When the new Anthropologie store at Bakery Square opens Friday, customers will find a shopping environment as unique as the development it anchors.
Rustic wooden floors made from recycled fence planks still bear the traces of use and age. Panels of plaster imprinted with raised patterns are hung, floor to ceiling, like giant paintings. Others are used as walls to break up the 7,000 square feet of space, creating intimate areas for the "stories," or themes by which the merchandise is grouped. Displays are arranged on antiques that share a distressed patina -- massive library cabinets with worn finishes, a double zinc sink, vintage ironwork and bleached tables. Like everything else in Anthropologie, they come from around the world and are for sale.
Although this is the second store in Pittsburgh (the first opened at the Galleria in 2003) and the 144th in a chain that now stretches to Canada and the UK, it has a distinctly local flavor. The hanging lights are made from old industrial whisks, a nod to the historic Nabisco Baking Co. that once tormented East Liberty with its fresh-baked smells. Now called Bakery Square, it's a hip mixed-use complex with LEED certification, hybrid-only parking spots and Google offices.
The effort it takes to customize each location is unusual in an age of big-box stores and mall outlets that boast chainwide floor plans designed to minimize expense and create a dependable sameness. But Anthropologie has found success by doing things its own way. In the process it has made a billionaire out of its founder, Pittsburgh native Dick Hayne, who grew up in Ingomar.
Listed as No. 773 on Forbes magazine's 2010 list of the world's richest people, Mr. Hayne keeps a low profile in Philadelphia, where Anthropologie is headquartered. That's where he founded its parent company, Urban Outfitters, which began as Free People in 1970. Mr. Hayne started the business when he was 22 and newly graduated from Lehigh with a degree in, yep, anthropology.
Today, Urban Outfitters has 157 stores, including one at SouthSide Works. Free People has 35 stores and is also the wholesale end of the company. It creates Anthropologie's own labels -- Elevenses, Floreat, Maeve, Moulinette Soeurs and Odille. The chain also sells fashions by Anna Sui, Corey Lynn Calter, Plenty by Tracy Reese, Yoana Barashi and others.
But it's the signature mix of women's apparel, accessories, bath and beauty, giftware, home decor, antiques and found objects that makes the store so unusual.
"We love our customer and we are our customer," says Wendy Wurtzburger, co-president and chief merchandising officer, the creative force behind Anthropologie. "Our mission is to give her an unimagined experience, and we focus on creating a world that will delight her with unexpected detail and design. We hope she finds her favorite things. We are careful not to become ubiquitous and would rather sell less of something."
Ms. Wurtzburger and her creative team travel around the globe -- she's on a plane to London as we speak, heading for Paris, Amsterdam and then on to Japan. And everywhere she finds inspiration, trends, new ideas and styles that will be translated into merchandise for the customer who "appreciates the journey and loves the story behind the products and the artists we discover."
That's especially true with Anthropologie's home collection, an eclectic and inventive assortment of products that display exquisite craftsmanship and detail. A plump, buttery yellow leather sofa sits in the middle of the store, inviting tired shoppers to rest or to dream about how great it would look in their living room. Bedding, rugs, lamps and assorted other pieces of new upholstered furniture are mixed with an extensive cooking and tabletop selection, such as faience plates from France, hobnail glass pitchers and inexpensive café au lait bowls in sherbert colors. Cabinet knobs and hooks, coffee table books, candles and aprons and decorative oddities fill the shelves, encouraging customers to dig for more.
"Anthropologie is a place where our customers can escape and find inspiration for putting together an outfit or a whimsical table," says Ms. Wurtzburger. "About half of the products are our own designs, and half are things from designers and artists or markets that we've found along the way. We explore places, history, art and iconic characters to create an original perspective we can share."
It is precisely that combination of merchandise made by and available only at Anthropologie, and the well-edited selection of great stuff from other manufacturers, that has helped the chain to thrive when the Internet and a discount-seeking climate has leveled the playing field. To retain both its integrity and charm as it grows has been a challenge Anthropologie continues to meet.
"We only create things that we love," Ms. Wurtzburger says. "We don't water things down but try to create rich products with character and spirit. When we create something from the past or from a visit to a special place, we tailor it to a modern usage. We love mixing textures, fancy and plain, high and low, old and new. We are successful when we inspire our customer and make her fall in love."
Anthropologie at Bakery Square, 6425 Penn Ave., East Liberty. Open 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays, and noon-5 p.m. Sundays. 412-441-2302.
Marylynn Uricchio: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1582.