Curious George store owner takes model to Boston with Make Way for Ducklings
By Marc Levy
Thursday, August 14, 2014
A Faneuil Hall store based on the book Make Way for Ducklings is being prepared for a September opening.
What worked in Harvard Square with Curious George is about to get a major test across the river as entrepreneur Adam Hirsch opens Make Way for Ducklings – the world’s only store based around the beloved children’s book by Robert McCloskey.
The store is being called a pop-up, and is expected to open in Faneuil Hall in September, with a grand opening celebration in early October, filling space left by a shuttered Orvis outdoor-clothing shop. It is expected to be open at least through spring 2015, and longer if the concept works as well as it has in Cambridge with H.A. and Margret Rey’s Curious George monkey character.
“We’re a small mom and pop shop. Who knows how receptive people will be to the idea? We have our delusions – we think it’s a perfect fit, but let’s find out,” said Hirsch, who took over the Curious George real estate at 1 JFK St., Harvard Square, opening in April 2012 as the World’s Only Curious George Store after the Curious George & Friends book and toy store had been closed for about a year.
The Curious George store is “doing fine,” Hirsch said, crediting support from the local community and saying he hopes the store will still be in place for decades to come.
Year of Making Way
But that seems modest for the owner of one store of less than 1,300 square feet who is about to take on a second site of around 5,000 square feet in another super-expensive location. To get there, Hirsch had to convince the McCloskey estate, Faneuil Hall owners Ashkenazy Acquisition Corp. and of course himself and his wife, Jamie. (The Hirsches live in Roslindale and have three kids.) The process has taken about a year.
The McCloskey estate was quick to climb aboard – Hirsch said the toughest part was making contact – what Hirsch described as a “wonderful opportunity to raise the profile” of a classic that has been on children’s bookshelves since 1941, inspired an annual spring kids parade and draws families regularly to the bronze duckling statues installed in the Public Garden by sculptor Nancy Schön in 1987. “It was a perfect fit. It made a lot of sense, and they loved it,” Hirsch said.
The New York-based landlords also drew praise. “They’ve been incredibly supportive,” Hirsch said. “We would not be here unless they were willing to take a risk. Our job now is to open up a store that’s going to knock their socks off.”
The store is an a roughly 5,000-square-foot space vacated months ago by other outdoor-clothing retailer Orvis.
How much of a risk is the Make Way for Ducklings store? Hirsch seems to have a winning formula.
Real estate: While the World’s Only Curious George Store is in Harvard Square, which draws 8 million visitors annually, Make Way for Ducklings is opening in what’s been ranked the seventh-most visited tourist attraction in the world, where it’ll be the only children’s bookstore option for 18 million visitors a year. (Harvard Square isn’t on a lovehomeswap.com list of tourist destinations cited by The Boston Globe and Bostinno, but would tie with the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C., at No. 32.) “I know our model will succeed best in the best locations,” Hirsch said.
Exclusivity: Hirsch won exclusive branding rights from the Rey estate and set about creating Curious George toys and merchandise that literally couldn’t be bought elsewhere, and he’s doing the same with the Ducklings brand. “We have an opportunity to bring ‘Make Way to Ducklings’ to life in a grander way,” he said. “One difference is exclusive merchandise.”
Creating a destination: Hirsch’s stores are designed to be interactive, with frequent events and cozy reading nooks, and to feel less like a bookstore than an experience. “We create unique destination stores,” he said, noting that the previous Curious George shop in Harvard Square store was primarily a bookstore and not what he considered a model for success these days. The original, 15-year store and his own are “as different as two stores can be with the same branding.”
Of course, with four times the space to fill in Faneuil Hall, Hirsch plans to have some Curious George items on hand, as well as material from other internationally recognized children’s authors with local ties.
The store will have books and merchandise for “The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle (who lived in Northampton and has a museum in Amherst), the “Busytown” books by Richard Scarry (who was born in Boston) and the works of Dr. Seuss (Theodor Seuss Geisel was born in Springfield and has a sculpture garden there).
Make Way for Ducklings will be at the end cap of the North Market Building at 8 North Market Building, Faneuil Hall Marketplace in Boston. Information is here.