BY MENGWEI CHEN
The tourist season is in a lull between summer and the winter holidays, but the line of European tourists outside the four-story Abercrombie & Fitch flagship store at Fifth Avenue and 56th Street is still there. No less than 50 customers waited recently, blocking most of the sidewalk. It is a unique situation that tourists endure even though they resent it.
The reason? Almost all of the customers agree: “Price.” They said that they pay at least double for the same type of clothing in Europe.
“I’ve been here a dozen times but the line is always there,” complained Patrick McGrith, an Australian businessman who comes here to buy children’s clothes he can’t get in his country, and aftershave for himself.
“We do not create a queue for the purpose of creating a queue,” said Eric Cerny, the only public relations officer, as well as the only person at A & F, who is “permitted to talk to the press,” according to three managers at A & F. “We have capacity numbers that we must manage to throughout the day,” he explained.
The two doormen, wearing A & F navy blue sweaters, red checked shirts, dark blue jeans and brown flip-flops — who also appear as shirtless models on some of their shifts — only let 20 people in every 10 to 15 minutes, regardless of how many customers are inside the store.
In fact, the dimly-lit store was not any more crowded than the A & F Seaport store at Water Street, but that store does not have a line.
When asked about the exact “capacity numbers,” Mr. Cerny said, “We do not disclose specifics regarding the store.”
So the question is, why do European tourists fly this far and wait in long lines, where there are usually no discounts or promotions?
“We come here because our friends in France strongly recommended it,” said Mathieu Chanorey, who traveled with his wife from the south of France for their vacation. “It is no big deal to wait for only half an hour. In Milan’s Abercrombie, we used to wait for over an hour three years ago!”
“If you have children, you’ll understand! All they want is brand,” said Jo Wraight, the mother of two teenaged children, who was visiting from England. Although she hated to wait outside, this was her second visit. “I felt the store was a night club because of the noisy techno music, and the faint light. I can’t see the color,” she said.
“Oh! It is so popular in Spain! We can wait!” said Bea Perejoan Bauba and Alba Rodellae Yus, two women in their twenties who were on a short trip to New York from Barcelona, Spain. They were here because their friends in Spain had recommended the store. “They did not tell us about the queue, but we are glad to be here!” Alba said.
Over half of the 35 customers interviewed said that they would never have come to this store if they had been aware of the A & F store in lower Manhattan. Until word gets out, European tourists continue to get in line, and they do it year-round. A & F’s response to six phone calls and five emails was Cerny’s comment that the stream of tourists visiting the flagship store consistently is “steady throughout the year” without seasonal changes.