Fifth Avenue Grand Opening

Lady Liberty

Saturday - The Aftermath

After a good night's sleep New York City has turned into the perfect city: temps in the 70s, sunny and street fairs everywhere in mid-Town. I revisited the Apple store at 12:09 p.m. and found a waiting line of about 60 persons, waiting behind the same barricades used yesterday. It only took about five minutes in the quickly-moving line to get into the store, which was loaded (but not jammed) with people. Again, it appeared that there was lots of commerce going on, including sales made with the now-standard portable computers.

While waiting in line, I met two businessmen from Russia, who said they heard about the store opening on the Internet, and a friend back home asked them to buy two laptops. I speculated on an "Apple Moscow" retail store, but they said that Apple's market share is less than one-half of a percent there, and is considered expensive. They could buy their laptops in the U.S. and save about 30%, they said, even with Russian customs duties (their personal exemption would reduce duties to almost zero).

Store Info

I've compiled lots of information about the store, including a diagram of the furniture and product lay-out. Surf here.

Read about the elevator glitch that left some people stranded inside.

MacCentral has info on the time-lapse proposal that was made at 5 a.m.

Read 'Laptop' magazine's story on overnight inside the store, or a person's 18-hour attempt to win a MacBook.

JoyOfTech has an amusing cartoon view of the cube, while this site has an insect view of the store.

An architectural site believes there are some similarities between the cube and the Louvre (Paris).

Diagram of GM Plaza, cube and entrance.

Building permits

Wandering over to the Bars, I noticed Kathy, a middle-aged New Yorker who had parked her rola-cart in the corner and plugged in her cellular phone. She says she got in line at the store about 9:10 p.m. Friday and walked into the store about 35 minutes later--she had been there ever since! She has entered every MacBook give-away in the meantime, also entering her brother's name in the sweepstakes, too. She intends to be there every hour until the last drawing at 6 p.m. tonight. She has a bust-up IBM laptop now, and didn't seem to be a Mac enthusiast. But she said she'd use a new computer for writing.

FAO Schwartz has a "hawker" outside it store dressed like an African adventurer. Periodically he goes on a rant--a canned speech with rhyming words intended to set the stage for your entrance into the store. But today, his spiel sounded pathetic. He was outside his store, and in front of him was a waiting line for another store. And as he rhymed away, everyone was turning away and getting into Apple's line.

This store is definitely noisier than others. There is background music playing through the store system, and there are lots of display speakers with music playing, sometimes very loudly. It's definitely a "buzz" store, but hopefully it will be quieter in the months to come.

The product mix is obvious: no camcorders or digital cameras. Lots and lots of laptops and iPods, some iMac and minis, and just two, lonely G5 desktops (go to the southeast corner and squint).

There was no Wi-Fi access from the store before the opening. On Saturday, however, there was both an "appleplaza" and "applestore" Wi-Fi network available outside the store.

Someone plotted the waiting line as .45 miles long...check this aerial view. Check the flickr main page and search on "fifth avenue" for lots of members who have posted photos.

It Opens!

I've just returned from the Fifth Avenue Apple store after attending the most dramatic, exciting and star-studded store event in Apple's history. The Cube was conceived to be the perfect entrance, the spiral glass stairs make for a history-raising grand entrance, and the store space itself is breathtaking.

The weather turned dry, the crowd was excited, and the plaza, cube and descending staircase made for a dramatic entrance into the store to a roaring crowd of employees. Over 33 celebrities showed up at the store to browse, sign autographs and buy products, lending to the excitement. Even Steve Jobs mingled with the crowd inside the store and never stopped smiling.

The short early line and thunderstorms translated into a huge line just before and after the opening. At 4:10 p.m. New York Times tech writer David Pogue showed up with a new black MacBook, with the iMovie recording feature running, and was interviewing people. At the same time, we could hear the store employees yelling and hooting inside the store. At 4:30 p.m. there were 915 people in line, stretching around the block. Security guards split the line at business entrances to keep them from being blocked.

