As a new experiment in underground retail space opened on Tuesday, a question I never really thought I would ask crossed my mind: Will New Yorkers stop in the subway to buy artisanal mini doughnuts? It’s very much a question of the moment, but with Goldman Sachs fronting over $11 million for Columbus Circle’s TurnStyle, the first privatized retail concourse in the subway system, there is a lot riding on the answer.
TurnStyle has been in the works for years. It’s the brainchild of Susan Fine, a principal at OasesRE who has overseen the rebirth of retail spaces in both Grand Central and Rockefeller Circle, and it was originally supposed to open last year. But time is a fleeting concept when it comes to MTA projects, and TurnStyle, a 30,000 square foot market outside of fare control and underneath 8th Ave. from 57th St. to around 59th St., opened yesterday.
Before the renovation to the Columbus Circle, this passageway was a bit forlorn with a few uninspiring shops and empty spaces. The MTA booted everyone out seven years ago, and now, after a $14.5 million private investment that included a $8.7 million construction loan and a $3.6 million equity investment from Goldman Sachs, the space reopened with a veritable New York 2016 feel. Whether you find that to be a positive or a negative is an inherently personal conclusion.
So what is this thing called TurnStyle anyway? It has a cute name and 39 retail spaces, including 20 that the company is calling “gourmet eateries.” It features takeout windows, like the doughtnut shop, and sit-down joints, ranging from sushi to pizza to crepes to grilled cheese. Eater has a full rundown of the food spaces. There are retail and pop-up spots that included a clothing boutique and a hat store, and of course, there’s a Starbucks, a florist and a wine shop for when you need to grab that bouquet and a bottle on the way to the D train.
“We bring choice, convenience and modern, clean design to the 90,000 daily commuters who use this Midtown hub,” Fine said. “TurnStyle is leading the movement to make urban public space more dynamic and engaging. Our vision was to reimagine the subway experience by bringing Main Street underground, and make TurnStyle a destination in its own right and become a new part of the fabric of this neighborhood.”
The question is: Will it work? It helps that Columbus Circle is the seventh busiest subway stop in the city with 23.3 million entries last year. Located at a popular spot for workers, residents and tourists, the built-in audience is tremendous. Plus, the spot looks good. With better lighting and fixtures, it’s brighter and cleaner with colorful tiles and digital signs. Even those subway riders who didn’t know about it stopped to note the environment last night. It could be a model for other underused open spaces in the subway — so long as these spaces can attract the right passenger volume.
It’s possible then that TurnStyle works only because of where it is. It’s likely a model that could be implemented to great success in the concourse underneath 8th Ave. at 42nd St. and perhaps in a few other closed off areas of the subway (such as the passageway under 6th Ave. in the upper 30s or between 7th and 8th Avenues underneath 14th Street). It’s unlikely to work in, say, a G train station with wide and empty mezzanines because the foot traffic isn’t there.
But for now, it’s a novelty and a well executed one at that. The MTA profits off of the rent, and Fine and her partners draw in revenue as well. It may not be an all-encompassing solution to the dreariness of everyday subway riding, but it’s a brighter spot in one corner of the New York City subway system.
Great, just what we need- more garbage and rats entering the subway.
Not true. If the people who purchase the food dispose of it properly (garbage cans), the rats count should stay the same. Yes there will be more garbage, but hopefully not on the tracks.
They may sell some cheese to go with that whine.
It’s actually fantastic , oh cynical one
This idea will only work in highly trafficked stations. Hopefully the MTA will expand this idea to more areas the see high enough ridership and have unused areas in the stations. There are benefits in doing this and it not only helps to reduce their debt (small dent in a $35 billion, but it is better than nothing), but it can also help to increase ridership at the station (if the food/stores are good), but the trains are crowded enough already so I don’t know if that is a benefit.
How wide is the closed passage between Penn Station and Herald Square? Could it be used for something like this?
Very narrow compared to it’s IND passageway counterpart between the Herald Square and 42nd Street stations. At best you could squeeze some narrow kiosks into the space without completely blocking the two-way traffic flow in the corridor.
This sounds like a great concept that should work at Columbus Circle.
The long-closed passageway on 6th Avenue between 35th and 40th Streets sounds like another prime candidate for this, especially if that opens up that area that has been closed since the early 1980’s with limited exceptions, though that likely would mean if that were reopened having entrances/exits every block with at least some spots open 24/7.
The long-closed Gimbels passageway between 6th and 7th Avenues on 32nd could be another candidate to get this treatment.
The mezzanine above the Broadway Line platforms at 14th Street extending to 16th Street could also work well. Well located but out of the fray a bit from the main mixing area by the stairs to the L.
Or the mezzanine at West 4th Street
The MTA has already expressed hopes that this could be replicated at West 4th (though that mezzanine is within fare control), and they’re considering the Bryant Park mezzanine as well.
