The British are coming!
World-famous Harrods, the huge London department store that caters to royalty, commoners and throngs of tourists alike, will open its first U.S. retail outlet Jan. 5 aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach.
Coincidentally, the British ocean liner begins a lavish "Voyage to 1939" promotion the same day.
Walt Disney Co., which manages the Queen Mary and the neighboring Spruce Goose for the city of Long Beach under a contract acquired when Disney bought Wrather Corp. last year, is behind the agreement with Harrods and the 1939 re-creation. Both are designed to help boost attendance at the attractions, which have had to vie with major theme parks and shopping malls for tourist dollars.
At 900 square feet, the Harrods outlet will be a fraction of the size of the merchant's 675,000-square-foot flagship store in London's Knightsbridge section. The Queen Mary boutique will sell 125 items carrying the Harrods name, ranging from clothing to food to souvenirs.
Harrods--a division of House of Fraser, owned by Mohammed, Ali and Salah Fayed of Egypt--is renowned for its annual January sale, which attracts shoppers from around the world. The Queen Mary store will be housed in the Piccadilly Circus section on the promenade deck.
"We've been looking at a way to upgrade the quality of merchandise we offer and return the Queen Mary to her original splendor," said Rich Kerlin, a Queen Mary spokesman. In the liner's heyday, "one of the most prestigious activities was to shop aboard."
Jack Lindquist, executive vice president of creative marketing concepts for Walt Disney Attractions, the Burbank company's theme park division, said Disney also hopes to negotiate agreements with other well-known British retailers to open Queen Mary shops. Among those Disney hopes to lure are Crabtree & Evelyn, which sells soaps, fragrances and other gift items, and clothiers such as Burberry, Dunhill, Pringle and Laura Ashley.
The Queen Mary's retail offerings now consist of four small souvenir and gift shops.
The coming of Harrods and the 1939 event have made local boosters ecstatic. "We hope they will attract people from all over Southern California to see the new Long Beach," said Laurie Hunter, vice president of the Long Beach Area Chamber of Commerce.
In anticipation, Disney has been sinking plenty of money into getting the aging ship back into deluxe condition, as it was on its maiden voyage in 1935. One observer said $40,000 was spent polishing the brass handrails alone.
"1939 was the last great innocent year before the war changed the world forever," Kerlin said. "It was a carefree year, one that we feel the Queen Mary kind of signifies."
Beginning Jan. 5, Queen Mary officials expect visitors to feel as if they have been transported back to 1939. Daily live shows will evoke the era when on-board performers entertained well-heeled passengers.
Each day, visitors will be presented with newspaper front pages from the same date in 1939. As they tour, they will hear specially prepared tapes with authentic newscasts, sports results and music.
At the Spruce Goose, Disney will roll out 50 classic cars from 1939, including a Studebaker, a Rolls-Royce, a Packard and others, all of which will be for sale. One Ford convertible with rumble seat is estimated to be worth $25,000, and a four-door Lincoln convertible in periwinkle blue could bring as much as $90,000, according to Lindquist. Models decked out in 1939-vintage clothing will describe the autos.
The 1939 promotion will end with a gala New Year's Eve party aboard the Queen Mary on Dec. 31, 1990, when "we bid fond farewell to the 1930s," Lindquist said.
Disney has said it eventually plans to erect a theme park at the site, but Lindquist said details are still being worked out.
Harrods officials have said they hope that the Queen Mary collaboration could lead to ventures at other Disney properties, including Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., where Disney plans a retail mall.
In early 1988, Harrods talked seriously with Disney about opening a branch in a planned Disney retail and entertainment complex for downtown Burbank, but the Disney project was later squelched.
Apart from the retail ventures, Harrods is developing special travel packages for British patrons that would include trips to Disneyland and Disney World. As part of that program, Disney will soon begin staging breakfasts for Harrods shoppers featuring Disney characters.