Natalia Garcia-Hanna has been counting down the days until this week’s opening of the American Girl store at The Falls. The 6-year-old from Pinecrest already has six American Girl dolls, but she’s never been inside the store that is fantasy land for young girls.
If you’re not a girl between the ages of 6 and 12 or the parent of one, there’s a good chance you may not understand the fascination with American Girl. This is more than just a doll store. It’s a cultural phenomenon, albeit with a smaller demographic group, that inspires the same kind of devotion as brands like Apple, H&M or Ikea.
In an era when kids are increasingly focused on all things electronic, American Girl offers a chance to hold on to more traditional values.
“Life today is so fast paced, it’s nice to see them go back and play with dolls and use their imagination,” said mom Natalie Hanna-Garcia of Miami, who already has made reservations at the American Girl bistro for Sunday and again next Thursday. “It’s going to be nice to have something to enjoy together. They’re only kids once, so it’s nice to share that little bond.”
American Girl offers a unique interactive experience. Girls can visit the bistro for tea with mom or bring friends for a special birthday party. They can take their doll to the hair salon for a new style or a facial. At the “Creativi-Tees” boutique they can design matching T-shirts for them and their dolls.
The American Girl store is like one giant dollhouse with a cheery color scheme of pink, raspberry and violet. The average customer spends about two hours compared to the retail industry average of about 20 minutes, said Wade Opland, American Girl’s vice president of retail.
“When she walks around the store, it’s all at her level, because it’s all about the girl,” Opland said. “There’s a lot of pressure on girls today to grow up fast. American Girl is a place to find wholesome product.”
You can’t just get an American Doll anywhere. The Falls location will be only the 14th store in the country for the brand that was started in 1986. The first flagship store opened in Chicago in 1998. Until now South Florida girls had to shop online or visit stores while on vacation in New York, Atlanta, Boston or Los Angeles.
Keeping the brand exclusive is part of the attraction and why American Girl expects The Falls store to attract 750,000 people a year, drawing from as far as 200 miles away, Opland said.
“We’re very methodical about our growth strategy,” Opland said. “We don’t want to over saturate the market. We want to keep American Girl as a destination.”
For opening weekend, 10,000 to 15,000 people are expected. The store’s capacity is 380, so tickets will be distributed with an assigned group number. The Bistro is virtually sold out on the weekend for months with about 10,000 reservations booked.
The official grand opening isn’t until Saturday, but there’s an invitation-only event Thursday night and the store quietly opened its doors starting Wednesday.
Natalia can hardly wait. “I like the dolls because they’re cute and they have so much nice stuff,” she said.
American Girl’s creator, Pleasant T. Rowland, was a former educator and textbook writer from Madison, Wis. who started the dolls because she couldn’t find any suitable for girls between 9 and 12. She created the original line of historical dolls as a way to teach girls about different periods of American history. Rowland sold the company to Mattel for $700 million in 1998.