At about 5:30 p.m. dozens of store employees came up the stairs and started working the waiting line, standing on the plaza and making like cheerleaders--the crowd yelled back. At the same moment, Steve Jobs appeared at the entrance, generating more yells, including from some young woman who told Jobs, "You're hot!" Apple's architects and retail execs also joined the group, standing to the right of the cube entrance. Johnson and Blankenship hugged again. The press had arrived and were positioned to the right of the entrance.

With just 15 minutes left before opening, #8 Steven in line turned to his girlfriend Patti and proposed to her. She accepted, and that set off a ripple of "Awwww" back through the crowd, and up to the Apple staffers. Some came over to offer their congratulations. (Another man held up a proposal sign, "Uschi Lang, will you marry me?", to Apple's time-lapse camera... check the 05:00 hour.) Steven and Patti were later congratulated by Steve Jobs, James Woods and Kevin Bacon. Later Diane DeGarmo and her male companion handed over their commemorative T-shirts to the happy couple as they were leaving the store.

The waiting line was in a perfect configuration to watch the show and create sidewalk buzz. The closest people were both those at the front of the line, and those at the end. Both groups were looking straight at the cube, which is raised up several steps, creating a stage. The pedestrian area was jammed, and there was a huge crowd of people across Fifth Avenue trying to catch a glimpse of what was occurring. Apple deployed a team of photographers to the rooftops of the surrounding buildings to take panoramic shots, including the now-closed Ritz-Carlton Hotel and the very top of the GM Building itself.

Perhaps a minute early, someone in the crowd began a countdown--from 60! Ron Johnson looked at his watch quizzically and laughed. The crowd continued through to the end with almost perfect accuracy, a security guard unfastened the barrier tape in front of Stormy, and he walked forward to shake hands with Steve Jobs and start down the glass stairs.

At that point the sound from below was deafening. There were staffers on the landings to make sure no one slipped, since it was still wet outside. As your eyes reach the level of the ceiling, you can begin to sense how singularly large the space is. Look to the right... look to the left--it's all store. At the bottom we reached the gray stone floor and just continued on a spiral around the base of the stairs, which is delineated by a curved stone bench.

The yelling continued for many minutes, until the store filled up quite tightly. Many people seemed to be interested in purchasing products, and I heard lots of specific purchase questions from visitors. The point-of-sale counter quickly drew lines. As security allowed more people into the store periodically, it would set off another wave of yelling and hooting from the employees and crowed on the plaza, and then it would ripple down the stairs into the store.

Some of those purchases came from celebrities that just happened to show up: James Woods, Kevin Bacon (6 computers, more than one FC Studio), Julianne Moore, Amy Poehler, Rachel Dratch, Elizabeth Berkley, Kanye West, Tina Fey (MacBook Pro), Carson, Kyan and Jai from the show "Queer Eye For the Straight Guy," Stephen Colbert, John Legend and Spike Lee, JZ, Beyoncé, Drew Barrymore, Dave Chappelle (2 a.m.!), Mos Def, Harry Connick Jr., Matthew Modine, Kevin Spacey, Finesse Mitchell, Liev Schreiber, Chris Parnell, Fred Armisen, Andy Samburg, Kenan Thompson, Martha Plimpton, Alan Cumming, Seth Myers, Horatio Sands, Maya Rudolph, Diane DeGarmo and--get this!--Triumph the Comic Insult Dog. [Check these great early-arriving celeb photos, and these photos.]

Could this become the city's premier location to spot celebs? When the paparazzi discover the store, it will be. A reliable celeb watcher reports that the celebs admitted that Apple invited them to the opening, that they were rewarded with free merchandise (a laptop and iPod Hi-Fi at least), and that the Saturday Night Live cast contributed iTunes Music Store playlists. James Woods appeared on CBS' "Early Show" Friday morning, so maybe that's why he came.

Steve Jobs uncharacteristically waded into the crowd, at some points leading celebrities Woods and Bacon around, at other times talking to the crowd. At one point overnight Matt approached him, and asked for an autograph on his premier issue copy of Macworld magazine--and Jobs politely obliged. Matt has absolutely no intention of selling it--don't ask!

A later arrival told me he got into line at 4:30 p.m. and came through the door as visitor #915 at 7:20 p.m., but that included rampant line-cutting near the FAO Schwartz where the security guard apparently wasn't watching closely enough. I counted the line as 1,099 at 7:50 p.m. when I came outside, and there was a fairly consistent renewal of the line as people were allowed inside. About 15 minutes later I asked a man in about position #75 what time he arrived, and he said 5:30 p.m., indicating a 2-1/2 hour wait.

