The Irish retailer Primark on Thursday will open a 77,000-square-foot department store in Downtown Crossing, serving as the anchor of a major development project and filling a longstanding hole in the urban shopping scene.
Primark occupies four floors in the Burnham Building with affordable, in-the-moment fashions for men, women, and children.
The building, at Summer and Washington streets, was once home to the flagship Filene’s department store and the original Filene’s Basement, Boston’s famous discount retail store that closed in 2007. Part of the site was demolished the following year, but its reconstruction stalled during the recession, leaving an idle redevelopment zone in the center of the city.
“It’s a significant moment, and there’s no question about it,” said Rosemarie Sansone, president of the Downtown Boston Business Improvement District. “Years ago we were talking about the hole in the ground and whether it was ever going to get filled. Now we’re having a major international retailer go into this very famous, iconic retail building.”
In its day, Filene’s was an important retail engine in downtown Boston, and its basement outlet — initially part of the larger store and later an independent company — was famous for steep discounts on designer goods. Primark promises to bring cachet and budget-friendly shopping back to Boston’s city center, but in a different way.
The company started in Ireland, where its stores are known as “Penneys,” in 1969. It now operates more than 291 stores in nine countries. Based in Dublin, it’s known as a “fast-fashion” retailer, selling high volumes of popular styles at extremely low prices.
Primark sells clothing manufactured specifically for its stores, often reproducing popular fashions of the moment. The chain buys the goods in large quantities and sells them at a slim markup, while emphasizing its ability to deliver the hottest disposable fashions. It plans to truck in hundreds of new items from a distribution center in Pennsylvania to the Boston store each day.
Analysts have compared Primark to other fast-fashion retailers, such as Sweden’s H&M, Zara of Spain, and Forever 21, based in Los Angeles, all of which operate stores in Boston.
At $10 for skinny jeans and $5 for a pair of flats, Primark is cheaper than the old Filene’s Basement and most of its current competition.
John Barros, Boston’s chief of economic development, said he’s impressed by how quickly the company reacts to changing consumer tastes.
“They want to know what their customers want to buy, and they want to be the quickest to bring it to market,” said Barros, a longtime Filene’s Basement fan. “That kind of response from the retail sector is where retail is going. I’m excited about them bringing that to Boston.”
The store, Primark’s first in the United States, is a state-of-the-art retail space, with each floor offering lounge areas equipped with smartphone charging stations and televisions, screens that display Primark advertisements, and spacious dressing rooms.
In preparation for Thursday’s opening, it’s packed with fall fashions styled on some 513 mannequins. It’s stocked with shoes for men, women, and children, women’s lingerie, fitness apparel, home goods, and racks of accessories. The vibrantly colored and modern space features an open, four-floor atrium lined with escalators.
It’s no surprise that Primark is making a statement with the high-end design and size of the new store, said Michael Tesler, a retail professor at Bentley University in Waltham.
“This isn’t just an opportunity to do business in Downtown Crossing and be part of the revitalization of downtown Boston. They are using that location as a marketing venue to help the additional locations they plan to have very quickly,” Tesler said.
The Boston site is the first of eight locations planned to open in the United States by the end of 2016; the list includes stores at South Shore Plaza in Braintree and at the Burlington Mall.
“The uniqueness of Downtown Crossing is that it will be the only one of the stores in a downtown location,” said Jose Luis Martinez de Larramendi, president of Primark US Corp. “We are confident and very excited about the project.”