For more than two years, Apple's underground flagship store in New York City was closed, undergoing massive renovations. In that time an entire remodel and expansion—doubling the size of the store—took place below the famed glass cube, leading up to a grand reopening aligned with the official release of the iPhone 11 series.
And grand it was. At 8 a.m., Apple CEO Tim Cook materialized to cut the metaphorical ribbon. After opening the street-facing double doors, he welcomed the earliest iPhone 11-seekers inside. They were met with rounds of applause from a bubbly crew of Apple employees in dark blue shirts.
It’s a beautiful morning for an Apple Store reopening, and we’re clearly not the only ones who think so! People are lined up outside the 5th Avenue cube in NYC for the #iPhone11 pic.twitter.com/i7AUNsSuSCSeptember 20, 2019
I was not one of those first customers. But when I arrived at the massive Apple monument at about 10 a.m., the party was still in full swing.
Despite waiting about two hours, people at the front of the line exuded excitement. One woman credited good spirits to the fine, 70-and-cool conditions. Though she said seeing customers exiting with brand new iPhone 11s helped, too.
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I spoke to her from a much shorter, parallel line, where I waited with those interested in just 'seeing' the store.
"Ready?" a man with a giant grin asked me as I was instructed to join the next group inside. We were ushered to the entrance of the cube, where Apple employees cheered and clapped and made me feel like the guest of honor at this party.
If only I was greeted with a round of applause everywhere I went 🤔 pic.twitter.com/9aLnivyEJ9September 20, 2019
I strutted down a chrome spiral staircase, around and around until I landed smack in the center of an Apple lover's paradise. Dozens of rows of the traditional maple wood tables sported the iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, and iPhone 11 Pro Max. Shoppers were stationed one-on-one with a salesperson, hovering over the new devices.
Even over the loud indie playlist, I could hear small cheers signaling a new iPhone 11 had been sold. They erupted in every direction. With Apple employees able to complete transactions from a mobile device, any free space in the store was grounds for iPhone 11 acquisitions.
Escaping the chaos, (or the FOMO — you decide) I perused the perimeter of the store. Joining the likes of people waiting against green-leaved walls for their turn, I couldn't help but feel that I didn't belong. I wouldn't be leaving with a replacement for my iPhone 8 Plus. The insecurity doubled when a kind employee offered me a high-quality shopping bag with a rainbow Apple logo.
My stroll exposed me to Apple's other products: iPads, AirPods, headphones, phone cases, charging accessories, you name it. The only thing that seemed as on the outskirts as me was the Apple Watch Series 5. But I guess Apple couldn't risk anything stealing the iPhone 11's thunder.
Exhausted by an hour's worth of fitting into a party I crashed, I plopped a seat in a sea of wooden cube-seats where a few press members had gathered. They seemed to be waiting for something, so I figured I'd hold out to see what the hubbub was about.
Sure enough, at 11 a.m., an enthusiastic man with a microphone emerged in front of a large screen positioned on the north side of the store. He introduced Broadway darling Kristin Chenoweth out for a round of 'Memoji Karaoke.'
It’s @KChenoweth! pic.twitter.com/RSLTamaELTSeptember 20, 2019
While most shoppers couldn't be bothered to pause their purchases, I was thrilled. I may not be the proud owner of an iPhone 11, but at least I watched one of my favorite actresses sing 'I Will Always Love You' live in sync with her Memoji.
I left not long after Kristin Chenoweth did. She made a special appearance at the party, yet only a fraction of those inside were interested in seeing her. It seems that even she couldn't detract from the true guest of honor: the iPhone 11.
The lesson of my visit is that the reopened Apple Store is an excellent destination for what it's designed for: shopping. It's not the tourist trap you might suspect. While the cube is a captivating sight, inside, there aren't Instagram photo opportunities or a sense of gimmicks. It's a place where you're celebrated for being a consumer.
In other words, it's just a store. But a very nice store that fits in well with its designer brand neighbors on Fifth Avenue.