Correction to This Article
This article did not clearly explain a year-over-year decline in American Girl sales. It should have said sales in the second quarter of 2009 got a boost from the launch of Rebecca Rubin, a Russian Jewish doll depicting a girl growing up in New York in 1914. Sales declined 4 percent during the same period this year because the firm did not launch a new product.

American Girl doll store coming to Tysons Corner Center

Karla Shaw treats nieces Camy Nixon, 7, left, and Cally Nixon, 8, to new hair-dos for their dolls at American Girl Place in Los Angeles.
Karla Shaw treats nieces Camy Nixon, 7, left, and Cally Nixon, 8, to new hair-dos for their dolls at American Girl Place in Los Angeles. (Damian Dovarganes/associated Press)

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By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 18, 2010

American Girl, the popular doll brand with a cultlike following among young girls, is slated to open its first store in the Washington area at Tysons Corner Center next summer.

The brand features dolls from various periods of U.S. history that come with elaborate back stories chronicled in books and magazines and, of course, a wardrobe of clothes and accessories. Millions of girls have made pilgrimages to the flagship American Girl stores in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles that have become known for their over-the-top fantasy experiences and toy sets that can easily cost a parent more than $100.

The store in Tysons will include a 110-seat "bistro" for meals and birthday parties along with a hair salon for dolls. The Creativi-Tees boutique will allow girls to create their own doll-size T-shirt. At about 23,000 square feet, the store will be about half the size of the flagship locations and will be the 10th store in the country.

Wade Opland, American Girl vice president of retail, said the company determined there was strong demand in the Washington area through its catalogue and Internet sales. Opland said he expects the store will draw about 1 million customers annually and does not plan to open another one in this market.

American Girl, which primarily has been a catalogue and direct mail retailer, opened its first store in 1998 in Chicago. That was followed by locations in New York in 2003 and Los Angeles in 2006 as the concept began to build momentum. Opland said the company began considering the Washington market several years ago but started scouting locations only in the past year.

American Girl was founded in 1986 by Pleasant Rowland, a former schoolteacher, who got the idea after visiting Colonial Williamsburg. She sold the company for $770 million to Mattel in 1998.

In the second quarter, American Girl sales were down 4 percent from the same period a year ago. The company attributed the decline in part to the 2009 launch of Rebecca Rubin, a Russian Jewish doll depicting a girl growing up in New York in about 1914.

"The toy industry usually ends up holding up better during a recession," Opland said.

Landing the store is a major coup for the region's largest shopping center. Malls across the country have suffered higher vacancy rates as the recession forced many retailers to shutter stores or go out of business altogether. During the second quarter, the national retail vacancy rate was 7.5 percent, down slightly from 7.6 percent, according to the CoStar Group, a commercial real estate research firm. "Super-regional" malls such as Tysons Corner had the lowest average vacancy rate, 5 percent.

Cory Scott, Tysons senior property manager, said the mall had to relocate three retailers with permanent leases to make room for the American Girl store, which will be in the Bloomingdale's wing. The store will span two floors and have an exterior presence on International Drive.

"We've got a strong tradition of bringing in the first-to-market, best-of-the-industry retailers," Scott said.


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