NEW YORK — Apple Friday opened its fifth store in New York City, in a grand space above the Great Hall at Grand Central Terminal.
Apple unveilings are always crowded affairs — and this was no exception. Masses of people crammed up the double stairwell to the balcony retail space to see what Apple had done this time. Apple’s flagship 5th Avenue store is already the top-selling chain store in the United States and always seems crowded. But this 23,000-square-foot location could rival any other for foot traffic: Pick your “busy” cliché, and it probably invokes Grand Central Terminal, through which 750,000 people pass through every day — 1 million during the holidays.
The trick will be to lure enough of these harried commuters to make it pay off, and Apple doesn’t take this lightly. Explaining why there was little chance for the kind of success he required Steve Jobs personally lectured the Cupertino, Calif. Town Council about why he wouldn’t even open a store in the town where Apple is headquartered: not enough foot traffic.
Your typical rail-rider allows for maybe a two-second margin of error to make a train. On the other hand, there are now dozens of high-end retail establishments at the Beaux Arts landmark, including the legendary Oyster Bar, which has been doing just fine for almost 100 years, a holiday crafts mart in Vanderbilt Hall (a former waiting room) and a dozens of boutique shops. Apple itself displaced tony restaurant Metrazur which had led the retail Renaissance, capped today by the opening of its newest store. So clearly there is some consuming going on despite all the frenzy.
Even at noon when this intrepid reporter made her way into the breach the line was huge. But apparently it was miniscule compared to this morning. ”I will come all the time,” said Mike Riordan, who was picking up some iPods for his kids before trekking north to Westchester County. This seemed to be the general feel at the store, where the press mingled with tourists, and people in office attire grabbing items on their holiday shopping lists as they left the city.
When Apple announced the new location, many New Yorkers were worried that the beautiful 1913 Beaux Arts building would be tainted by Apple’s modern design-scheme. Apple, as usual, kept all plans on lockdown — until this morning.
Despite a more majestic backdrop, the store looks as any Apple store would: wood tables neatly arranged with lap tops, iPads and iPhones just as you’d expect. Every part of the space is used —even the corridors that connect the the balconies are filled with gadgets. The only non-marbled room (through more hallways and rooms) is where all the extras, cases, hard drives, etc., are kept on their shelves.
There’s no getting around the fact that the new store is simply stunning — though most of the credit should go to the beauty of the terminal itself. Apple really did do a great job at maintaining the integrity of the building. The store still has all of the Apple consistency, design-wise, too, just in case you didn’t know where you were.
Through the elevator room, past a few more tables and a lot more red-shirted Apple employees, the store opens back up with more views of the great hall. Here you will find the Genius Bar, stretched across the terminal wall. The store is like any other: it has the Genius Bar, training sessions, 15-minute tutorials (14.5 minutes more than most commuters allow for catching their trains) and workshops.
There are innovations too, including self-checkout and fulfillment (there’s an app for that) and pre-ordering (while you’re riding the rails). Today, the employees were dutifully explaining these features to customers, mostly helping them download the Apple Store app on their iPhones and showing them how easy buying Apple this holiday season can be.
The store, while definitely commuter-oriented (it opens at seven am on weekdays), seems like it will make a big enough impression to make it a destination.
And all the while, there was a woman in the corner, polishing the marble.
First photo by Beth Carter
Second photo by John C Abell