Aloha, New York

Manhattan turns west, toward Quiksilver

On March 22, surfwear giant Quiksilver opened its Boardriders Club store No. 69, this one on the corner of 42nd and Seventh in New York's Times Square. The 3,300-square-foot retail space was requisitely spectacular, featuring a ceiling made of some 60 suspended surfboards, a "wave wall" of 63 plasma video screens playing surf and skate videos, and a gaming kiosk to play Tony Hawk Pro Skater or Kelly Slater Pro Surfer video games, all of it designed to celebrate all that is surf, sun, skate, California and the aloha spirit.

On March 31, it snowed.

Yet Tom Thomas, East Coast district manager for Quiksilver, said the Times Square store was packed once again; a Quiksilver spokesperson said the store set a record for opening day sales. So what do people buy at a Times Square surf shop during a snowstorm?

"Oh, you know, board shorts, flip-flops, T-shirts," said Thomas. "Just like any other day at the beach."

Of course, the Costa Mesa-based Quiksilver seems intent on stretching the boundaries of what one considers "beach." Consider the opening-day sales record set by the Times Square store broke the old record set by the Boardriders Club on the Champs Elysees. There are Boardrider clubs in Chicago; Prague; Minneapolis; and Makati City, Philippines. As you read this, there are 286 Boardrider Clubs—218 of which are licensed, not company-owned—worldwide and plans for another in Shanghai.

"Boardriding culture," said Quiksilver President Bernard Mariette, "is no longer tied to geography."

That was obvious to Thomas even before the Times Square store opened when he received more than 2,500 applications for employment. It's also obvious when you call the store and are greeted by a generous, definitive "Aloha!" Or when you talk to Thomas, who grew up in south Jersey, and listen to him sprinkle his conversation with generous doses of "stoked."

Thomas says there has always been a segment of East Coasters who identified strongly with California surf culture. He grew up surfing—nature permitting—at such hot spots as Rockaway and Long Beach on Long Island. There, he said, surfers learn to be grateful.

"We just felt fortunate any time there were waves," he said. "Every now and then, we'd get lucky and be on the tip of a hurricane. That was the best it got."

As for New Yorkers' reputation for dismissing anything not born of or celebrating New York—especially something born of and celebrating California—Thomas says he has seen none of it.

"Absolutely not," he said. "They've been so welcoming to this. The vibe is cool, and I think it totally supports the lifestyle in New York since there is such a high percentage of New Yorkers who enjoy going to the beach. I don't think I've heard one person who comes in and says, 'I don't get this.' People here are stoked."

Geography and culture still come into play. Thomas says many of his Times Square customers are tourists who find the ability to grab a bit of California while in Manhattan irresistible. Employees have to not only be trained in the ways of boardshorts but also be wise in the way of recommending Broadway shows or hailing cabs for purchase-laden customers.

"The greatest comments I've gotten so far are not about the store—and the store is spectacular," Thomas said. "It's about our employees, how great they are. They really do a great job of passing along the whole aloha spirit."

This is Quiksilver's second New York store; the company opened a SoHo shop in 1998. Thomas says the difference is that the tourists who come to Times Square "are looking to buy an item, almost like a souvenir. In SoHo, there's more of a local feel. People shopping in SoHo are shopping more for lifestyle. The purchases are bigger; they're buying outfits, not items."

Still, with annual foot traffic on the sidewalk outside the store estimated at 30 million, those items add up. And nothing in Tom Thomas' voice seems to indicate anything but bright days ahead.

"Things are going great. Even the weather's getting better. It looks like it's going to get up into the mid-50s," he says, sunnily signing off. "Aloha!"

 
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