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The Symphony Store: A Retail Sonata

With a celebrated reputation as one of the preeminent orchestras in the world, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra has reached another high note - the completion of its new retail store. As part of a $135 million expansion/renovation to Orchestra Hall completed in 1997, the renowned CSO purchased a slot in an adjacent building for the purpose of establishing an improved retail presence.

Enlisting the design expertise of Schafer, an Oak Park, Ill.-based firm specializing in architecture and interior design for branded environments, the CSO set upon the goal of creating a retail entity that speaks to a new generation of marketing objectives.

"The CSO believed that in order to meet its full potential as an international music center, it needed a retail presence that was physically connected to Orchestra Hall," says Beth Howley, senior vice president with Schafer. "Its original store, located two spaces south of Orchestra Hall, did not meet that objective."

Accessible either directly from the Orchestra Hall lobby or from the sleek, modern frame of the Michigan Avenue entrance, the new 2,350 sq. ft. facility provides nearly three times more retail space than the original store. While the new retail outlet certainly draws customers by nature of its location, a total integration of design and marketing articulates the organization's objective to promote the symphony to a more diverse audience.

The multi-sensory retail experience, translated in a vibrant palette of signature red, lapis lazuli blue and regal gold, radiates across the street to draw passersby inside. The interior plan unfolds in sound wave shapes that begin with the vertical CD wall at the storefront and continue towards the children's section at the back of the store.

A giant timeline, anchored by a projected image of the first piece of music ever performed by the CSO, traces the orchestra's history from its inception in 1891 to present day. The performance wall resonates with a state-of-the-art music system and provides a venue for multi-media presentations and live broadcasts of CSO performances. Customers can preview CDs from 11 listening posts located along the CD wall, and three overhead listening domes equipped with surround sound allow visitors to survey the CSO's interactive classical music jukebox.

A large photograph of children at the end of the CD wall introduces the children's section and signifies the CSO's commitment to play a role in education in the city. That commitment is reflected in one of the store's signature images - a graphic of two children playing the piano. The image, along with a quote from CSO founder Theodore Thomas and an image of a conductor's hands, are depicted in bold fashion on one of the store's main walls as well as on the store's shopping bags. Merchandise in the children's section includes an assortment of music and printed material as well as a line of private-label products specially created for The Symphony Store.

Tom Hallett, vice president for finance and administration with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, reiterates the importance of the store's role as an educational medium for children and adults alike: "Of course, the store has an earned income function," Hallett says, "but more importantly, it serves as a vehicle to promote the CSO and educate the public."

Because many people still feel the orchestra is too highbrow and sophisticated for general consumption, Hallet says, the store may be their only exposure to the world of symphony music. "The store is more accessible than our performances," he continues. "It's not just a place to buy, but an experiential environment that appeals to non-concertgoers as well as subscribers."

The store is impressive, and gives people a positive image of the CSO, Hallett says. "No other orchestra has a store that conveys such a seamless integration of marketing and education within a fun, experiential environment," he adds. "We were the first one that, through Schafer's concept, took this approach, and now we are the role model."

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