Fifth Avenue Grand Opening

Friday Evening

NYPD arrived around 3 p.m., and the security team began arranging the bicycle fencing along the 14th St. sidewalk, creating two waiting lines with a pedestrian route in the middle. The front of the line was moved closest to the building heading south. The line went about one-third down the block, took a loop back to the store, then looped again down the block to about half-way to 10th Ave. At 3:15 p.m. the line totaled 400.

There were at least two periods of snow flurries between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m., the first very light, but the second one consisting of very big flakes. Neither snowfall stuck on the ground, however, and neither lasted more than 10-12 minutes. The wind picked up slightly, the first time there really had been any wind at all. We had been made numb by the cold, but the wind upped the discomfort again.

At about 4 p.m. I counted about 600, but that number continued to climb as the line looped back towards the store--and past it onto 9th Ave. and towards 15th Street. The surrounding crowds also began to increase, as people stopped in front of the store to see what's up, and others across the two streets stopped to gawk.

Talk about bad timing! A crew arrived at 4 p.m. to erect gas-fired heaters up and down the line. Sadly, they didn't put them anywhere near the first section of the line, which had been waiting the longest. Instead, they heated up the crowd who'd been there only a couple of hours. Br-r-r-r-r.

The "Tea Lady" arrived from T-Salon about the same time, offering up two different flavors in paper cups to the waiting line. She started at the front of the line, fortunately, and was there nearly 90 minutes working the line.

About 5 p.m. staffers began bringing out the T-shirt boxes in white storage cases. They also brought the posters. But in this case, they used something a little more elegant for storage--a set of custom-made Plexiglass boxes that still had the manufacturer's brown protective paper on them.

At about 5:30 p.m. four Concierge staffers came outside in the their teal-colored T-shirts (Apple calls it "blue") to pump up the crowd. The staffers inside appeared inside the store , then took positions on all levels of the stairs for photos (stress test!), and then dispersed to their work stations to greet the incoming visitors.

At 6 p.m. the security team motioned the crowd into the store with the admonition, "Slow, slow," and we moved forward. I looked to my right at the huge crowd watching our entrance, and then went inside to a deafening roar–clapping and yelling and music–to grab our T-shirts and poster tubes. Three stories above, staffers crowded the rail and rimmed the staircase to provide applause and excitement. As we entered we were handed a white T-shirt box and a black cardboard tube with the limited-edition poster. The Apple employees tried to tell us, "Check the tube top...." but it was nearly impossible to hear because of the noise.

On the inside of one of the tube plastic endcaps was a sticker indicating your prize--or nothing. The crowd mostly made for the third floor where you had to redeem their prizes you, or they hung out on the ground floor. And then everyone spotted Mary J. Blige on the second floor, hanging out with Whoopi Goldberg. They both signed autographs and Blige posed for photos. It seemed that most people were more interested in the prizes and celebrities than the rest of the store, and there seemed to be little buying.

I finally managed to juggle my T-shirt box, poster tube, camcorder and other items over to the window ledge to see what--if anything--I had won. I couldn't get either end of the tube open! Finally a nice Apple employee arrived to pop open the end cap to reveal...the sticker for an iPod shuffle. I later went upstairs and they gave me a silver 1 Gb model in a very nice silver bag with a white Apple logo.

Oh, yea. That guy who was first in line at the Fifth Avenue store for the iPhone event was there. I won't mention his name lest it be indexed on search pages.

For some reason, the stairway handrail is a "sparker" during the low-humidity wintertime. Perhaps the stone floor and glass staircase provide perfect insulation for shoe-generated static electricity.

Of course the really interesting part of the store are the windows and stairway. This store undoubtedly has more windows than any other store. That means that it has less sidewall counter displays, too.

At night the windows are black screens that are reflective devices for all the light inside the store, including the back-lit wall graphics on the opposite wall. Because 9th Ave. is very wide next to the store, there is very little visible at night outside the store.

The stairway is pretty impressive from the inside of the store. The adjacent stainless steel wall also deserves a look. The combined cost of those two features alone probably surpassed the actual construction costs of the rest of the building.

