expands its scale into a small amphitheater, creating an open court in the center. A similar hexagonal hub, also composed of movable units, marked by the same starburst chandelier above, houses the creations of guest designers. The adjacent flower display platforms also double as a seating area.
The lighting defines the spaces below, the superstructure of large hexagons creates an interlocking network of open canopies, where the different types of merchandise can find their place. The luminous aura is enhanced by the choice of the all-sustainable materials.
The rear fashion wall even hides a fully equipped private multi-functional room which can house a classroom presentation or a kid’s arts and crafts party.
Transformation is the essential tool to keep people coming back, the flexible , iconic and identifiable quality of the space makes the store a destination. The thoughtful, educational, fun, instagrammable, memorable, accessible public space and the transformational quality of the fixtures are not only essential to the success of this store, but also we believe, will become vital to the survival of retail in the city.
The design narrative developed naturally, but we could later recognize its roots in the Chinese iconography: the rice character, the red colonnade, the circular courtyard, the geometric latticework, the hexagonal pagoda, the river flowing through rising mountains in traditional paintings. Finding the references became a fun tool that justifies design decisions made instinctively.