Hollister is a clothing company for teenagers that is "inspired by the Southern California lifestyle." It is an offshoot of Abercrombie & Fitch, and uses a "fictional background story" to place its establishment in 1922 Los Angeles instead of the actual flagship store's New York, 2000 location and date. By the time it appeared in our mall, I was in college, and thus I have never purchased anything from Hollister.

But I have been inside Hollister, and let me tell you, it is an experience unlike any other. For starters, every Hollister's storefront is done up to look like some sort of cabana on the beach. I understand using this design for a stand-alone store, but in a mall, surrounded by plain, ordinary, typical storefronts, a Hollister just comes across as clunky, over-the-top, and silly looking. Obnoxious, to a degree. A thatched roof comes out to cover the entrance to the store, which is already on a wooden porch a foot off the ground. The result is that the front doorway is just over six feet tall. Not exactly inviting for a guy of my height, in spite of Hollister's best efforts to make the place as alluring as possible - after all, height issues aside, who wouldn't be drawn to a surf shack in the middle of a mall fifty miles from the coast in the Northeastern United States?

Things only get more absurd once you get inside. The three words best used to describe the interior of the store would be crowded, dark, and loud. Let's start with crowded. In order to sufficiently place enough gimmicky props in the store to maintain the illusion of being a beachfront surf shack, Hollister limits itself to using about two thirds of the available floor space on actual merchandise. Factor in the clunky tables the clothing is displayed on, and you're looking at maybe two foot aisles between all of the clothing displays. I would be remiss not to mention that the store is not a wide open store either, but an array of small rooms. Why? I imagine the goal is to provide as many walls as possible so that one can have maximum exposure to beach shack decor, but all this actually does is disorient the shopping customers. Between some rooms, there are even hallways with no merchandise whatsoever. During my one venture inside Hollister, I soon found myself at what I thought was the back of the store, only to look to my left and see the front doorway.

But the disorientation is just as much due to the darkness. The store is essentially unlit. Each table of merchandise is under a dim limelight, making it tough to see what you're purchasing until your eyes adjust, and nearly impossible to see anything that isn't on one of these tables, such as the floor, walls, and other customers. It's a land of shadows and silhouettes. I can't think of a worse place to attempt clothing sales. The message I am getting, by reading between the lines, is that Hollister does not believe people will buy their clothing if they can see it. This is not a message an apparel store should be sending.

Don't worry though. You won't be seeing much in Hollister, but you'll be hearing plenty. This is because extremely loud music is piped in through speakers around the store. Alternative rock runs amok, which clearly adds to the beach shack imagery. After all, everyone knows that beaches are just rock concerts waiting to happen. Never mind that the beach's prime attraction characteristic is and always has been that it is a place to "get away from it all" and to "relax;" the catchy new single from the All-American Rejects is playing - what's not to love? But I digress - it's not just that Hollister plays loud music, or that it plays pop-punk music. It's that Hollister's company policy is to play music at 80-90 dB. That's absurdly, ridiculously loud. For those of you unfamiliar with the decibel scale, here's a simple comparison: 85 dB is ten times as loud as 65 dB, which is the decibel level at which the average American watches TV at home. It is more than twice as loud as 78 dB, which is the official point at which experts say permanent hearing loss can result from prolonged exposure to such noise levels. Do you think 20-40 hours a week counts as "prolonged?" Poor employees. Actually, because the company mandates such a high music volume, safety regulations in turn mandate that employees wear earplugs, at least part of the time, making conversations like this one commonplace:

EMPLOYEE (YELLING): Hi, welcome to Hollister! Can I help you find anything?
SHOPPER (YELLING): Yeah! Do you have any cargo shorts?

Finally, there is what is probably the most unfortunate part of Hollister: the live feed to Venice Beach. Yes, somewhere amid the limelights and punk rock and beach decor, Hollister has found a spot to place a television which broadcasts nothing but live footage of what's happening in Venice Beach, Los Angeles. This way, we inland New Englanders can finally, truly experience the much-hyped culture of California surfing, right here, on a plasma screen. The only problem with a live feed of a beach - and it's a big one - is that nothing ever happens on a beach. Waves come in, waves go back out, and every now and again there is a person walking a dog. Aside from that, nobody moves. Everyone just sits there, reading, sleeping, tanning. And who could blame them? They're on a Southern California beach! And thanks to Hollister, it's as if I am too. Only, you know, while physically remaining in a loud, dark, pseudo-cabana.

When leaving Hollister, please refrain from using one of the two dozen smaller doors that line the outer wall as actual exits. They are only there for decoration, despite being left ajar at all times. Perhaps they are really there so that the store can breathe a little. After all, the place is a strobe light away from being a night club for minors. Tough to imagine no one has ever passed out or seized inside one of them.

SHOPPER (YELLING): Help! My friend just fell over and now I can't even find her!

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