Inevitably, there were lots of people staring at the stairway, wondering--or even asking out loud--how they thing had been constructed, and how elaborate the assembly must have been. It seems as if one wrong move during assembly and the entire thing would come crashing down. The complexity of it almost overcomes the esthetic. A simple two-story glass stairway might be visually more compelling simply because you're not analyzing it so much.

Here's the line-up by floor, which is pretty interesting:

-- Ground floor: all laptops on the tables, with Mac Pro along the wall counter. Cashwrap at the back.

-- Second floor: all iPod, headphones, speakers and accessories

-- Third floor: Genius Bar, kids section, two front training tables, two rear training tables, software wall shelving at rear.

By the way, the store calendar brochure is actually a three-store brochure--the SoHo, Fifth Avenue and 14th Street stores combined. "Three amazing stores. One amazing city," the brochure headlines, noting the individual personalities of the three stores. Fifth Avenue is open 24-hours, SoHo is the place for events and workshops, and 14th Street, "is dedicated to service, support, personal training and Pro Labs." The inside of the brochure has a combined calendar of events at the three stores.

When I left at 7:45 p.m. the line reached substantially west on 15th St. behind the store–I hand counted over 1,600 in line, with about another 100 close to the door. There was nearly another 100 people standing around just watching. The end of the line stretched all the way south on 15th St., a total of about one-third of a mile. I did notice there were uniformed security officers spaced along the entire length of the line, but

I hit the subway and ended up talking to several people who were also carrying T-shirt boxes and tubes. Several people reported receiving an iTunes Gift Card, but none had received an iPod or laptop.

Wrap-Up: It was a New York event, by all measures. The crowd was much less Apple enthusiasts, and more opportunists. There were more people than ever before drawn by the chance to get something for free--not necessarily a bad motive, just a different one. To their credit, though, even the front-line opportunists stuck it out and made the grand opening a success. All the elements were there: a great-looking store, a huge crowd and an enthusiastic staff.

The crank of a store like this takes an extraordinary number of people working long hours. Even as I headed home, everyone back at the store had a long night still ahead. And they had to get up and do it again on Saturday when the store opened for its first regular day. Makes me glad I'm on the outside of the store, just being a customer!

Thanks to Ken for keeping my brain moving during all those cold hours, and to everyone at Apple who put on another great event.

Check Apple's official gallery of store photos.

Here's the free poster that was handed out: a 9x7 grid of iPhone screens, each depicting a portion of Manhattan, with the Apple store locations highlighted on three screens. The poster came in a heavy, black cardboard tube with plastic endcaps, one of which might have had a prize sticker on the inside. On the outside of the tube was a small, clear rectangular sticker that said, "Apple Store. West 14th Street. 12.07.07."

Check the account of the waiting line that uses the word "riot."

Friday morning

I've arrived in line at 4:25 a.m. as #5. The first person in line arrived from the Bronx at 2 a.m. after he claims he received an official, honest-to-goodness e-mail from Apple promising that laptops would be given away to the first 10 persons in line.

The next three men arrived at about 4 a.m., because they heard a "Hot 97" radio DJ say there would be merchandise give-aways--"products from the shelves." Apparently there had been a radio commercial placed by Apple that said "you may...." win a prize, but did not indicate a direct give-away. It sounded as if the DJ blabbed on about the event, somehow twisting the contest into a laptop hand-over.

Tidbit: Did you know workers use powdered limestone to polish the stainless steel at Apple stores?

The you man and woman who arrived behind me at 5:40 a.m. had also heard the DJ remark. In talking to the woman she was adamant that Apple would be giving laptops away when the store opened at six. "We'll know in 17 minutes," she said. Uh, oh! Trouble! I asked her what happened in 16 minutes, and she matter-of-factly said, "The store opens." I explained that the store was opening at 6 p.m. She didn't believe me, despite the easel sign inside the store or by talking to the other four in line. Six o'clock? "That doesn't make any sense," she said, "Why would they open at night?" I hit Starbucks at about 5:15 a.m., warmed up and returned 30 minutes later to find they had left--permanently. They told the others in line they would be calling the radio station to complain.

Things moved pretty slowly for the next few hours. A few brave joggers ran by, lots of trucks turned the corner off one-way 9th Ave., and several dog walkers wrestled their clients back-and-forth. We watched a small patch of the sunrise through a break in the overcast, but otherwise it was a dull day. The 28 degree temperature began to rise--to a high of 35 for the day.

Inside the store it was non-stop work by the cleaning crew. Everything was wiped down, polished, cleaned or buffed several times by the crew, who all wore white cloth slip-on booties to keep from marking up the floor. There was a growing number of Apple and Shawmut Design and Construction staffers, all directing the cleaning and fix-it crews.

Tidbit: You may know that it takes an enormous amount of expertise to construct an Apple store, mostly because of the floors, stainless steel walls and glass stairs. Did you know it's the same construction crew who works on these stores? In this case, they spent nearly five months living in a New Jersey apartment building while they finished the store.

By 6:15 a.m. there were 16 persons in line, and by 8 a.m. there were 22. A truck from Structural Systems arrived in front of the building, and the two workers appeared on the third floor, working on one of the north window panels. Like any old-time warehouse or factory, the upper windows in the building actually open by rotating--the top rotates in, and the bottom out. But only the windows over the stairway lobby actually open (with a key), and not the windows adjacent to the retail floor.

Around 10 a.m. another project began: take out or replace some type of electronic unit on the ceiling directly above the door--that about 50 feet up with no access. So workers spread brown kraft paper on the floor, then hauled in a layer of composite wood board, then another layer of playwood. At that point they carefully moved in a scissor lift to raise up the three workers. They came back down about 15 minutes later with some type of white "things." After that, the lift was taken outside, the protective wood was removed and the floor cleaned up.

At 11 a.m. The Man arrived--the guy who installs the address and store hours on the interior glass. It's always interesting to watch, mostly for the care the worker takes in squaring up and centering the lettering. The line has grown to 55 at 11:30 a.m. under cloudy skies.

By the way, the store is equipped with ShopperTrak equipment to monitor the number of people who enter the store. If you look very closely at the upper metal frame of both doors, you'll notice holes in the metal for the video-based gear that does the counting.

A film crew arrived about noon, apparently the same one that filmed the Fifth Avenue grand opening for a promotional and "brag" reel of the new store. They took some film of the store and interviewed some of those in line.

About this time the security team put up stanchions along the 9th Ave. windows, just to keep people from putting their noses on the newly-cleaned glass. They also put up a few stanchions on the 14th St. side for the short waiting line, and then a little later against the windows to keep them clean.

At 12:30 p.m. an Apple staffer finally came by to explain the giveaway to the 62 persons in-line. The woman was very cordial, and apologized for any misunderstanding.

But she clearly explained that visitors would be given a T-shirt and poster and "gift," and upon opening the gift--which she wouldn't identify--they would learn if they’re a winner. The prize would be awarded instantly ($10 iTunes Gift Card, iPod shuffle, iPod touch, Macbook). She explained that the prizes were entirely random over the entire evening, and that the order of entry wouldn't affect the odds of winning.

The first person in line took it well, but gave it one more shot, asking the woman if there was any way Apple could honor his "promise." She apologized again and said the rules didn't allow it.

I saw no one leave the line after this announcement, which surprised me. They were undeniably disappointed, but to their credit they all decided to tough it out and be part of the grand opening, now about six hours away.

There was a steel panel alignment problem on the facing between the ground and second floors. A worker had to adjust a nut behind the panel, and the only way to access it was to remove the ceiling. Well…that's a interesting procedure. First you hook up a blow dryer to an extension cord, and then you heat up the area near the point you need to access. The ceiling material begins to "relax," allowing it to be unhooked from the side. The nut was adjusted, the ceiling was rehooked and the blow dryer shrunk the ceiling back so it was taunt.

The little plaza between the split of 9th Ave. has metal tables and chairs, the latter some people brought over to use. However, the city cleaning crew came by the plaza and noticed their chairs missing, forcing everyone to return the chairs.

A party rental truck appeared twice, both times unloading pallets of folding chairs, which they took into the building. I have no idea where they went or how they were used.

