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Why the renovated Apple Fifth Avenue store isn’t just another store

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To most everybody, iconic Apple’s Fifth Avenue store is just a store — a physical retail space to sell shiny new iPhones, iPads, MacBooks and more.

Its grand reopening on Sept. 20 — timed with the launch of the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro — at 8 a.m. ET is nothing to get excited about.

It’s a store, not a revolutionary new Apple product that changes the world. It exists to take your dollars in exchange for products.

But Apple Fifth Avenue is more than just a store to me. 

The many types of people who hung around with no intention to buy anything, but to listen to music on iPods, or to edit a video with iMovie on an iMac, or make music in GarageBand on a MacBook made the massive aluminum-covered lair a haven for creativity.

I dropped by during long breaks in-between college classes just to mess with Apple’s suite of built-in software for the Mac. I made friends with nerds and geeks who shared my passion for tech. Being surrounded by amateur creatives gave me confidence I could pursue a professional career working with video, and text, and music.

Located literally in the heart of New York City — midtown Manhattan, right at the southern tip of Central Park — Apple Fifth Avenue was the embodiment of the #hustle life and the energy of the city.

The one thing that made the Fifth Avenue store truly special was that it was the only one that was open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.

In 2008, I walked down the glass cube’s spiraling glass staircase in at 3 a.m., pulled out my 13-inch plastic MacBook and asked an Apple employee if they could help me recover a 10-page paper that I feared was lost due to a corrupted hard drive (remember, solid-state drives didn’t exist on MacBooks yet).

I can’t recall all of the details — I just remember my body shaking from being cooped up at home writing— but somebody saw how desperate I was and came to my rescue.

Some two hours of resetting this and that, me frantically tapping my foot against a Genius Bar chair, running diagnostic tests, cloning my drive later, and I got my anthropology paper back with a few hours to rush over to my school’s computer lab to polish it up and turn it in.

Apple Fifth Avenue’s one-of-a-kind retail and customer service experience hooked me and made me see the company as more than just a soul-less corporation trying to sell me stuff. 

Don’t get me wrong, as a reporter who reviews consumer tech, I call it like it is, and still buy many non-Apple products. But no other tech company comes close to providing the kind of customer satisfaction Apple does. No other tech company is as invested in teaching users how to do more with their devices.

I hear it all the time that Apple’s “Today at Apple” sessions, where employees and guests, teach people how to do something like make edit a video, or make music, or whatever, are a distraction from the purpose of a store, which is to show people products and get them checked out.

I disagree.

I’d much rather a store that’s inviting, where people gather because of a shared interest in using devices to push boundaries than one that feels cold, sterile, but perhaps more efficient.

The renovations to Apple Fifth Avenue, which include more open spaces and tables for products, Genius Bar that’s double the size it was before, more natural lighting from the ceiling, and a private HomePod listening room (to name a few), are all in service to the atmosphere created by the people who visit.

Just as it was once a place for me to hang out, get inspired, and receive much-needed technical support, I hope the new space will be the same for a new generation of creatives.

The new Apple Fifth Avenue

The ceilings have holes that let in a ton of natural lighting.

The ceilings have holes that let in a ton of natural lighting.

Image: raymond wong / mAshable

The ceiling now features holes (Apple seems obsessed with holes these days) to let in a ton of natural light.

Like many of Apple’s other redesigned flagship stores, Apple Fifth Avenue has greenery on the walls and trees with leather-covered seating.

The leather seats smelled fresh. The greenery...kinda fake looking.

The leather seats smelled fresh. The greenery…kinda fake looking.

Image: raymond wong / mashable

On one end of the store is a massive display for specialists and guests to give their “Today at Apple” tutorial sessions. 

Apple's head of retail Deidre O'Brien welcoming media to the new Apple Fifth Avenue store.

Apple’s head of retail Deidre O’Brien welcoming media to the new Apple Fifth Avenue store.

Image: raymond wong / mashable

On the opposite end is a listening room for customers to experience HomePod.

The HomePod room experience.

The HomePod room experience.

Image: RAYMOND WONG / MASHABLE

Tables of iPhones, iPads, MacBooks, and Apple Watches (including the new Apple Watch Studio, which lets you choose a custom watch case and band) are lined up perfectly parallel in between.

You probably don't need to wait anymore to try out a new iPhone or MacBook.

You probably don’t need to wait anymore to try out a new iPhone or MacBook.

Image: raymond Wong / mashable

All of the new iPhone 11s are here.

All of the new iPhone 11s are here.

Image: RAYMOND WONG / MASHABLE

The new Apple Watch Studio.

The new Apple Watch Studio.

Image: Raymond Wong / Mashable

Is this Batman's cave?

Is this Batman’s cave?

Image: RAYMOND WONG / MASHABLE

#ShotOniPhone11Pro

#ShotOniPhone11Pro

Image: RAYMOND WONG / MASHABLE

Along the walls are the usual accessories, including cases, chargers, and headphones.

Try out a case before you buy.

Try out a case before you buy.

Image: raymond wong / mashable

One fun Easter egg is the new “AirPods bay” — a small display of wireless earbuds set to the jingle from Apple’s old “Think Different” advertising campaign.

The AirPods bay has a fun easter egg.

The AirPods bay has a fun easter egg.

Image: Raymond Wong / Mashable

The steps on the spiraling staircase are no longer made of glass, which occasionally cracked from time to time. Now it’s made of metal. Definitely an improvement.

The spiraling staircase is the centerpiece of the whole store.

The spiraling staircase is the centerpiece of the whole store.

Image: raymond wong / mashable

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