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Everything Is Awesome at LEGO

By Hilary George-ParkinJul 2 2021
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This month, a new two-story retail experience beckons LEGO fans to immerse themselves in a giant celebration of the tiny plastic bricks. At 7,175 square feet, the reopened store offers opportunities for visitors to personalize minifigures or LEGO mosaics, step into a virtual experience, and take photos of builds big and small.

One of the first elements to greet visitors is the Tree of Discovery, a mammoth 880,000-LEGO-brick model that took builders 1,900 hours (the equivalent of over 79 days) to construct. Hidden within and around its rainbow trunk and branches lies an array of scenes, from underwater dioramas to miniature construction crews. As Travis Blue, LEGO’s vice president of Americas brand retail stores, explains, if you were to visit and take photos in front of it, “you would get home, and then all of a sudden in the picture you would see certain hidden elements, almost like an Easter egg hunt.”

Following more than a year of Covid-19 restrictions and closures, this new store offers a joyful return to tactile, in-person experiences. “It’s really designed to make sure that you can touch it, you can feel it, you can build it, you can have fun, and you can connect. And there aren’t that many of those places that are still out there,” Blue says.

One look around the flagship, and it’s clear the city inspired the LEGO team at every step. With nearby Broadway shows preparing to welcome audiences again this September, LEGO tapped a cast of theatrical talent to film “LEGO Store: The Musical,” a celebration of the new store. Elsewhere in the new flagship, a life-size taxicab is parked beside a wall of skyscrapers and a replica Brooklyn Bridge—all built with LEGO bricks, of course. By the stairs, a LEGO brick subway attendant takes fares below signs for the Times Square station. And in the windows, a camera-toting LEGO-brick tourist steps in a wad of gum near a Big Apple model—a smaller lookalike of the 16-foot-tall sculpture the company created to mark the opening of its previous Rockefeller Center location in 2010. While most of the builds in the flagship are new, another window features a classic display from the old store: a diorama of Rockefeller Plaza itself—complete with a miniature version of the Rink and bustling with shoppers, diners, and workers—updated for its new home.

“If we showed up in New York, and the concept didn’t look like something that you would see in New York, [fans] would tell us,” Blue says. “We want it to be a situation where we are very respectful of how amazing Rockefeller Center is. It should be a place where you can have all these experiences, but also have pictures for you to take home with you or to be able to share.”

While the New York City landmarks are unique to Midtown, other elements of the store will be rolled out to more than 100 LEGO retail locations throughout the coming year. The company’s new retail-meets-entertainment store format includes features such as the Brick Lab, a ticketed 20-minute interactive experience that blends physical and virtual play; the Mosaic Maker and Minifigure Factory, offering custom portraits and pieces to take home; and the Storytelling Table, which gives visitors a behind-the-scenes glimpse into LEGO’s product design and development process. Plus, several characters around the store—both 3D models and those on screens—are interactive and will wave, talk, and change expressions as customers move around the store.

Kristie Evans, a self-described LEGO fanatic from New Jersey, took a trip to Midtown on opening weekend with her husband, 10-year-old son, and newborn. Evans runs two LEGO-related charities and builds large-scale LEGO brick models and art, while her son Kaedin is working toward a world record for the largest Minecraft LEGO build. Together, the family has been to more than 60 LEGO stores around the country, but Evans says the new flagship is worth a visit even for the casual fan. “Even if you’re not into building, it’s just fantastic to look at and take pictures,” she says. “I mean, it’s practically like a museum when you go in there. There’s just so much to see.”

First on their list was the Minifigure Factory, where they designed minifigures for each member of the family and had them printed on-site using the store’s specialized printer. It’s the first of its kind to arrive stateside, though LEGO’s London flagship launched the feature in 2019.

For Evans, though, the most memorable elements of the space were also the biggest: the taxi, the tree, and the Broadway poster mosaics lining the walls. “As a [LEGO] builder, I love the really large projects that LEGO takes on when they open really impressive stores like this,” she says.
It was important, Blue says, to find ways to inspire every visitor who walks in the door, from the kid coming in to choose their first set to the avid collector whose LEGO brick builds have taken over whole rooms of their house. “We wanted to make sure we were connecting with all ages,” he says.

Even Evans’ newborn walked (well, crawled) away with a Duplo farm set and train. “He’s still not even able to sit up, but once he gets there, I think he’ll love it,” she laughs. “That’s the best part about LEGO—it’s a universal family thing.”

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