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New York's Big Apple Store Turns 8 Today


It's difficult to remember that Apple's retail plan was actually counterintuitive back in 2006.

On Friday, May 19, 2006, exactly eight years ago today, Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) opened its flagship Apple Store on Fifth Avenue in New York City. The impressively large subterranean retail space, and the even more impressive aboveground glass-cube facade, have made the store a symbol of Apple's success over the last decade or so. It's the highest-grossing store in New York City, and for its square footage, it's the most profitable store in the world.

Like so many of the innovative products to come out of Apple's renaissance, this magnum opus of a tech retail store owes its existence to the late Steve Jobs. As former Apple Senior Vice President of Retail Ron Johnson has said, "It was really Steve's store." Back in a time when it was still considered counterintuitive to sell computers and high-priced accessories in a store completely devoted to them, Jobs pushed for a store that would not only offer consumers the ability to buy Apple products directly, but would also captivate pedestrians (in a part of New York that's certainly not lacking in captivating architecture and attractions). As Luke Dormehl of Cult of Mac wrote this morning, "It's a classic example of the Jobsian belief in functional form: that good design isn't just about how something looks, but how it works."

In fact, this meeting of form and function worked so well that not only is the store the highest-grossing store in New York, it's also one of the most-photographed places in Manhattan.

The building's biggest change came in 2011 when significant improvements in glass manufacturing made it possible to simplify the design of the facade and reduce the number of panes from 90 to just 15 (Jobs wanted just four panes, but he conceded when he realized his audacious idea would mean cutting the size of the building by 1 foot). Even more impressive, these improvements to the glassmaking process were led, at least in part, by Apple's own engineers.

The original design with 90 panes, and the renovated version with 15. Source: MacRumors

Reportedly, Johnson debated the glass renovation with Jobs, arguing that the facade would be less impressive with 15 panes than with its original 90. As he told Jobs' biographer Walter Isaacson, "[In] the original incarnation, it [glittered] like a jewel box. I think if we get the glass too transparent, it will almost go away to a fault." For better or worse, Jobs, of course, stuck to his guns.

Jobs' vision was bold then, but he still recognized some limits. As he told the New York Times three days before the original opening of the store, "We wouldn't do [this] in Palo Alto, but this is New York."

Now times have changed: There are currently five Apple stores in New York, with two more opening next year. There 254 stores in the US, 421 worldwide, and when it comes to bold architecture, the company's really just getting started: The company's extremely futuristic, UFO-esque Apple Campus II, which is being built only 8 miles away from Palo Alto, will be Apple's boldest building yet. When completed, it will owe its existence to the great Apple resurgence, led by Jobs, that the Fifth Avenue store continues to symbolize.

Follow me on Twitter: @JoshWolonick and @Minyanville
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