Undercover Shopper: Putting New York’s Finest to the Test

Within the last six months, both Duane Reade and Sephora have opened dazzling new retail emporiums in the heart of Manhattan.

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Special Issue
Beauty Inc issue 11/11/2011

Duane Reade’s new store at 40 Wall Street is also a temple to retailing. I had heard so much about this shopping mecca from colleagues — who all reported back with wide eyes and tales of sushi, a hair salon, a Ramy brow bar and a nail bar — that I really had to see it for myself.


I must have walked by it three times before I realized that yes, the entrance was to Duane Reade, not a department store. A brief ride up an escalator solidified the fact that I was not really entering a drug store but a ramped-up retail concept. My mission today was to shop for beauty, and I knew from big, bold signage to take a sharp left and head toward The Look Boutique, where drugstore beauty brands sit alongside professional and specialty brands.

It was breathtaking to see the amount of space dedicated to beauty. Island upon island, aisle upon aisle, brands from every distribution channel were merchandised on beautiful lighted displays within feet of one another. The high ceilings certainly gave the space an air of luxury, too.

The first island I encountered had items from the best-selling beauty category across all channels — nail polish — with selections from Butter London. A nearby island displayed more nail polish, with collections from OPI and Essie. A few steps further was Ramy’s brow bar, rows and rows of color cosmetics, body washes, shampoo, styling products and yes, more nail polish.

In the skin care section, interesting brands included Lierac, Nuxe, Mustela, H2O Plus, Talika Paris and Skin by Monica. I walked around for about 30 minutes, just taking in the breadth of the selection and stopping to read about the more obscure brands on their displays.

I thought I should take advantage of the services offered and decided to get my brows tweezed. The service lasted about 15 minutes. I gave explicit instructions to stay along my existing brow line and not to overexaggerate the arch. To my delight, the aesthetician completely complied. She apologized several times for “taking so long,”  but she admitted she was a perfectionist and she wanted them to come out right. I haven’t had my brows tweezed in years; I generally just go for a wax, but tweezing really is far superior, especially in this case. I’m already planning my next trip to revisit Marie for a $30 tweeze (not including tip).

I ventured over to the Phyto hair salon, which has three styling stations, and checked out the retail display, which had Phyto, Kérastase and Redken. A stylist greeted me, complimented me on my brows(!) and gave me the spiel for services and treatments. Prices are competitive, with a blow-out topping out at $45.

Then I walked over to the Fragrance Room, which had on display the usual suspects, but also a Demeter fragrance bar. More cosmetics were here, too, including Becca and Touch Back hair color. Beauty magazines were on display, making sense if one wanted to check out a product write-up or review and then walk over and pluck an item off a shelf.

Some of the more commodity beauty items are in the heart of the drugstore part of the store, including hair color. Near the opposite end is a large food area, which includes the aforementioned sushi bar. During my visit — 10 a.m. on a Monday — the store was relatively quiet, but I could envision the crowds converging at lunchtime. I sure hope they do — this store is so amazing, I would hate for it to be a retail anomaly.




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