When I finally left the store around 8:30 p.m. I saw James Woods and two males carrying laptops away from the store. The rumor is that Kevin Bacon was also making a substantial purchase of video-related software, besides whatever he might have received gratis.

By 8:15 p.m. all 2,500 T-shirts had been given out.

Check Apple's time-lapse of the store front--it's been busy since the 6 p.m. opening!

P.S.--Sorry to anyone who e-mailed me late Friday. Thunderstorms kept my laptop inside its case and my Sidekick battery couldn't keep up with my 24-hour schedule and died.

Friday Morning

It stopped raining after the original thunderstorm hit around 5 p.m. Thursday evening, but then started up again heavily around 1:45 a.m. so the overnight crowd hasn't blossomed. We have moved to the corner of 59th & Fifth Ave. and hunkered down for the (very) long wait.

By 1:15 a.m. there were just 20 persons in line waiting under umbrellas, tarps, plastic bags and anything else we could buy at a near by 24-hour variety store. The conversation ranged from sharing personal back-stories to politics (yes, dangerous!). We have people from Germany, Scotland and the U.S., with some visitors from Canada. Lots of New Yorkers have stopped by to say they'll join the queue later Friday morning.

Why would Tri-Pyramid Structures Inc. make a delivery to an Apple store at 1:00a.m.? The company provides the specialized and sophisticated hardware for the glass stairs and The Cube here at Fifth Avenue. There was no obvious construction work after the delivery to verify what parts were involved. [I later learned it was simply a stairway back-up part.]

Midnight cleaning of the cube stopped when the rain began, and only the security guards were out in their blue raingear. Of course, cabs, big trucks and some passenger vehicles zipped by the corner all night. Around 5 a.m., the limos carrying CBS employees begin arriving on 59th Street for the "Early Show." It was still raining very hard at that point, with deep puddles flowing down the gutter.

When I left the hotel at 9:15 a.m. after a nap, it was cloudy and cool, but not raining. There were 26 people in line when I arrived. Those who arrived at 6 a.m. said it was raining then, but stopped about 15 minutes before I arrived.

At about 10 a.m. Steve Jobs appeared within the cube, coming up the elevator. He came outside and met Ron Johnson, and the two hugged enthusiastically. The two, accompanied by Karl Backus and others from BCJ toured the outside of the cube, looking at every aspect from every angle. Then V-P Retail Real Estate George Blankenship appeared and he and Jobs hugged, and continued the tour. Jobs went around the right side, the rear and then came back up the left side to the front. Apple's principal architect Peter Bohlin appeared at the point, and there were more hugs. Job and Bohlin then went to the front door of the cube to pose for some photos, and then Jobs called over all the other team members who were standing to one side. As passersby gawked and the waiting line took photos, the group posed for an Apple photographer, and then went inside. [photo]

Jobs lingered on the landing inspecting the features, and then by himself went down the spiral glass staircase with his right hand on the handrail. It was truly an fascinating appearance, and interesting to see Jobs inspect a the glass cube, which he reportedly designed personally.

Just as the group started to go inside at 10:30 a.m., the rain began again, and just as hard as it was during the night. The waiting line was well-prepared at this point, and simply threw tarps over everything and put up their umbrellas.

Friday Afternoon

The rain lasted until 12:25 p.m., when we could see blue sky south down Fifth Avenue. At this point the GM Building, Apple security force and three NYPD officers began moving bicycle fence into position to create a "corral" that zig-zagged across the plaza. Apparently the plan is to run the line across the southern part of the sidewalk (now closed, with pedestrians moved into the eastern-most traffic lane of one-way-south Fifth Ave.), around the block, and then back-and-forth across the north part of the sidewalk.

By 2 p.m. there were 59 persons in line, but right after taking the count, another 15 walked up, and then the line began to grow more quickly. Steve Jobs appeared again on the stairway talking to one of the designers about the cube. He later emerged with his wife and left, but returned within about an hour.


