jcp.jpgWhat is it about that spot in Times Square? The intersection of Seventh, Broadway and 42nd street. Last year it housed the DEA, and now it’s JCP. If not drug addiction, then compulsive shopping, it’s bad karma on a corner.

I remember the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) use of the space well. A big brother-like entry process that made me wonder just how interested they were in making it easy for visitors to access their exhibition which showed the negative impacts of drugs on ordinary lives. On the ground floor, a pile of objects — broken toys, bits of cars from a wreck and a video screen explaining the destruction of a number of lives represented by the objects.

In the rest of the space and on the second floor were detailed, interactive displays. In one corner a display of cocaine production (leaves and giant barrels, camoflage netting and a make believe Colombian forest canopy). Upstairs a display of a mock hotel room where a couple had died from an overdose, drug paraphernalia scattered around and much evidence of general unsanitary living conditions.

Where there was once a pile of rubble, there is now a tower of retail paraphernalia –accompanied by retail “dealers” handing out take-home catalogues of the merchandise on offer. Where the motel room mock-up once stood you will find a pristine and paletteful array of St. John’s Bay polo shirts, tastefully juxtaposed with double-page spread ready displays of furniture.

Makeshift heat sources for cooking up heroin? Zap! Now it’s toasters, cukcake trays and blenders in retina shocking colours. Walls of rememberance for innocent adolenscents killed in drug-related incidents? Pizazz! It’s the wedding registry wall, complete with ideas for your china, flatware and stemware.

Whether you’re over your head using narcotics or your credit card, it’s probably a location to avoid. While the DEA exhibit was display only, you can actually indulge your consumer impulses at the JC Penney installation. Each display comes complete with a networked PC that lets you browse an online catalogue and order what you see on screen or right in front of you in the display. JC Penney will ship the product to your door. What could be better? It’s instant gratification without the bags.

It is an interesting concept, a mixing of spatial treatment and interaction that is part window display, museum, retail outlet and online store. It’s a model a few have been testing in the city over Christmas — like the temporary Target store on Times Square, the IKEA ship (yes really, step aboard, handle some merchandise, buy it and it’s delivered to your door) and downtown, the Wired Store, where you can stay, play and pay.

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