As both transit ridership and great historical buildings grow in the public eye, at Grand Central Terminal, the times they are a-changing’. Once a threatened building that nearly underwent the same fate as our dearly departed Beaux-Arts original at Penn Station, Grand Central was saved from the wrecking ball after a prolonged fight by Jackie Kennedy Onassis. By the early 1990s though, the station was in sorry shape as commuters just tried to get out of it. After 20 years, it has been restored to grandeur.
These days, Grand Central isn’t just for commuters. It’s a destination for tourists, foodies and folks looking to catch a glimpse of harried life in New York. It’s featured in everything from animated movies to annoying TV commercials, and it is the place to be. With the East Side Access project with a half a decade from completion, the area will only grow more crowded and more traveled as time goes by.
Nothing quite shows just how hot Grand Central is than the rumors we heard earlier this year of an Grand Central-bound Apple Store. The rumors started in February, dissipated in March and came roaring back in May. Today, they are here to stay as the MTA may vote on an Apple Store for the Metrazur space as soon as next week.
With the Apple Store on tap, The Times reflected on the changes at Grand Central. The story is one we’ve heard all throughout the city. As the building has become a more popular destination for shopping and eating, old tenants have been pushed out in favor of bigger names with more money. Magnolia Bakery, with its world renowned cupcakes, replaced the Little Pie Company, for instances, and more changes are afoot as the MTA continues to upscale Grand Central. Christine Haughney reports:
More than a decade after the restoration of its public areas, including its shops and restaurants, Grand Central has realized its goal of becoming a retail destination, appealing to a wider audience than the train and subway riders rushing between platform and street.
This month, Grand Central’s landlord, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, notified 300 applicants that most of them had been rejected for the 74 available slots at its December holiday fair. By late fall, the terminal expects to have a dozen new shops and restaurants, including Beer Table, which has a restaurant in Brooklyn; bread and vegetable stands run by Eli’s; and an outpost of the popular downtown store Kidding Around Toys.
When Apple proposed opening a store on the balcony overlooking the main hall, it submitted its bid in linen-lined boxes, as if it were a wedding present to transit officials, a source familiar with the application process said. The board is expected to approve the deal as early as next week, at its monthly board meeting.
But changes popular with shoppers and the transportation authority, which handles the real estate for the station’s operator, Metro-North Railroad, have angered some of the shop owners who helped drive the transformation. While shop owners appreciate the traffic and improved surroundings of the new Grand Central, they say the authority can be a very demanding landlord that displays little loyalty once leases expire.
The stories are the same citywide. Some business owners willing to gamble are getting priced out after years of loyalty, and they aren’t happy. “Twelve years ago, I didn’t want to come there; there was nothing there,” Sushil Malhotra, a restauranteur who owns Cafe Spice, said. “But now, because I’m successful there, anybody can outbid me.”
Ultimately, though, the successes of the Apple Store are a true testament to the power of preservation. The MTA turned a rundown relic into a shining example of a modern train station. In the fall, I’ll be working two blocks away from the terminal, and I couldn’t be happier about it. It’s a modern attraction that’s getting better. It’s too bad we can’t say the same about the rest of the transit system quite yet.