Apple 2.0

Covering the business that Steve Jobs built

Inside Apple's new Grand Central Terminal store

December 7, 2011: 11:22 AM ET

2 Genius Bars, 45 display tables, 3 walls of accessories, free Wi-Fi and no "public" toilets

View from a Mac table. Photo: PED

Apple is reported to have paid $5 million to Metrazur Restaurant to buy out the eight years remaining on its Grand Central Terminal lease.

We suspect both sides of the deal got a bargain.

Metrazur, judging from the reviews in Yelp before it closed, was famous for strange sauces and slow service.

Apple (AAPL), judging from a tour of the new retail store it has built on the terminal's east and north balconies -- in more than twice the space formerly occupied by Metrazur -- is going to move a lot of product when the store opens Friday at 10 a.m.. (Free T-shirts for the first 4,000 customers.)

Grand Central is the world's largest train terminus (by number of platforms) and one of the busiest places in the city that never sleeps. Some 750,000 people pass through its marble halls every day, and traffic swells to more than 1 million per day during the holidays. According to the Grand Central Terminal website, 50% of its commuters' household incomes are over $100,000, and 20% are over $200,000.

Apple is cagey about the dimensions of the new store. Press accounts put it at 23,000 square feet, which would make it, by our count, Apple's third largest. Bob Bridger, vice president of retail, real estate and development, would only say that it is "one of the biggest."

This we know for sure: The store has

  • 2 Genius Bars with 12 stools each
  • 45 display tables covered with Macs, iPads, iPhones and iPods
  • 3 walls of accessories
  • 315 full and part-time employees (bringing Apple's NYC total to more than 4,000)
  • lots of free Wi-Fi (reachable from the terminal's main lobby)
  • minimal signage (three glowing Apple logos)
  • No public restrooms (a requirement, according to Apple PR, of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which owns the building) Apple called to apologize and correct their initial answer to the most pressing question: There are, repeat are, restrooms available in the store for customers. Phew. UPDATE: The restrooms in the store are not -- repeat not -- open to the public, according to a security guard assigned to protect them. They are, however, open to customers, a distinction with a difference in a place like Grand Central.

Bridger meets the press. Photo: PED

The other superlative, which Bridger spent a lot of time hammering home to the 3 dozen reporters and camera crew who showed up for Wednesday's media tour, is that the store represents Apple's largest commitment to what it calls "personal selling." This includes 15-minute express workshops for busy commuters, two start-up rooms for hands-on instruction, a front desk where Apple's top-telling products can be swiftly purchased, and a feature on the Apple Store App that lets you order a product on a commuter train and pick it up when you get to the city.

See below for our 3-minute video, posted on YouTube, which was shot as we made our way from the south end of the east balcony to the west end of the northeast balcony.

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About This Author
Philip Elmer-Dewitt
Philip Elmer-DeWitt
Editor, Apple 2.0, Fortune

Philip Elmer-DeWitt has been following Apple since 1982, first for Time Magazine, and now on the Web for Fortune.com.

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