While some might think opening a retail location during a pandemic is a risky undertaking, one local streetwear retailer and brand embraces the concept.
Heading into its 25th anniversary year, Boston-born Concepts opened the doors to its new global flagship store this weekend. Located at 18 Newbury St., just a few blocks from its collab pop-up with Adidas on Boylston Street, the three-story site is an homage to the city and its casual sportswear seekers.
“The Boston community has been imperative to our growth, and we want them to see this new store as a way of thanking them for their help over the years,” said Tarek Hassan, founder and CEO. “This is a historic moment for Concepts. This flagship store is more than just a retail space. With Boston being our home, we’re proud to further infuse our DNA into the city.”
Since its founding in 1996 as one of the first retailers to merge the worlds of street, skate, and fashion, Concepts has expanded with stores in New York, Dubai, and Shanghai. Its biggest retail expansion to date, the new Back Bay location is a far cry from its very first location — a 900-square-foot space in Harvard Square that shut its doors in 2019.
Designed in partnership with global creative agency Sid Lee, the store doesn’t waste a single inch of its 4,700 square feet, tucking items purposely into their own vignettes in an art gallery-meets-retail fashion. There are elegantly appointed sneaker walls, apparel hung sparingly on silver railings, and a floor-to-ceiling mirrored “hero shoe” wall for a lone spotlight style. Skaters head to the back of the store for their own decked out section of popular deck brands including 5 Boroughs, Girl, and Strangelove, wheels, and accessories.
With prices ranging from $10 (think socks, water bottles, sneaker cleansing wipes) to a $3,800 Visvim Meckel Parka, there’s something for every budget, with apparel and sneakers from the likes of Nike, Vans, A Bathing Ape, and Raised by Wolves sitting side car to Concepts’ own private labels.
Like its inventory, the decor throughout is idiosyncratic and street-inspired, complete with Chanel basketballs, Gucci teddy bears, and [email protected] standing two feet tall and sporting art by Basquiat and Keith Haring (perfectly coinciding with the MFA’s current “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip–Hop Generation” exhibit).
In the mezzanine space, customers find “Constant Change,” a dedicated area for rotating special projects such as the current Stüssy collection. The third floor boasts the only brick-and-mortar expression of VRSNL, Concepts’ new women-focused luxury boutique, and high-end sportswear brands including Alexander McQueen, Canada Goose, YSL, and Golden Goose. Shoppers can also relax in the Concepts Café, with George Howell Coffee and pastries from local bakeries against a backdrop of Newbury Street views.
Overlooking the ground floor, a DJ nook stocked with state-of-the-art Pioneer equipment is poised for night and weekend sets (on Oct. 24, grand opening shoppers were greeted by DJ Tay James of Justin Bieber fame). The booth will eventually host Concepts’ in-person quarterly town halls, the first of which will be held virtually on October 27 to discuss the importance of voting with Boston Globe’s culture writer Jeneé Osterheldt, Reebok designer Frank Rivera, and Rodney C. Pratt of Converse.
Touting its fan base as family, Hassan hopes the store will provide a place for gathering, even as the world navigates its new normal. To that end, the store’s main staircase is actually inspired by the Greek theatron, or “a place of gathering for spectators.”
“We want our customers to see it as a warm and inviting space,” he added. While the Concepts team is adamant about adhering to strict COVID-19 guidelines such as mask wearing and store occupancy limits, they’re also looking forward to a time when we can put the pandemic behind us. “We’re putting smiles on people’s faces, and hopefully that’ll help.”
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