I waded into the mob at my tiny, local Apple store recently and actually heard someone say: “Wow: It’s like Grand Central Station in here.”
This Friday, the real “Grand Central Station,” which is actually called Grand Central Terminal, will itself become an Apple Store.
Of everything Apple has ever “shipped,” I think the store at Grand Central will be the greatest. Here’s why.
The world’s largest Apple Store will live inside the world’s largest train station in America’s biggest city. The station has 44 platforms and 67 tracks. Some three-quarters of a million humans pass through Grand Central Terminal every day. The Apple store will occupy 23,000 square feet.
Located at 42nd and Park in Manhattan, Grand Central Terminal was built between 1903 and 1913.
The Apple Store will not be enclosed in glass, but open on an amazing balcony overlooking the Main Concourse of Grand Central Terminal.
The open store will be visible to everyone walking through the Main Concourse and accessible via a sweeping grand two-part staircase. It will occupy the entire width of the East Balcony overlooking the Main Concourse, and spill over to the right, using up an adjacent part of the South Balcony.
To the left, the store will wrap around in an L shape to occupy half of the North Balcony.
The ceiling in Grand Central soars 125 feet above the concourse floor. The experience of being in the Apple will be utterly breathtaking. Visitors looking out a cross the balcony from one part of the store will be able to see the other part of the store across the empty space of the Main Concourse.
The Apple Store, which represents the most modern iconic retail aesthetic around today, will both contrast with and honor the architectural grandeur of Grand Central, built in a French neoclassical style called Beaux Arts.
One key attribute of this style is a deliberate ranking of interior spaces, from everyday, functional spaces to “noble spaces.” The most noble of spaces in Grand Central are two elaborate staircases on the Western and Eastern ends of the Main Concourse, which were modeled after staircases in the Paris Opera House. The Eastern one conveys you directly into the Apple Store.
Of course, the store will have Apple’s signature minimalist aesthetic. But it will be lit with enormous gold-plated, melon-shaped chandeliers suspended from the high ceiling. “Today” and “100 years ago” will co-exist in a breathtaking, unprecedented architectural mashup.
The Apple store presents an homage to Grand Central, unlike previous occupants. Apple will hang an understated lighted Apple logo — very small for the space — where a gigantic, garish lighted sign for Kodak Colorama hung from 1950 to 1990, “obliterating the integrity of its host architecture,” according to Paul Gunther, President of the Institute of Classical Architecture.
The Apple store will not obliterate the integrity of Grand Central, but highlight and re-enforce it. Gunther wrote that “The new Apple store is cultural memory writ large, resulting in a renewal of artistic appreciation for a place at risk of being taken for granted.”
Why the MTA Controversy Will Fade Away
A controversy erupted recently in New York over the deal Apple negotiated with the state’s Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA), which runs Grand Central. New York State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli announced that his office will audit the MTA to make sure they’re not playing favorites.
Apple is renting the space for $1 million per year, which figures out to $60 per square foot. Other tenants are paying up to $200 per square foot. And while most tenants pay the MTA a small percentage of sales, Apple will not.
The MTA argues, however, that Apple’s low square footage cost is only part of the story. The previous tenant of the Apple Store space, a restaurant called Métrazur, paid one-quarter what Apple will pay, according to the MTA. Apple also paid $5 million to buy out the restaurant’s lease. When you factor that in, Apple will be paying $180 per square foot per year.
The MTA also points out that Apple will spend $2.5 million in permanent improvements to the terminal.
The biggest reason the MTA appears excited about the Apple Store deal is that it’s expected to drive additional business to all shops and restaurants in Grand Central. MTA expects Apple to bring in not only more customers, but younger and wealthier ones, who will also shop in the other terminal stores while they’re in there.
The biggest train stations and airports are becoming shopping malls. And the economics of shopping malls demand an “anchor” tenant. And Apple will become Grand Central’s anchor.
The reason I love the new store is because it combines several other loves: New York City, Grand Central Station, architecture, history and Apple itself, not to mention materialist capitalism. All these things will come together for a retail experience like no other in the world.
My prediction is that when the Grand Central Apple Store opens this Friday, all the controversy and criticism will be swashed away, and the store will become a source of pride and awe for New York City, and the millions of people who visit each year.