By Patrick Hedlund
In the spate of recent retail openings along the west end of W. 14th St., the Apple Store doesn’t fall far from the tree on this tony stretch of the Meatpacking District.
On Friday thousands of New Yorkers converged for the grand opening of Apple’s newest venture, proving the brand’s draw over consumers who waited hours in the freezing cold to worship at the tech giant’s three-story temple at 14th St. and Ninth Ave.
Hype had swirled prior to last week’s official debut, with the space touted by Apple as its largest in the city and second only to its Chicago location in total size. By Friday morning, as the police began setting up metal barricades along Ninth Ave. to control the oncoming crowd, a queue of about 50 Applemaniacs had gathered for a shot at free prizes and the chance to step foot in the new showroom.
Ian Meyer, 22, traveled all the way from Chapel Hill, N.C., to attend his fourth Apple Store opening, which included a 33-hour stint at the Midtown location and a trip to Naples, Fla., for another opening. Sitting in a collapsible chair and sporting an Apple hat and laptop, he came for collectibles and camaraderie rather than free schwag.
“It’s usually a lot of fun hanging with the people [in line],” said Meyer, who does server support for Apple products and has framed T-shirts from previous openings. “It’s kind of a weird sense of fun.”
Some made the pilgrimage all the way from New Jersey and White Plains. Others stood bundled with their young children in the hopes of snagging an early holiday gift.
Jeez Jiminez, 22, from the Bronx, had stopped for drinks at a few of bars in the area the night before and decided to stake out the first spot in line at around 1 a.m.
“It kept me warm a little bit,” Jiminez said of the late-night spririts, though three hooded sweatshirts, a pair of long johns and pajama pants and two pairs of winter socks also helped.
As the crowd multiplied throughout the day organizers counted nearly 3,000 people prior to the official 6 p.m. opening the shivering mass accepted tea from a local storeowner hired by Apple to ease the growing hysteria.
The buzz also extended to nearby shops and restaurants, with most of Apple’s neighbors heralding the new tenant’s arrival as a sure boon to business and a sign of the area’s up-and-coming status.
“I’m excited for it. I think it’ll be good for the block,” said Ritesh Singh, manager at the Pizza Bar restaurant across Ninth Ave. from Apple. “[It creates] a little bit more of an opportunity for people to check out the neighborhood.”
“We’re expecting it to definitely impact our business,” said Bradford Shane Shellhammer, proprietor of the Design Within Reach furnishing store across 14th St., adding there’s lately been a “huge increase in interest in the area.”
The Apple Store supplanted the space formerly inhabited by Western Beef, marking the ongoing transition of the neighborhood from a true meat business district to an upscale shopping and nightclub destination.
Similar to nearby high-end showrooms like clothiers Alexander McQueen and Carlos Miele, Apple’s iProducts gleamed throughout the store’s three full floors, with the Mac maker’s signature minimalist design aesthetic belying the frenzied crush swelling outside its doors.
But the expected increase in hungry consumers isn’t all positive, said some retail workers, as Applegoers won’t necessarily shop at other boutiques in the area.
“We know that it’s going to bring traffic,” said Tiziana Lanza, manager of Stella McCartney a few storefronts down from Apple on 14th St. “I don’t know if the traffic’s going to come in here.”
Lanza said the store’s impact remains to be seen. But a fellow employee named Norena thought Apple’s entrance could “take the mom ’n’ pop out of the neighborhood.”
“I just like the more open feeling of this neighborhood, without the crowds,” said the sales associate, decrying a possible overflow of “browsers” and “museum types” from the Apple Store. “It will be a lot more work to deal with those additional people.”
Shellhammer, however, disagreed with the assertion that a design-savvy merchant like Apple would create more pains than gains.
“You drink the Kool-Aid,” he said of the cult of Apple. “It’s like a mecca…a church.”
By the time the grand spectacle culminated with the doors finally opening, patrons filed in with broad smiles and fists pumping while being greeted with applause from the store staff. Entrants were rewarded with free Apple 14th St. T-shirts and posters that had stickers on them offering hundreds of prizes ranging from $10 gift certificates to laptop computers.
Robert Penalver and his girlfriend Mariet Guerrero came from Harlem and waited for three-and-a-half hours to win a free gift card and iPod Shuffle, respectively. Guerrero planned to give her iPod to Penalver’s 8-year-old son, who misplaced his own during his last visit with his dad.
“It saved a lot of heat off my back from his mom,” Penalver said of the lucky replacement.
And after nearly 30 hours spent waiting, Jiminez also walked away with an iPod Shuffle. Was it worth it?
“Nah, not really,” he acknowledged. “I’ll feel better going home right now.”