Inside Apple's new Fifth Ave. store

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Standing in the shadow of some of the world’s retail giants — Bergdorf Goodman, FAO Schwarz and Trump Towers flanking it — a shining glass cube stands in the center of a public plaza, adorned with only the illuminated logo of Apple Computer.

On Fifth Avenue, one of the world’s best-known shopping addresses, the company on Thursday took the wraps off their new flagship store, a 10,000 square foot subterranean retail store nestled comfortably in the middle of a public space (complete with fountains, marble seating and free WiFi courtesy of Apple) between 58th and 59th street in Manhattan.

Some, before the covering that shrouded the glass cube was removed, argued that the design doesn’t fit in with the brick and mortar stores directly across the street. However, as the light of the day catches the newly revealed glass panes, and as the surrounding neighborhood is reflected back to those standing around the structure, it’s clear that the new addition to the retail space will be welcomed both for its retail contributions and artistic charm.

The Lights Will Always Be On

“In the city that never sleeps, neither does this store,” said Ron Johnson, Apple’s senior vice president of Retail, welcoming a collection of media, analysts and VIPs into the new space, which opens to the public at 6pm on Friday.

The thirty-two foot cube that caps the store is only the tip of the iceberg — in fact it only occupies five-percent of the public plaza that Apple helped improve — only hinting at the massive retail store beneath. The new location, the 147th will not only be open twenty-four hours a day, but will be open 365 days a year. Joking that his travels often leave him on the wrong time zone looking for something to do, Johnson said that the space would attract visitors from all over the world. “We don’t want a visitor [to New York City] to miss a chance to come to the Apple Store,” and added “this store will be open from today forever.”

Johnson said that the company knew as soon as they opened the SoHo store that they needed additional space. “We love SoHo … love the historic nature of the Post Office” he said, speaking of the landmark building in which the company’s first New York store resides, “history has shown that that’s a great New York store. “Within weeks” of the SoHo opening the Apple retail team began to look for new space uptown. “We fell in love with the place above where we are meeting today.” The company began talks with the City and the owner of the GM building, and soon began development of the store.

Johnson divulged some data about the company’s retail efforts, indicating that on average Apple stores earn $4000 per square foot. By comparison, Target, Johnson’s former employer, pulls in $300 per square foot. The new Fifth Avenue store has the same 10,000 feet at SoHo, but laid out in a single-floor rectangle directly beneath the cube.

Apple, it seems, spared no expense at making a truly breathtaking space bringing in glass for the cube from not only fabricators in nearby Long Island City but from craftsmen in Germany and Italy as well. There are 538 sheets of glass in the structure, supported by more than four hundred metal bolts. A custom-made cylindrical elevator occupies the center of the space, The glass cube was designed to let in light and ambiance throughout the day. “When I’m under here” said Johnson canopied by the cube “I feel like I’m in a public space.”

The massive interior is dominated in the middle by Mac and iPod displays and flanked by registers on one side and forty-five feet of Genius Bar. The store will employ 300 “amazingly-well trained people” culled from more than 5000 applicants. The Genius Bar (including the Studio section and the iPod section) employs 96 full-time people. By contrast, the first Apple Store opened had a staff of just forty-five.

Notably absent is a theater, the center point for training and educational program that is found in the SoHo store. Johnson indicated that they decided against trying to put too much into the store, making this store the 24-hour hub of shopping and activity, and having “our great artists” present at the SoHo store.

The store’s official opening will be at 6:00 p.m. and will feature a giveaway of a MacBook per hour for the first twenty-four hours. Not surprisingly, the first customers are already lining up for the opportunity to shop at the new Apple store.

Asked if this store now represented the flagship in the Apple retail chain, Johnson gushed about his love of the other stores, but conceded that this new space is as large as any other, contains more Macs on display than SoHo, and will, after all, be open all the time.

Ryan Tracy, who works a mere two blocks from the site has been watching the progress unfold since it started. “I think it’s beautiful”, said Tracy, amazed at how quickly the final touches came together.

Tracy, like thousands others, will make the pilgrimage to the Apple Store tomorrow evening for his first glimpse inside the space, and for the opportunity to win a MacBook and is looking forward to the opening, especially because of how much seemed still to be finished just yesterday. “Around five p.m. yesterday they were still hustling to get things done. The fountains weren’t even finished.”

The hustling paid off as the newest Apple cube sits waiting for its first stream of retail customers.

For more on the Fifth Avenue store, see Macworld ’s photo gallery from Thursday’s preview .

This story, "Inside Apple's new Fifth Ave. store" was originally published by PCWorld.

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