NBC's Brian Williams showed up at 3:30 p.m. and toured the store for about 30 minutes. Then yet another thunderstorm swept through Mid-Town, drenching anyone without an umbrella, and raising winds that nearly sucked away our umbrellas and tarps. There was one enormous blast of wind in particular that got everyone's attention, but the Cube survived. At 4 p.m. there were about 312 persons in line waiting for the opening, about half-way down the side of FAO Schwartz on the 58th St. side of the plaza.

At the same moment, a group of three Apple store employees appeared with T-shirts asking, "Who's the coldest?" They then went down the first corralled group of visitors and starting giving away some shirts.

Thursday Morning

The first person in line, Stormy Shippy, arrived from Texas and took his place at 12:15 a.m. After his arrival it was all about "Cube clean-up." Crews of workers finished the pressure washing of the plaza and sidewalk, and others began work on the glass of the cube itself, both inside and out. Workers also began cleaning the inside of the cube--the vestibule floor, the spiral glass staircase and the glass-enclosed, cylindrical elevator.

The plaza is still off limits, so close-up photos of the cube will have to wait. But besides the unusual elevator design (a giant syringe?), and the staircase that curves downward around it, the cube has another interesting feature--it's all open to the lower floor. That is, you can walk up to the outside glass of the cube, look through and see right down into the store itself. Anyone who sees the cube, notices the Apple logo, and who then comes over to the outside of the cube to investigate will see the store and activity below, and be drawn right into the door and down the stairs. It's another innovative and guaranteed crowd attractor.

At about 3:30 a.m. the giant back-lit Apple logo flickered on for the first time so Apple execs could see it effect as they stood with arms crossed across the street in the park. Within a couple of minutes it was turned off. But then the logo came alive again about 45 minutes later and stayed on. Within a few minutes additional lights came on--small round lights set in the perimeter of the cube, and pointing upward. They lend some definition to the cube's structure, which otherwise at night is not easy to see.

The glass of the cube creates various reflections of the logo, which is lit on both the front and back. Looking from the front of the cube, you see the front of the logo, and then the reflection of the back of the logo. If you're looking at the cube from an angle, you see the back reflection, but also at least one reverse image of the logo, which is actually a reflection of a reflection. Top retail execs were there at 3 a.m. to supervise all the work that was being done.

Trivia--If you look straight up at the GM Building, you notice two sets of very bright lights on the roof, 50-stories up, that illuminate the plaza. Actually, they were installed by Apple as part of the cube illumination system, and help define the glass structure at night.

At the dawn was breaking around 5 a.m., an Apple photographer appeared, and workers moved stanchions, bicycle fence and wooden barricades away from the front of the cube so he could take photos.

By the way, also active was the CBS studios adjacent to the cube, where the winners of "The Amazing Race" will appear on an outdoor set this morning from 7-9 a.m. The press event for the store starts at 10 a.m., and there are hints that Steve Jobs is in town.

I've received e-mail confirmation of attendance by people in Canada, Scotland and Germany., as well as several from the U.S.

Press Event-At about 9:30 p.m. about 50-55 members of the invited media began assembling on the plaza in front of the glass cube. Shortly after 10 a.m. they were allowed into the entrance and down the glass stairs. Steve Jobs did not appear at event, but rather Ron Johnson briefed the reporters, noting the success of the stores (now at $4,000 in annual revenue per square-foot), the construction of the building (65-foot deep elevator lift tube, 400+ glass pieces in the cube), and the fact that the cube only occupies just 5% of the GM Plaza by volume (apparently proving that it's not as big as it seems). Press reports say the store has the now-common iPod, Genius and Studio bars. The store has nearly 300 employees (5,000 applied, 20 languages represented), no doubt due to the 24-hour/365-day schedule that has to be filled (most employees of any Apple store). Johnson said about one-half the staff were dedicated to the Bars to assist visitors.

Upon leaving, the press received a commemorative T-shirt, which was inside the traditional white box with silver closure label, but with a unique repeating "Cube" imprint on the inside--silver on black, identical to the graphic for the Fifth Avenue store on Apple's Web site. I've seen some store employees walking by on Fifth Ave. wearing black T-shirts with the cube graphic on the front, but it's not clear if these are the commemorative T-shirts or employee models.