CNBC was doing a live video feed from the front of the store during the mid-day, part of a story package that focused on the increasing stock price (up $4.35 for the day), and some forecasts that a faster iPhone would be introduced next summer, and a tablet computer this January at Macworld.

Thursday evening

The traditional family-and-friends reception began at 5 p.m., crowding at least the ground floor (since the other two floors are invisible).

Tidbit: You know there are two silhouette Apple logo signs on each side of the building. Did you know that--oddly--the logo is correctly viewed from southbound 9th Ave. (a one-way street) and from eastbound 14th St.--one is away from the store and one is towards the store. The SoHo store's signs are set so that both are viewed correctly from the corner.

The store's Web page now says Apple will be "giving away" commemorative T-shirts, along with "limited edition posters" and "other special surprises including an iMac, an iPod touch and more." It's not clear if this takes the places of the "sweepstakes" that Apple ran at store openings, until it stopped earlier this year. One person said he saw the odds of winning posted on Apple's Web page at one point (now gone): $10 iTunes gift card was 1:14, iPod shuffle was 1:24, iPod touch was 1:100, and MacBook was 1:1000. Sounds like the old sweepstakes to me.

Temps after dark are 30 degrees and falling. It's definitely too cold for an overnighter, or to do live video or Webcam. The Starbucks a block from the store

Thursday morning

The sun is out in New York City, but the mid-town temperatures haven't hit the 30s yet. At 11 a.m. the press began to assemble in front of the store, and were eventually ticked off the clipboard and allowed inside. They wandered the store, and then Sr. V-P Retail Ron Johnson gave the reporters a briefing on the store and the retail initiative.

According to news accounts, Johnson said that future retail expansion would be tilted slightly towards international locations, since that's where expansion opportunities are obvious. Check the Gizmodo and Engadget Web sites for details on staffing (175), Genius Bar (46-feet) and their claim that it's the largest NYC store, and the second largest in the U.S.

The store will host free, multi-session "Pro Lab" training classes at the store at no charge, starting in January, Johnson said. There is a Web page devoted to the Lab schedule, calling it an "Open Lab."

The store has a completely different appearance during the day, focusing completely on the exterior instead of the interior, as at night. The winter sun shines almost continuously into the front of the store, bouncing off the glass staircase and extending into the store. The sun on the brown brick walls gives it a warm feeling. Check the photos.

The huge billboard atop the building was blank last night at 9 p.m. Today an iPod poster appeared on the billboard. Fed-Ex and UPS trucks were making some large deliveries to the store all morning.

The construction equipment and debris that was in front of the other portion of the Apple building has been removed--it's all cleaned up. The interiors are still obviously under construction, but there's no space for the waiting line.

Tidbit: You may know the store has a 46-foot Genius Bar. Did you know the store also has the largest Genius room in the chain?

Apple's selection of this location was definitely ahead of the "trendy" curve. The district is changing, but it's not there yet. No doubt long-time partner R.K. Futterman gave them a great deal on the space because it's early in the change cycle, hoping that it will encourage other national brands to move into the area. Futterman stands to gain: it has another 60,000 space just down and across the street from the Apple store. The building sports a banner that reads, "The mecca for hot retail, hip showroom & cool office." Well, not yet.

[According to insiders, two years ago the spaces around her were renting for $75 per square-foot annually, but now go for $350 today. In that case, Futterman probably already made a profit on his Meatpacking properties.]

Most of the big national brands are at least a block away on 8th Avenue. In fact, one block east is the center of the current neighborhood activity, with tiny shops and restaurants lining both sides of the street.

Work continues on the other spaces in the Apple building, but there are no tenants yet. Other tenants west of Apple towards the river tend to be fashion-related, including Stella McCartney and Alexander McQueen. There's also a car wash, Bodum kitchenwares, a photo equipment rental company and warehouses. East of the store are mostly walk-ups and businesses set below the sidewalk, including Redden's Funeral Home. South of the store the streets turned cobblestone, and include several trendy bars and restaurants.

