In early (very early) 2020, Warner Brothers announced that a giant, 20,000+ square foot Harry Potter flagship store was going to open later that year, next door to the Flatiron Building, in lower Manhattan.
Wizarding World, the U.K.-based official online entity for Harry Potter fans, reported that when the first-of-its-kind experiential store opened, fans would, “…be able to peruse everything, from Bertie Bott’s Every Flavour Beans to personalised robes, along with rare collectible items, hand-signed artwork, and exclusive ranges.” The space would also offer new interactive experiences as well as cool photo opportunities.
Of course, COVID put the kibosh on the store opening in 2020, but Harry Potter New York finally had its launch in early June 2021.
Meanwhile, Joe and I had a 32-hour stopover in NYC on July 9-10, so we decided to check it out.
The bottom line is that it’s a mixture of being amazeballs and an operations nightmare. Here’s the good, the bad and the ugly.
Aesthetically, the store is beautiful, with theming everywhere that almost makes you feel like you’re at Hogwarts, Olivander’s, Dumbledore’s office, etc. It has several rooms with 15 themed areas, each of which focuses on the things you could buy. Works of art. Items that represent each Hogwarts House. Candy & Butterbeer. Wands. Books. Items having to do with the Dark Arts. You name it.
It was as if they had taken everything they sold at the various Wizarding World stores at Universal Studios, added some exclusive merch of their own, and sold it all in one, big 21,000 square foot store.
There were also display cases with props from the Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts series of movies (i.e., the Golden Snitch, a Death Eater mask, a Quiddich broom, etc.), and you could even download an app to enhance your experience.
They also have two new virtual reality experiences ( <– this link gives a brief description. This one gives spoilers) that opened the week after we visited. They run about 30 minutes each and cost $34 person, per experience.
The one bad thing about the store? THE LINES!
The store itself was a little crowded, but not horribly so (that was intentional. More on that in a minute). But if you wanted to buy anything, you had to be prepared to stand on a line that was easily 20 to 30 people long. Joe saw a mug that he liked, but we decided we’d take our chances at buying it at home (we live in Orlando and have annual passes to Universal Studios), rather than stand in the crazy long line to get to the cash register.
There was also a huge line for the restrooms. Why? Because this 21,000+ square foot building had 2 public unisex bathroom stalls. That’s it; just 2 (For comparison, a typical chain drugstore is about 15,000 square feet and has both a men’s and women’s room, with a minimum of 2 facilities per room – and on any given day, Walgreen’s or CVS has a whole lot less people meandering around for an hour or more than the Harry Potter store). The queue for the toilets was almost always 5 to 8 people long.
Simply put, trying to get into the Harry Potter NYC store is a nightmare.
Because of COVID, they’re limiting how many people are in the store at one time and are using a virtual queue system. It sounds super convenient (and safe) in theory, but unfortunately, it’s not user-friendly at all.
Their virtual queue opens each day at 7 am, and you can only scan the QR code in person, outside the store. So to be one of the first into the store each day (when it opens at 10 am), you have to be there at 7 in the morning. That’s…pretty early, y’all. And a long wait just to be able to check it off your list as the first thing of the day.
You can get there later of course, but once they’ve run out of places in the virtual queue, they take the QR scanner away. But they never mention anywhere – on the website, their Facebook, their Twitter or their Instagram – when or if they have no more spaces on the virtual queue. So on any given day, you may make an effort to get there and they only may or may not have any more space on the queue that day.
Isn’t that special?
But let’s say you’re lucky enough to get into the virtual queue. You have no way of knowing how quickly they’ll get to your number.
Case in point. Our plane didn’t land at JFK until 11 am, so by the time we dropped our stuff off at our hotel and took the trains to get to the Harry Potter store, it was already 2:35 pm. We scanned our phones and were told we had 551 people in front of us. Well, it’s nice they still had space in the queue, but there was no clue how long it would take for those 551 people to get into the store before us. An hour? 5 hours? More?
How is anyone, especially a tourist with limited time in NYC, supposed to plan their day if they have no idea of how long they’ll have before they get back? And it’s not as if there are a whole lot of things for tourists to do, for unknown hours on end, in the Flatiron District – it’s a commercial neighborhood with a mixture of apartment buildings and office high-rises.
But back to those 551 people in front of us.
Once you’re in the virtual queue, you can refresh the page that tells you how many people are in front of you, and the number will update in real-time. That part was nice and, after an hour of refreshing on and off, it gave us an idea that they were going through roughly 125 people per hour.
Until they weren’t.
No, really. This is how many people were in front of us at various times:
3:15pm – 472
3:55pm – 397
4:11 pm – It’s your turn. COME ON IN!
They went from 375 people ahead of us to no one in the course of 1 minute. Not that I’m complaining about that, but the pinned post on their Facebook page says that once you receive notification that it’s your turn to enter, you have 15 minutes to return.
Really? Just 15 minutes? So what would happen if we’ve figured out that, at roughly 125 people per hour, we wouldn’t have to be back until 6:30 or so? What if we decided to go and do something? We’d only have 15 minutes to get there from wherever else in Manhattan we were, because their system decided to let us in over 2 hours early?
I’ll be honest – we already had plans for later on in the day, so even when we got our notification at 4:11 pm that we could go in, we ignored it and came back significantly later. Like, hours later. And they still let us in. I don’t know if we lucked out or what, but that was our experience.
Anyway, that’s what happened to us in early July. Maybe it’s changed since then; I certainly hope so. But if not, the whole system, although undoubtedly convenient for them, is a nightmare for anyone who values their time.
Harry Potter New York’s Facebook page says they’re continuously monitoring the demand levels and will adapt their queuing system as necessary. Hopefully, they can come up with a happy medium that helps them limit how many people are in the store but still allows their guests to have some control of their time.
But the store itself? It’s really cool, y’all.
Harry Potter New York is located at 935 Broadway.
Feature Photo: Pixabay
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary