NEW YORK CITY-The recent announcement that Japan-based retailer Muji is opening its first US store, in the New York Times Building, later this year only marks the beginning of the company’s domestic expansion plans. Muji executives are planning 20 to 30 stores in the next five years across the country, says Hiroyoshi Azami, the president of Muji USA Limited.

The next step, he says, will be the pursuit of locations in the San Francisco and San Jose, CA, areas. Muji currently operates 318 stores in Japan, as well as 69 units in other Asian countries and in Europe. The chain sells private-brand household goods that it bills as high quality at inexpensive price points.

The New York Times Building, which is scheduled to open in the fall, is on Eighth Avenue between 40th and 41st streets. Muji is taking a 5,000-sf, ground-floor space with a 10-year lease.

The 5,000-sf shell will probably be the average-sized location for the chain, though it could go into spaces as large as 10,000 sf, Azami says. Muji will initially look to put stores in urban settings nationally before seeking space in suburban malls.

Azami is also looking at other parts of New York City, but says the Eighth Avenue corridor’s retail environment is changing with the opening of the new building, which he calls a “crossroad for people and information.”

Muji is the first retail tenant signed in the 52-story New York Times Building, which will have 21,000 sf of ground-floor retail. Much of the rest of the space will be food offerings and retail stores that cater to the building’s office tenants, says MaryAnne Gilmartin, an executive vice president at Forest City Ratner, the developer of the project.

“We want to be very careful about creating a composition,” she says of future retail tenants. “It’s more about making sure we’re creating the right fit.” Asking retail rents at the New York Times building are $150 per-sf.

Gilmartin says she sees a retail future on Eighth Avenue similar to some of the avenues east of the thoroughfare, calling it a “place of enormous transition.”

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