Johnson called the location, "the gateway to the world's best shopping street," and praised the light, the quality of the air and the history of the location. Check Apple's press release (photo) on the store, or Cnet's video of the briefing.

Outside, the sun broke over the GM Building at about 10:30 a.m., warming up a cool and windy day. Lunch crowds appeared around 11 a.m. to thicken up the pedestrian traffic in front of the plaza--lots of tourists, and many from other countries. A building employee was strictly tasked by Apple with keeping the leaves out of the south fountain, and it was a near-continuous job for him (I heard a group of teens remarks on the worker's task as they passed by and saw him patrolling the fountains). Another worker is steering an electric washer/cleaner around the plaza every hour or so, with the same objectve--absolute cleanliness. Adding to the excitement on the plaza are the periodic rounds from a bomb-sniffing dog by a handler hired by the building's management.

A couple from North Carolina arrived at 11:45 a.m. to become #4 and #5 in line. About 15 minutes later CNBC arrived and interviewed Stormy.

Apple has hired a full team of media producers for the store. I've seen: still photographer continuously here, a video crew with Steadicam, a 35mm crew doing street interviews, a time-lapse crew using an old Bolex 16mm, and a digital camera panorama team.

It's about 2:30 p.m. and I should have brought my suncreen from the hotel--it's hot! A crew has arrived to work on the "syringe" elevator, which reportedly wasn't working earlier this morning.

Big News - Apple will be holding a give-away after the 6 p.m. opening: one 13-inch white MacBook each hour with SuperDrive. Only one entry per hour is allowed.

Around 4 p.m. the weather turned cloudy and windy, and not everyone (there are 7 in line now) was equipped with rain gear (including myself). About 5:40 p.m. it began to rain, and by the time I started back to the hotel to change into Gortex, the thunderstorm hit. I waited under an awning for about 20 minutes, but then had to make the 5-block walk with my computer and camera case in hand. My pants were soaked by the time I arrived back. Others in the group threw up a tarp and waited out the storm, which passed within an hour.

Browse my photos of the first day of the waiting line.

Forecast - A rumor is going around that a live music group will play at the store during the grand opening event. Previously they've had iPod DJs provide music. Another unverified rumor is that Apple has received approval to close off the street for the grand opening, but it's not clear if this is strictly to help with crowd control, or if a marching band is showing up.

Tips for Arriving Enthusiasts-Hey, what do I know about New York City? There are plenty of restaurants--expensive and cheap, with a 5-minute walk, including bathrooms. The weather is bright sun and a little breezy now, and it gets cold in the shade. The surrounding building limit sun exposure (sun at 10:30 a.m., shade moving in around 1 p.m.), but you may consider sunscreen. The weather forecast include rain Thursday night and Friday morning, but it's only scattered, so maybe we'll escape getting wet. Besides weather protection, be prepared for the long haul if you come before nightfall--it's going to be a long night and then a long day. Grand opening lines are generally casual affairs--you can get out of line to take a break, eat, go to the bathroom, etc., and no one will object. Just don't come up to the front of the line with your MacBook and claim it's busted and you need to get in first to see a Genius (head south to SoHo). Send me e-mail or call me with other questions or issues. As for AirPort access, there is none from the store, but thank goodness New York City has a network of free Wi-Fi sites in many of their plazas. We're just across from Grand Army Plaza, and I'm getting four rings of AirPort reception. Update: The building management reportedly will not allow any access to the plaza unit the moment that Apple allows the waiting line to enter. At the moment, we're lined up along the outside front wall of the plaza to the right of the cube--but check both sides if you arrive on Thursday.

Wednesday Evening

The black plastic wrapping has come off The Cube at the store, and it revealed a surprise--a huge white, floating Apple logo inside. The face of the logo is milky white and about 18-inches thick. It appears to float about half-way back in the 10-meter cube, and about one-third down from the top, suspended from the top of the cube by a substantial stainless steel pole. The sides of the logo are stainless steel. Neither the interior lighting for the cube or the logo back-lighting was turned on, so it wasn't possible to see the full effect of the logo and how visible it or the cube will eventually become.

