I applaud any individuals who have the propensity to think outside of the box. Haytham Elgawly did just that – and in the stratosphere – with his airport-themed retail space, called The Clearport in Jersey City, New Jersey. We chat with Haytham about the process of designing the body scanner, his Mile High Club (in-store), and being mistaken for an actual travel agency.
DIANE: Hi Haytham. I was so intrigued when Nabil first told me about The Clearport and so I have to ask: Do you yourself do a lot of flying? How and when did the idea to create an airport-themed retail space come to mind?
HAYTHAM: Hey Diane, it’s funny how things come full circle. I was always intrigued with aviation growing up. My cousins would always tell my brother and I stories of huge double-decker Jumbo jets with video games growing up, which seems regular now, but this was in the 90’s or so. I once applied to become an Air Traffic Controller maybe a decade ago, but I think I was too young for the job - again, it’s funny how things come full circle. I’ve been posting pictures captioned with rap bars that relate or talk about being “fly” with outfits on a consistent basis. I did that for about three years. With that many flight puns and innuendos something had to come out of it, haha. After a while, a fashion runway became an airport runway; I became Frank Abagnale, and my imagination took over from there.
How long did it take you, and how important was it, to have every facet of The Clearport “ready for take off” so to speak (pardon the pun)?
No pardon needed, it’s funny how often things like that happen. I spent about six months on the entire project. I think I could have gotten it done sooner but my timing overlapped with foreign holidays, and it was very difficult trying to put the funds together to do this right. I put everything I have into this. It was extremely important that this idea was executed the correct way – that was the only way (in my eyes) this is going to work. It needed to look real enough to fool people, and as crazy as it is, it does.
We officially started boarding all flights as of May 21st 2016 at 11:00AM EST. We had a ribbon cutting ceremony with the mayor and a stewardess handing out peanuts and cocktails throughout the day.
Can you breakdown the main sections of The Clearport?
You’re greeted by two screens and a directory at the entrance of the experience. The screens display the clothing brands or flights that you might board. They show the dates the shipment arrives, with the status whether it may be delayed, departed, or still in operations. As you walk in, on the righthand side the different departments are labeled Terminals M, K, and W for Men, Kids, and Women. There’s a baggage claim area for a flight essentials photo op, and its also where we place your on-hold items.
Every passenger gets a security bin for their belongings as they shop. We encourage everyone to use them as they would use a shopping cart. The fitting room entrance is designed to look like a body scanner, which I knew was going to be one of the main focal points in the store. After changing, you would step into a full-sized vessel, put your hands up like TSA would have you do – and a picture would be taken for you to share with all your friends. We have airport seating with charging stations for your phone, which is an upgrade from real life (haha). I built an office and named it passport control, but I want to add a lost and found section for vintage gear and maybe a sky priority lounge for our first class customers down the line, but everything takes time.
We have something called the Mile High Club which is a loyalty program for our every passenger that visits. For every dollar spent there is a mile earned. A $50 in store credit is redeemable at 2,500 miles.
The body scanner for the fitting room entrance looks so realistic! Is that a replica?
Thank you, not at all! I tried buying a prop or refurbished model but I couldn’t find one. I personally designed the body scanner and sent it to a manufacturer overseas. I had a room specifically built for that piece. It was insane trying to bring it in the store; we had to remove the windows and took about six people to carry. But I knew that was going to be a main focal point in the store so we did whatever was necessary.
My favorite feature has to be the baggage claim section near the front of the store. Did you have any help designing and making these different physical sections come to fruition? The interior design of the entire retail space is very detailed.
Again, thank you for noticing. I actually didn’t tell anyone about my project until a month prior to the opening. My close friends and family knew about it, but that’s all. The manufacturer I used taught me a bunch of things about structures and material which helped me with the project. White floors were the toughest to get, especially with the previous floor that was in place. The baggage claim area is a nice little touch especially when we merchandise product with luggage bags and the security bins; I think that adds a nice little feel to the experience.
What’s been the best response you’ve received from store patrons and guests that have shopped at The Clearport? I’m sure people have been amazed and probably perusing the store more like an exhibition space and then at the goods available to purchase…I’m sure people come in wanting to Snapchat and Instagram the store first before they actually start looking through the racks.
Funny you say that, something that is happening more often is being mistaken for an actual travel agency or a place to replace your passport. We get a handful of people everyday asking for actual flight deals or trip details which bugs me out. To me, that solidifies, the design of the store is working. There have been two fender benders in the past month from motorists staring at the store through the big windows and not paying attention to the road. It’s crazy! Ha.
I couldn’t help but enjoy reading the quotes you’ve been posting sparsely on the social media Instagram account for The Clearport, including one by Mark Twain ("The ai up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why wouldn't it be? - it is the same the angels breathe.”) and this one by Socrates: "The air up there in the clouds is very pure and fine, bracing and delicious. And why wouldn't it be? - it is the same the angels breathe.”
Quotes have always played a huge role with me. Words themselves are so powerful. The whole concept of my store was established on play on words: “Wear You Get Fly.” “Fly” being slang for being stylish or fashionable, and the word “wear” with “where.” I’m just trying to spread the inspiration that helped me move forward in so many ways.
759A Bergen Ave
Jersey City, NJ