One Direction Leads to the Cash Register
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One Direction Leads to the Cash Register

Fans lined up for hours in advance of the opening of a pop-up store that sells boy-band merchandise.

Still over a block away, I hear a crowd of voices yell-singing the chorus to One Direction’s ubiquitous song “What Makes You Beautiful.” A line has formed in front of the pop-up store. It already stretches around the block, and it’s growing rapidly. As I approach, more fans run to join the queue, most of them teenage girls, a few with parents in tow, bedraggled and blinking in the early-morning light.

A young woman huddled under a Toronto Maple Leafs beach blanket waves a cardboard sign that says “Honk if you love One Direction!” She has been there since 4 p.m. the day before.

“It wasn’t that cold,” she reassures me. “We danced to keep warm.”

Was the wait worth it? “I’m tired now, sure, but I’m at the front of the line!”

Several dozen other fans had camped out on the street all night to ensure their places at the front, using blankets and sleeping bags for shelter and keeping one another awake by singing and chatting. Throughout the night and into the pre-dawn, fans continued to arrive. Regularly, the group would burst into song; at other times, a scream would start at the back of the line and ripple up to the front.

It was not an in-store performance or a signing that One Direction’s dedicated fans were waiting for. They were there for the One Direction pop-up store. Dubbed the “1D World” store, this pop-up is the first of its kind in North America. It offers fans of the band, known as Directioners, an opportunity to purchase licensed merchandise, some of which hasn’t been offered for sale on this continent before. The One Direction pop-up store officially opened its doors at 8:45 a.m. Located at 680 Yonge Street, it will be open until September 2.

One Direction is a British-Irish boy band formed in 2010 during the seventh season of the reality-television show The X Factor. All five members of the group—Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Liam Payne, Harry Styles and Louis Tomlinson—auditioned for the show as solo artists, but formed a group together on the reccomendation of the show’s judges. They ultimately placed third in the competition and were signed to Simon Cowell’s Syco Records in Europe, and Columbia in North America. Their debut album, Up All Night, was released in 2011 and became both the fastest selling debut record in UK history and the first UK debut record to claim the number-one spot on the US Billboard charts the week of its North American release. The band’s rapidly growing fame has led to a rekindled interest in the boy-band phenomenon. Sony Music UK Chairman Nick Gatfield said in June that One Direction represents a $50 million business empire, a number he expected to double within a year.

On Saturday, the store’s windows were obscured by brown paper and a wall of action figures, each in the likeness of one of the band’s five members. The fans eagerly waiting in line didn’t even know precisely what they were waiting to buy, only that they wanted it.

Outside the pop-up shop, the fans began to plan their purchases. Like generals strategizing a plan of attack, they carefully compared their budgets and divided the money they brought into allocations for apparel and other items.

The Directioners in line were thrilled by the press presence at the opening. They smiled for the cameras, giddily answering any questions posed to them and proudly showing off home-made signs and shirts proclaiming their love for their favourite band. But it was MuchMusic host and producer Lauren Toyota who got the warmest welcome. As soon as she appeared across the street, fans screamed and waved.

As Toyota approached the line, she was immediately swarmed by fans eager to talk to her, be interviewed by her, and thank her for coming.

“How much money have you brought?” she asked. The fans around her screamed out numbers, most in the hundreds of dollars. Some explain they have saved money from birthdays. Others have hoarded wages from part-time jobs.

“How much would you pay to be the absolute first person into that store today?”

Astronomical figures were named. “A kidney!” one fan shrieks, ecstatic. “I’ll give you my kidney!”

Around 8 a.m. the media was ushered inside for an early peek at the products on sale. One Direction shirts, the vast majority of them sized for preteens, stretched as far as the eye could see, in pink and purple and red and white. There were charm bracelets and notebooks, bookbags and pencils—all clearly designed to appeal to Directioners who need to do back-to-school shopping. Life-sized posters lined the walls, the fresh-faced members of One Direction smiling down at the buzzing store. There was jewellery and even a board game, featuring the tagline, “Be the first to get backstage!”

I had the chance to chat with Toyota briefly, as we waited for the doors to open.

“They’re so sweet,” she said of the fans, when I noted how much affection they have for her. “I’ve interviewed the boys [in One Direction] three times, and they see me as a connection to them, a direct line to their heroes. The last interview I did, I asked a lot of questions that the fans wanted me to, that they requested on Twitter and Facebook. In that interview, the band crowed me The Queen of the Canadian Directioners. So I am their representative to the band, in a way.”

And, as the time came for the doors to open and the fans outside became more frenzied, it was easy to see that the same love-by-proxy applied to the products inside. At 8:20 a.m., the paper was torn down and fans screamed in excitement, pressing their faces against the glass for a first glimpse of the inside of the store. Twenty winners of a radio Z103.5 contest were let in first. They wandered around almost dazedly, overwhelmed by the volume of merchandise to choose from—and, in a few cases I overheard, the prices. A T-shirt is $30, a pair of pencils and a gummy eraser is $5, a notebook is $15. A bundle of all five action figures will set fans back a hefty $150.

When the doors finally opened at 8:45, there was no stampede. Security did a remarkable job of bringing order to the chaos, by treating the store like a nightclub: once capacity was reached, no one else was allowed in until someone left. Fans were allowed to take pictures, to exclaim in delight, to jump and squeal and fan themselves. But they were always directed, as quickly as possible, back to the products, and, most importantly, the tills.