At 7:50 p.m. workers raised a scissor-lift to the top-front of the left face and began--slowly--peeling back the black plastic material. The adhesive must be very strong, because it took a considerable effort to remove the material, and the work went slowly. Workers started on the sides, then the rear of the cube, and by midnight had all four sides clear.

Meanwhile, workers began removing the 4-foot, black-painted work barricade that has been around the plaza itself. They picked up all the materials and tossed them into a demolition company's garbage trucked parked at the curb. A maintenance person sweep up the debris that was left behind by the barricade.

Apple staffers watched the "peeling," including Karl Backus, an architect with BCJ who has previously served as project director on other Apple store. Backus walked the perimeter of the plaza to view the newly-revealed glass cube from various angles. Sr. V-P Retail Ron Johnson walked up about an hour after the peeling began.

By 10:30 p.m. most of the two sides and back had been cleared of plastic, but the front of The Cube remained covered. Both fountains are now operating, and building workers were pressure-washing the sidewalks at about 11 p.m.

Watch my exclusive video or check the photos.

Wednesday Morning

Workers are busy on all aspects of finishing construction at the GM Plaza, where the press event is just 24 hours away for the Fifth Avenue store. A fork lift operator was busy loading wooden crates from the street onto a flatbed truck, and they were then taken away. Other workers focused on the two fountains on either side of the glass cube. By 11 a.m. the north fountain was shooting water. Other workers continued to use power tools to buff up the GM Building stone facing, basically giving it a whitening. The black plywood panels remain covering the cube itself.

The weather is warm and sunny, although there are scattered clouds and it's occasionally very windy. So far, no one is obviously first-in-line for the grand opening.

Watch my first video report.

Tuesday - Evening

I've arrived in New York City and have taken a first, quick look at the glass cube that is the ground-level entrance to the Fifth Avenue Apple store. It's still enclosed with black plywood, and there are construction materials in the traffic lane in front of the store. The entire plaza is cordoned off and security guards are at both corners of the plaza. Construction workers are coming and going from the site, some with Apple ID badges. The front entrance to the glass cube is obscured with a plywood screen, so it's impossible to see inside. However, you can see a glass sheet overhang extending from the cube over the entrance, presumably to provide rain protection. There is a little bit of the glass door structure visible, but otherwise it's impossible to tell what the cube looks like.

Overall, the plaza-level doesn't yet look up to Apple's usual opening day standards, but I'm sure it will all take shape and on-time. Workers were on scissor-lifts grinding a new, whiter finish on the façade of the General Motors building behind the cube. No doubt Apple ordered the work to perk up the background of the glass cube for opening day, when thousands of photos are going to be taken. Apple installed a new sidewalk in front of the plaza, a common project in front of Apple's high-profile stores.

So, with the black plywood still in place, it's impossible to judge the visual impact of the glass cube entrance on the open space formed by Grand Army Plaza, Fifth Avenue and Central Park. Even so, there are impressive vistas for anyone looking at the Apple store entrance from the northwest at the park. The plaza's running water fountain and trees offer some natural feeling to an otherwise concrete canyon that begins right at the GM Building and heads south past Trump Tower, the Disney Store, DeBeers and many other ultra high-end retailers.

Standing around Grand Army Plaza, all you can smell are exhaust fumes from cars and manure from the carriage horses that queue up on the corner just inside Central Park. There are not a lot of horns honking at this spot of Manhattan, but there are lots of cars and pedestrians at 8 p.m.

The weather is mild--mid 60s during the day and mid-50s at night. There was a little breeze around 10 p.m. tonight that made a long-sleeve shirt necessary. The weather forecast includes warmer temperatures, but also a continuing chance of showers in New York City.

Check this panorama of the corner that includes GM plaza.

Tuesday - Morning

At this moment I'm flying to New York City for the grand open of the Fifth Avenue Apple store on Friday evening. I'll be posting photos, videos and stories here to document my adventure on the streets in front of The Cube overnight, and then the daytime wait for the evening grand opening. Follow along with me as I wait for first view of the store with hundreds of other Mac enthusiasts!

Watch the links to the left, which will become active as I post my reports, and add additional iChat and telephone contact information. Send me e-mail any time...I'll be checking it via Sidekick 24-hours a day.