Japanese retailer Line Friends opened a 4,628-square-foot store in New York City’s Times Square on Tuesday, according to a company press release.
The brand’s characters — a bear named Brown, his sister Choco, a rabbit girlfriend called Cony and a chicken, Sally, who is a third wheel with a crush on Brown — hail from a popular messaging app, Line.
The retailer sells toys, cushions, stationery and other items featuring those characters (who also roam around the square outside). An iPhone case runs $25, a luggage tag sells for $13 and a coin bank for $23, the company said by way of example.
Times Square has long been known for its experiential retail — think of FAO Schwarz's floor piano, human toy soldiers and intricate toy trains. Landlords are keen to sign retailers that will please the many tourists flocking there to be entertained by Broadway shows, costumed comic book characters and the stores themselves. Several buildings in Times Square seek out tenants who can provide experiential retail, as they tend to enjoy higher sales than traditional retailers, Sherri White, executive vice president and partner at real estate development company Witkoff, said last year.
But retailers have been closing stores, particularly massively expensive flagships in favor of smaller shops, and rents in the area last year fell 18% year over year to $2,104 per square foot — the biggest drop in Manhattan, according to commercial real estate services firm Cushman & Wakefield.
Messaging apps are just now catching on in the U.S., but Line isn't worried about that. So far, it looks like there's no need to: More than 30,000 people visited the store during its first pre-opening week starting on July 21, the company said. A Line Friends pop-up nearly three years ago signaled that level of interest as well, when more than 300,000 people visited during the three weeks it was open, the company said.
"The opening of our New York flagship store commemorates the one-year anniversary of our parent company's listing on the New York Stock Exchange, and paves the way for the official start of the next phase of Line Friends' global expansion," the company said in its press release. "We see particular significance in the fact that characters which got their start in digital media, not cinema or TV, are making a such a bold entrance into New York City, the world's leader in cultural trends. With this next phase of our global expansion, Line Friends will continue to grow as a character brand that crosses international and cultural barriers to bring excitement and joy to people around the world."
With the new store in New York, Line Friends now has 84 stores worldwide, the company said.