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    Tuesday, April 16, 2024

    What’s Going On: Immersive retail takes root at Olde Mistick Village

    Inside the anime superstore Arisu at Olde Mistick Village on March 8, 2024, from left are events and operations specialist Honey Gonzalez, owner Ellie Greenberg and director of retail operations Samantha DiLorenzo posing with an anime character, Monkey D. Luffy. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    At Alice’s Haunted Bookshop in Olde Mistick Village, a spooky display offers up softcover versions of favorite horror and mystery favorites. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    Outside of the anime superstore Arisu at Olde Mistick Village on March 8, 2024, events and operations specialist Honey Gonzalez, owner Ellie Greenberg and director of retail operations Samantha DiLorenzo pose for a picture. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    At Alice’s Haunted Bookshop, shown here March 8, 2024, horror and suspense books line the walls as “paintings” on the wall keep a close eye. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    At Alice’s Haunted Bookshop, shown here March 8, 2024, horror and suspense books line the walls as “paintings” on the wall seem to move. Photo by Lee Howard/The Day
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    Ellie Greenberg gets pumped up about her immersive retail firm Wonderlosity that currently has four stores at Olde Mistick Village, including the recently opened Arisu that focuses on Japanese culture and food.

    Samantha DiLorenzo, Greenberg’s director of retail operations, says that when Arisu opened last July, lines on the weekend were out the door and people were waiting two hours to get in. Something similar happened when Greenberg’s store the Cloak and Wand opened three years ago in the village, a place full of magic where the walls talk and wizardly wands for Harry Potter-inspired kids were almost literally flying out the door.

    “I love the village and I feel like we really helped transform it from more of an older demographic to a lot more younger demographic,” Greenberg said. “You know it used to be a lot of mom and pop stores and I feel like we kind of helped revive it.”

    The key to reviving retail anywhere, Greenberg believes, is to provide an experience and make it interactive and immersive. She said these experiences are similar to what happen when visitors walk into stores at DisneyWorld or Universal Studios.

    “It means that you go in into a place and you're being transformed into another,” Greenberg says. “There is more than just the product. ... We just had to have more than just a retail store. We're trying to have an experience when people are coming in.”

    So Greenberg, an East Lyme resident, also operates at the shopping center three other immersive stores: Cloak and Wand, which some locals refer to as “The Harry Potter Store,” though its merchandise covers a range of fantasy genres, including Dungeons & Dragons; Alice in the Village, a Victorian teahouse with an Alice in Wonderland theme, and Alice’s Haunted Little Bookshop, inspired by Lewis Carroll’s library in England, which sells horror and mystery books surrounded by spooky characters and moving “paintings” on the wall.

    Greenberg said her local stores have been so successful that she has duplicated Cloak and Wand in Pennsylvania and is about to open a slightly larger Arisu in Fairfield, not far from the large population center of New York City. Arisu sells many anime products as well as hosting a manga graphic-novel section that is so popular plans are to double it.

    “People think anime is male dominated and it's not,” Greenberg said, pointing to the Kiwaii section where lovable characters are popular among girls and women. “We're trying to keep up with the recent trends and have something for everybody.”

    In addition, the store includes a large section replicating what residents of Tokyo might experience at their local 7-Eleven store, including dozens of ramen noodle selections and other products imported from Japan, including spices and candy such as Kitkat.

    “These are flavors that normal Kitkats don't come in,” Greenberg says. “They're extremely hard to import. They're hard to find.”

    To one side, kids are encouraged to play classic Japanese video games for free, and elsewhere Gachapon machines dispense capsules with surprise gifts inside. The store also regularly invites in people who voice various Japanese anime characters so customers can talk with them and get autographs, and large anime statues are sprinkled throughout the 3,800-square-foot space.

    Greenberg said the new standalone Arisu store in Fairfield at 226 Kings Highway East will be slightly bigger than the one in Mystic, and it’s not in a tourist area, but she said people already are coming from more than an hour away to visit the local store. So she is confident Americans’ fascination with Japanese anime and culture will work on the other side of the state as a destination retail experience.

    “We want to have this unity of all of the stores will look and feel the same,” Greenberg says.

    And while you’d expect Arisu to be a big hit with the kids, the surprising thing is that many grandparents enjoy coming in to spoil their grandchildren with the gifts of their dreams.

    “They might not know much about it but they will come here with a list and they will just get everything,” DiLorenzo, the sales director, says.

    Greenberg says that her experience in identifying companies that can supply hard-to-find food and merchandise for her Arisu store has opened up a whole new possible business venture she is about to explore: a wholesale division to import products from Japan.

    “I’m going to have to bring it in containers but you know that just shows you about the demand that there is for those products,” she says.

    Greenberg may be a big advocate for experiences immersed into retail, but she says there are still surprisingly few enterprises that have taken the leap into providing the wow factor while cashing out customers. The reason for that is simple, she says: the expense.

    “A lot of the things we created and made ourselves,” she says. “it's kind of like that interactive component that’s really what makes us unique. You know, we're trying to be the pioneer of it."

    As Greenberg points out at Alice’s Haunted Bookshop, everything for sale there can be found on Amazon at a good price and conveniently through the touch of a few buttons.

    But Amazon can’t provide a special experience of spooky picture frames coming to life as you pick up an old Stephen King thriller, or offer you a Harry Potter-inspired potion at the charming Cloak & Wand, or provide you a tasty treat as you sip tea near Alice in Wonderland’s looking-glass.

    “It's almost like the only way that retail will be able to survive in the future because if you want anything you can just go online,” Greenberg says.

    Lee Howard is The Day’s business editor. To reach him for comments or suggestions, email l.howard@theday.com.

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