Home View from Underground As Apple deal nears, Grand Central evolves

As Apple deal nears, Grand Central evolves

by Benjamin Kabak

The grand opening for the Fifth Ave. Apple Store drew long lines in 2006. (Photo by flickr user workinpana)

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.

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15 comments

John-2 July 21, 2011 - 9:21 am

If Apple does get the go-ahead from the MTA, hopefully whatever design they come up with won’t attempt to dominate the east view of the station’s main room, and will mesh into Grand Central’s overall look. If not, it will just be a return to the Giant Kodak Sign look the New York Central allowed when it was hard-pressed for cash in the 1960s (and yea, the MTA is also cash-strapped, but if Apple puts a store in the building, it’s not as if people aren’t going to know it’s there if they’re a little more subtle about their presence than the Fifth Avenue store).

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Jerrold July 21, 2011 - 12:54 pm

To each his own! Personally, I miss the Kodak picture and the giant clock.

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Jerrold July 21, 2011 - 1:03 pm

Also, in my opinion another big mistake was the construction of the other “Grand Staircase”, as if to pretend that it had been there the whole time. What I DID like was the cleaning of those big windows. Since the original painting-over of the windows was done as part of the World War 2 blackouts, the restoration of the windows should have been done many years earier. But, better late than never.

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John-2 July 21, 2011 - 1:07 pm

As a kid in the non-renovated Grand Central, I remember the giant sign and clock tended to dominate your view, in part because the NYC had allowed so much of the original infrastructure to deteriorate. So it was kind of taking your eyes away from the station’s increasing shortcomings.

That’s not the case now, where a huge billboard hiding the east skylights and attempting to dominate the view would be a mistake. The same would apply for any design for an Apple Store that thought it should be the star of the building, instead of the building itself being the star and any stores inside merely supporting players.

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John Paul N. July 21, 2011 - 7:25 pm

I believe Apple is one of the companies that is the most self-conscious about its image. It will be surprising to me if any conflicts occur between Apple and GCT regarding the look of the store in the station.

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pete July 21, 2011 - 9:54 am

The MTA isn’t “the landlord” for GCT, they hire Jones Lang Lasalle as the “property management” company. Explains why GCT is doing so well, yet other MTA retail is a joke.

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Wayne's World July 21, 2011 - 11:05 am

You write: “It’s a modern attraction that’s getting better.” With all due respect, I don’t think it’s better that yet another Apple store is replacing Metrazur, a fine restaurant at which I’ve enjoyed many good meals and really been able to enjoy, and luxuriate in, the beauties of Grand Central while doing so. I don’t think it’s better that yet another Magnolia Bakery selling yet even more cupcakes of the kind you can find all over the city now has replaced the unique Little Pie Company. A distinct and unique retail environment is being turned into another cookie-cutter mall. They had it right and now they are blowing it.

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John July 21, 2011 - 11:29 am

I agree with this sentiment. Oftentimes before catching a train, I want something to hold me over during my ride. I make a constant loop of the food vendors in the lower level concourse where the 100 numbered tracks are. Every single item is way overpriced for what you get, and I always just end up getting a small coffee instead of something to eat. I truly do feel as though I’m in the cafeteria area of a mall.

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pete July 21, 2011 - 12:46 pm

Wheres the chinese place? wheres the tex-mex place? wheres the fried chicken place? wheres the mcdonalds?

It might be physically laid out as a cafeteria of a mall, but the vendors are 100% wall street employee targeting, with wall street prices.

The way it is right now is fine. I very rarely buy anything because of the price, but if I do buy something, the price justifies the upscale menus. Would you rather prefer the current haute cuisine stuff, or Kennedy Fried Chicken?

The Kennedy Fried Chicken might come with sallyports and bullet proof glass, but in GCT that is unrealistic. Nobody would dare try a robbery in GCT or they would go down in a hail of M16 gunfire.

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John July 21, 2011 - 1:14 pm

Yeah, there really is nothing middle of the road between what is there, and bullet proof glass-style Kennedys. I forgot.

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Eric July 21, 2011 - 2:24 pm

There are both Chinese and Tex-Mex take-outs on the lower level.

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Alon Levy July 21, 2011 - 3:23 pm

Did you just call the Grand Central cafeteria haute cuisine?

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Bolwerk July 21, 2011 - 3:30 pm

The prices are…. :-\

A big Apple splash at Grand Central Terminal :: Second Ave. Sagas July 25, 2011 - 12:47 am

[…] as Grand Central matures into a retail and food hub, it is as its most basic level a place that services people going somewhere else. It’s home […]

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