Leslie Patton and Sandrine Rastello

Bloomberg News

Lululemon Athletica Inc. is flexing its muscles.

The high-end yoga pants maker opened a Chicago store Thursday where shoppers can work out like at a traditional fitness studio. And if visitors forget their own gear, they can borrow a Lululemon outfit to sweat in and return — it’s washed between each use — in hope they’ll end up buying (an unworn version) of the item when the workout’s over.

With two exercise rooms, a meditation area and a cafe serving smoothies, salads, kombucha and beer, the new location will offer six to 10 classes a day for $25 apiece. Lululemon has always leaned into fitness — with many of its existing stores offering free running clubs or yoga classes — but this expansion lets it monetize its workout offerings. If the experiment works, Lululemon may dedicate 10% of its store fleet to the new concept by 2023.

Located in the tony neighborhood of Lincoln Park near a Whole Foods Market, Peet’s Coffee and West Elm, the 20,000-square-foot space is the latest attempt by a retailer to lure customers with experiences that online shopping simply can’t offer. In a Chicago suburb a few miles away, Crate & Barrel is opening a full-service in-store restaurant this month in the hope diners will buy their stemware after lunch.

American Eagle Outfitters Inc. has a Manhattan location where students can do laundry for free, while DSW has added nail services inside some stores.

Even as the company expands overseas, including in China, it needs to find ways to keep the domestic business humming.

North America is a more mature market where about 355 of Lululemon stores — 78% of the total — are located. Investors have so far backed Chief Executive Officer Calvin McDonald’s strategy, sending the shares up 44% over the past 12 months.

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