Kay Jewelers Goes Gotham

Kay Jewelers, a retail chain located primarily in suburban malls and shopping centers, has embarked on a plan to move into urban areas. It’s most ambitious project to date is its store in midtown Manhattan.

The store opened in June 2005, at 136 W. 34th St., between Broadway and Seventh Avenue across from Macy’s flagship store in a high-traffic area that attracts both city residents and tourists.

From a design and operational perspective, the store represented some challenges in adapting to the urban landscape while maintaining the integrity of the Kay brand, one of the largest and most recognized jewelry brands in the country.

“We want to maintain and be consistent to our brand in the way all of our stores look,” says Bruce Kenny, senior vice president of real estate and store planning for Sterling Jewelers, Kay’s parent company. “It’s very important our customers can count on consistency, same level of service, same quality of product.”

From the storefront all the way through the interior, Sterling space planners and the project’s architect, Jencen Architecture & Retail Store Design, Cleveland, met each challenge by using design elements uncharacteristic of Kay Jewelers. Those elements help unite the surrounding neighborhood with Kay’s traditional brand features and make the best use of the building’s narrow footprint.


For example, the three-story façade of the new Kay Jewelers combines the building’s art-deco detail with large windows and expansive signage that includes a new technological twist.

The central element above the door is a vertical blade sign that displays the Kay Jewelers name topped with a three-dimensional illuminated diamond. The sign is flanked by the original yellow, red, and beige building accents. Two smaller vertical blades are located on each side of the building on the street level.

Two upper windows showcase Kay Jewelers’ signature logo on backlit frosted glass. Two large windows and a glass door on the street level provide an unobstructed view of the store’s interior.

In a new wrinkle, instead of displaying merchandise, the street-level windows present electronically projected images—such as a silhouette of a couple kissing or moving images of a diamond ring—on Plexiglas panels. These images tell the Kay story while allowing people to see inside the store.

Kenny says Kay normally uses merchandise to tell its story. “In a mall store, typically we have merchandise right up on the lease lines to engage customers as they are walking by the store,” he explains. “In this case, we actually placed images that present the merchandise story and project the brand image of Kay to the public.”


The second floor of the building was demolished to increase the height of the 2,200-square-foot store, which originally had 12-foot-high ceilings. The height of the entranceway increased by 10 feet, and a series of soffits and other ceiling treatments were used to stagger the height of the ceiling from front to back. Nick Zalany, a partner in Jencen, which has been the sole architect for Sterling for nearly 20 years, says the high, staggered ceiling gave the space a bigger appearance and allowed Kay to install a large diamond-shape pendant at the store’s entrance. Passersby can see the pendant through the glass door and the glass window above the door.

“The second floor was demolished to give the space a more voluminous look,” Zalany says. “The two-story-high vestibule field is where we hung our rotating diamond. They wanted to have that statement at the entrance, and, secondly, they wanted a nice airy interior.”

Kenny adds, “This is a feature that is very unique to this store. The diamond pendant is lit in such a way that it throws off color that can be seen outside and inside the store.”


Zalany says it was a challenge to design a floor layout for a space that measures 23 feet wide and 100 feet deep in an area that attracts such high traffic. “It’s a lot more difficult to lay out the long space than a square,” Zalany says. “The object is to maximize the linear footage of showcases, especially in high-cost areas, and do it without making it look too cluttered. We created an easy flow of traffic in and out of the store.”

The architect and space planners created a floor plan that allows shoppers to circulate the perimeter of the store where they pass several boutiques. Just inside the store’s entrance is a center island with feature merchandise that extends about halfway toward the back, splitting the store and obliging shoppers to go left or right. “One of the challenges is to make sure you are not walking down a middle aisle with straight showcases,” Kenny says. “And we did a good job of accomplishing that.”

People have a natural tendency to flow to the right, and that’s where the bridal boutique is located. That leads to the loose- diamond boutique, which includes the Leo diamond, a proprietary cut sold at all Kay stores. The bridal and diamond boutiques are set back from the entrance and slightly away from the rest of the floor. They utilize low display cases and also provide seating, to give couples as much privacy as possible.

The entrance on the left leads to the timepieces boutique, which houses Bulova, Citizen, Movado, Seiko, Tissot, and Wittnauer brands. Next is the gold area, followed by the colored-stones boutique. “The nice thing about the design of the store is that we created little islands—areas of interest,” Kenny says. “It’s good for the customer flow, because wherever they go, they are looking at a boutique area.”

“They wanted to maximize the footage,” Zalany adds. “But you have to be very careful. You want to create enough circulation, because people like to have a certain amount of privacy. We were very careful with the width of the aisles. No less than 5 feet. Anything less than 5 feet and you start cluttering up the store.”

Offices and the bench shop occupy the back of the store. Customers can view the bench jewelers at work through a window that separates the shop from the showroom. “The customers walk up to it and watch jewelry being repaired,” Kenny says. “It’s a very nice feature of the store.”


High intensity discharge (HID) recessed lighting from above illuminates the showroom space. It complements the daytime lighting through the large windows and allows the space to be seen clearly at night from outside. Fluorescent lighting is used inside the cases.

Materials and colors in the store—such as light maple wood for display cases and walls and the chocolate-color carpeting—are reminiscent of other Kay stores, but a few touches are uncharacteristic. Limestone flooring, for example, was used in front of the store and into the entranceway and matches the walls on the façade. The maple walls have areas with clear, backlit panels, which are used to display large photographs, products, and the Kay Jewelers logo.

The seemingly disparate architectural and design elements work together to create a space that’s consistent with the Kay brand while maintaining many of the building’s characteristics.

The store’s design has been recognized outside the jewelry world. Chain Store Age magazine named it a first-place winner in its “2005 Retail Store of the Year” design competition. The Kay Jewelers store won in the Hard Lines division, under 5,000 square feet.

“All the pieces fall together,” Zalany says. “How do we overcome the large and narrow space without looking cavernous? It has to do with the ceiling height and lighting. … I think if I had a flat ceiling, it would have been a very nondescript kind of a feel. Creating that vaulted ceiling in the middle not only created a statement but it creates room.”

Kenny notes that while there are several unique features to this store, it still maintains the same level of staff training (a training area is located in the basement), staffing (such as a certified diamontologist), and the overall look as any other Kay Jewelers.

“This particular store incorporates the same things in any Kay store throughout the country,” Kenny says. “But we definitely did some things differently.”