Hamleys opens largest toy store in Central Europe

Former bank building is now a family entertainment center just off Wenceslas Square

The largest toy store in Central Europe has opened in Prague in a former bank building at Na Příkopě 14.

A red double decker bus, ring master, magician and many other entertainers were on hand for the May 4 festive opening of Hamleys, part of a British chain. Hamleys claims to be more than just a store, combining entertainment and education with shopping. It will be open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Half of the 6,130 square meter space spread over two stories is dedicated to toys, 45 percent to entertainment and education, and 5 percent to food and beverages. The dominant feature of the store is a musical carousel in the central atrium of the historical building with Art Deco interior details.

There is a also race track, giant slide, interactive water features, photo opportunities with live characters and a giant rocket that lifts off every day. Families can arrange birthday parties as well.

Gudjon Reynisson, CEO of Hamleys, came to Prague for the opening. He said that seeing what his partners had done was his proudest moment, and that the local team had done an unbelievable job in having the store ready by the projected launch date. “Many people didn't think we could do it,” he said.

He also explained what differentiates Hamleys from its rivals. “Hamleys is about making toys fun for families all over the world and delivering an unrivaled experience. Through our partners Inexad in Prague we had a fantastic opportunity to develop our retail experience to be even more memorable,” he said.

While this is the first Hamelys store in the region, the chain hopes to open more in the Czech Republic and in neighboring countries as well as Hungary.

Reynisson said there is no rush to expand, though, and it is more important to find the right people who share the brand's vision of being more than a toy store, as well as the ideal locations.

Pavel Čmelik of Inexad said he was very excited about bringing the Hamleys experience to Prague. “Can you imagine something more amazing for your kids than a world of fun, filled with over 50,000 toys and attractions right at your fingertips? Nothing could be better than seeing these happy little faces — it is going to blow their minds! We are opening Hamleys Praha to fulfill their dreams and create memories for families from all around the world. We have a fantastic team of toy demonstrators and entertainers and many surprises in store that our customers will never have experienced before. The fun begins now,“ he said.

Signs in the store, which is in the heart of the touristy center of Prague, are in Czech and English.

The emphasis is on traditional toys of all kinds from board games to stuffed animals, but not videogames, though there are some electronic toys and interactive books. Čmelik said it was important to keep the brand's traditional image and not turn the store into a videogame arcade.

The store is also not a toy discounter, but instead focuses on providing an experience to shoppers.

Hamleys has had one store in London since 1760 and is the world's oldest toy store. It didn't start to make franchises until 1987. It now has shifted to a global company with 75 stores in 22 countries.

A teddy bear is sold every two minutes in one of the stores, and all together they would stretch from London to New York.

Na Příkopě 14 had been built as a flagship office of Průmyslová banka and later housed Československá obchodní banka, before becoming a law office. The recent renovation received a LEED Gold certificate in 2014 for energy efficiency.

The building was built in 1930 according to a design by Frederick Bendelmayer, with sculptural decorations by Josef Kalvoda.

Before the current building was built, the house on the same location, called U tří líp, was the last home of author Božena Němcová.

Na Příkopě is the most expensive street in the Czech Republic in terms of monthly rent per square meter.

Hamleys Prague www.hamleys.com

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