Wednesday Evening

I arrived in New York City at about 4:30 p.m., where the temperature is in the low 30s and you can spot a light dusting of snow here and there. The outbound airplanes at JFK were being de-iced prior to take-off, always a sign of very cold weather.

The taxi ride was uneventful, and traffic was moving rather well. Coming into Manhattan across 34th Street, the sidewalks were jammed with people at rush hour. The holiday lights are all up and lit, giving the city a very festive look.

Ironically, I passed by 21 W. 34th St., the location of Apple's abandoned store project. There is scaffolding up in front of the building, but it's not obvious what type of work is being performed.

I'm now headed to the Meatpacking District to get my first look at the Apple store building and scout out what's going on there.

I've returned from the visiting the new store and--Apple's architect's and construction team have done it again!

The store is in full view and completely ready for the grand opening. The store occupies three floors, each about 40 feet wide, and the ground floor about 85 feet deep (the second and third floors are about 50 feet deep). Most spectacularly, the front 35-feet of the store is three-stories tall, occupied by the most complex and immense glass staircase ever built, spiral or otherwise.

The store was completely empty except for a couple of Verizon workers and two Apple staffers. Apparently all the work that needs to be done has been performed.

The outside of the store is completely devoid of the usual Apple architectural branding, except for a black metal, cut-out logo hanging from a post, just like the SoHo store. But the huge windows on the ground floor allow a view into the store from both the adjacent sidewalk and from any point in the surrounding neighborhood. There are double-door entrances on both the 14th St. and 9th Ave. sides of the building, nearest the corner.

Similar: Use of stainless steel, stone floors, wood display tables.

Unique: Only 3-story store, only 3-story glass staircase, one of handful with no front window displays, only store without two walls of display counters, only store with side windows, one of few brick stores, only store routinely open until midnight, one of few stores with cut-out logo sign.

By the way, those front windows have no displays, like only a handful of stores in the chain.

Inside, the usual features are present: stone flooring, back-lit wall graphics, white ceiling, and wood display tables. The ground floor is simply computer display space, while software, book and accessory shelving is visible on the second floor. The third floor has ceiling lights in a circular pattern, providing lighting for the stairway. The Genius Bar is on the third floor.

The spiral glass staircase uses a very thick and well-reinforced circular core, upon which the outer sidewalls are attached. From there, the treads and landings are attached,. The staircase rises 14 treads to a landing, then another 11 treads to the second floor. It duplicates this pattern to the third floor. An elevator is around an adjacent corner, just out of view.

It's impossible to describe the apparent massiveness of the stairs. Even without standing at the very bottom, it towers over you and gives you the impression of weight. The reflective or transparent quality doesn't lessen this effect.

There's also no underestimating the engineering of the staircase. Apparently just glass, and just spiral glass wasn't enough. They had to go one more step, and take it to three levels. Wonder what they'll do next?

Interestingly, the location of the elevator is just forward of the second and third levels, so a glass bridge was constructed on those levels to connect the floor to the elevator lobby.

Apple is calling this store the largest in New York City, although if you tally up the retail floor square-footage (7,200 s.f.), it seems like it has less display space than Fifth Avenue or SoHo. The footage is less because the second and third levels don't occupy the entire footprint of the building, just the rear 50 feet or so. There are no other public areas of the store, only storage and offices.

Passersby are stopping on the sidewalk to take photos with their cameras or cell phones. Motorists, on the other hand, don't seem to notice…but then, it's New York.

For the record--it's cold! There were flurries while I took this photos, and even with gloves, several layers of clothes and a heavy jacket, I was freezing.

The press event is at 11 a.m. on Thursday, so I'll be back out documenting whatever happens at the store.

Wednesday Morning, December 5th

I'm on my way west to New York City for the Friday evening grand opening of the 14th Street Apple store. I've prepared for near-freezing temperatures and even rain. Temps will be in the mid-20s Thursday night and lower 40s on Friday. Any way you slice it, it's going to be quite a waiting line.

Passersby report that the street debris has been removed and that the outside of the store looks like it's ready. However, the interior is hidden by black plastic on the ground floor windows, so the entire effect of the store's architecture isn't visible yet.