If you ask where the center of West Hartford is located, the most popular answer would likely be the corner of LaSalle Road and Farmington Avenue.
Current and historical photos of the town are likely to highlight the Tudor-style building on that Southeast corner. Sadly and somewhat surprisingly, the stately storefront has been vacant for too many months.
That is about to change Friday morning.
Red and white signs, peppered with inspirational statements, have covered the windows for the past few months as the interior has received a complete makeover. When the windows are uncovered at 9 a.m. on Friday, August 5, West Hartford’s prime corner will be the new home of lululemon athletica.
Lululemon has an avid following in the yoga community, but is much more than a place to purchase stretchy breathable clothing.
More than just selling athletic apparel, lululemon says it is committed to supporting the local community wherever they open a store. There may be a template, but each store reflects the individual personality of its town.
“We’re all hyperlocal,” said Regional Community Manager Amanda Casgar. Lululemon focuses on all types of fitness and sells apparel for running and other sports in addition to yoga.
“West Hartford already has such a great fitness community,” said Casgar. That was a key factor in the company’s decision to open a store in West Hartford. The other two Connecticut locations are Greenwich and Westport. In preparation for this opening, lululemon already put its roots down with a small showroom on LaSalle Road.
West Hartford Manager Tara Bidwell and Assistant Manager Allison Bradley provided a tour of the premises on Thursday afternoon. Finishing touches were being put on many of the displays and employees — called educators — were receiving their final training tips.
Bradley said that everything about the store is about the West Hartford community — from the bulletin boards promoting yoga and fitness classes at studios throughout town, to the striking photographs of the store’s first five ambassadors, to the feedback wall near the dressing rooms where educators note customers’ comments and suggestions about the products.
Behind the register is a mural — a piece of community-inspired art that reflects Noah Webster’s impact on West Hartford.
Lululemon promotes fitness throughout the community, and will host yoga classes in the store every Sunday morning at 11 a.m. The classes will be taught by instructors from studios throughout the area. “We’re not competing with them; we want to add to their business,” said Bradley.
Lululemon also works in cooperation with West Hartford’s , with employees participating in Fleet Feet’s running groups and helping with water stops. “[Fleet Feet] promotes health and wellness. We want more of them,” Bradley said.
Lululemon will prove its commitment to the local fitness community on its second day of operation, when it will host a “flash mob” type event, although of a more calming nature. “Asana on LaSalle” will close off LaSalle Road from 8-9:15 this Saturday morning for a free, outdoor, yoga class.
On Sept. 10, lululemon will also sponsor West Hartford’s participation in “Salutation Nation,” where a “never-ending ‘om’” will begin at 9 a.m. in communities throughout the world.
Feedback is also a key component of lululemon’s business model. “Our founder Chip Wilson founded this company based on feedback,” said Bradley. One of the primary roles of the ambassadors is to wearing and testing the clothes. “They sweat in them and give us their feedback,” said Bradley.
A few comments had already appeared, such as, “A tank needs adjustable straps,” and “Make white running shorts.” That type of feedback will be emailed to the company’s design team on a regular basis.
Lululemon claims that their products enhance an athlete’s workout. So what’s different about them?
“They’re technical,” said Bradley, pointing out a running shirt constructed with silverescent fabric. “Bacteria can’t hold onto silver,” she said, so the shirt doesn’t smell after a sweaty workout. This particular shirt was also “body-mapped,” with ventilation in key areas, and sported longer sleeves with thumbholes for a fashionable touch.
All of our products are “technical, functional, and fashionable,” said Bradley.
Regarding lululemon’s securing of probably the most prime piece of real estate in West Hartford, Casgar said, “For us as a store that supports the community, it’s great to be in the center of the community. It’s the cherry on top of the cake,” said Casgar.
It’s probably a healthy cake, too.