That’s awesome to hear that they’re considering this a model rather than simply a one off that won’t be replicated anywhere else in the system. Bryant Park mezzanine would be a perfect fit. I’ve always wished the MTA would do something with the massive West Fourth Street mezzanine but I wonder about the foot traffic within fare control there. Might be tough.
I got to explore TurnStyle today and was really impressed. Even with the low ceilings and the rumble of trains below, they’ve totally made the space look good. No small doing. And the selection is diverse enough that there’s something interesting for everyone. The small store sizes helps a lot in creating a lively environment. I’m impressed that there are bathrooms too! If I squinted a little, I could have sworn I was in a MTR station.
If this turns out to be successful, then I see no reason not to attempt it in other high volume stations & connecting passages. That said by others above it won’t work everywhere, so a careful assessment is required to choose the best locations for such ventures. But it shouldn’t take the speed of an iceberg to get it done, you here me MTA?
Is there any climate control, or will it be typical subway meszzanine temps?
The individual stores are climate controlled. I don’t believe the hallway is as it is open-ended at fare control.
I wonder if the hot air exhaust from the stores’ AC units will vent into the hallway however. If so, I imagine it will become intolerably hot during the summer well into the fall. I hope they thought that through.
Hallway is climate control aswell.
There are vestibule doors installed at the southern entrances, and all of the stores have open vents installed next to their signage. My educated guess is that the ventilation plan is to have the AC pumped into the stores, and it will vent outward into the hallway. Since the southern entrances from the street have doors which will be closed in peak season, the colder air should mostly remain in the concourse and flow northward toward the station where it will escape either up the stairs, or down to the subway platforms.
You know what I want? A bike repair shop, specializing in flats, in the 6th Avenue/42nd Street station, with a ramp down to it.
There are no bike repair shops in the heart of Midtown. And once again yesterday, I came out from work and found I had a flat, and had to haul my bike down into that very station to take it on the subway to be fixed.
What – no diatribe on how this is generation greeds fault?
In all seriousness, there needs to be bike repair stations or shops all over the city to support the growing number of bike riders – they are part of the total transportation system.
I’d settle for secure parking facilities (in the Bay Area the company that runs these is called BikeLink).
A place selling food at a subway transfer point is a really good idea; this kind of thing greatly enhances the riding experience. I used to love the hot dog stand that was at the 145th Street station on the A and D.
Back in the 1980s, I sometimes worked nights in the Bronx; and I have always lived in Queens. So I really looked forward to the trip home and that transfer at 145th Street, where I could enjoy a couple of nice hot dogs at 1:30 a.m. while I waited for the A train. (As someone who at his last hot dog five years ago, I remember those sensations wistfully.)
But that raises the point that such a food place is especially valuable to riders during late nights and overnights. And I somehow doubt that this Doughnuttery will be open 24 hours.
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I strolled through TurnStyle this morning. I think it is on the road to success. I predict that it will be especially successful at lunchtime with people who work in the neighborhood (I’ll bet more revenues will be derived from that than from commuters on their way to/from work). The food stands all look tempting, though there is not a lot of originality. There are many places to get coffee, that’s for sure…probably more than necessary. There appears to be a new generation newsstand named “New.Stand,” which doesn’t have a newspaper or magazine in sight. I expect the business that fixes smashed smartphone glass while you wait will be especially popular.
Why not let these businesses advertise all over the station for a reduced price, in exchange for them keeping the station clean? It’s a win-win.
Why not allow businesses advertise in every station in exchange for them keeping stations clean? Anything to clean them up is fine by me…
Exactly! In this case, though, the incentive to actually clean the station will be heightened because the businesses in question are located right there.
This reminds me of Hong Kong’s MTR stations, where the MTR has extensively integrated retail shops and malls into their stations.
Bundling retail with transit makes a lot of sense and has been quite successful in other cities like Hong Kong and Berlin. It should work here, though Turnstyle is at a bit of a disadvantage due to its design: it looks just like the subway (low ceilings, no daylight, enter through subway stairs). It might have been better to *connect* it to a directly subway station without literally making it feel like one.
Any updates on what’s going on with all the vacant retail space in Union Square? There was a bodega in the southeast corner that has been gone for a couple years now. We had the Uniqlo “pop up” that sold jackets, and now the hipster “New Stand” by the stairs to the L. Everything else has been vacant for years. I assume the MTA kicked everybody out in a plan to something with it, right? Or they just enjoy not earning rent on their property and not providing retail there anymore for some reason?
Finally, some good news for the Mta!
Don’t know why the MTA hasn’t been doing this for a long time now. With their massive debt, there is no reason to leave all these spaces vacant. I know there is much less foot traffic, but this would also work very well at many of the IND station mezzanines along the G and the A/C in Brooklyn as well as the Queens Blvd line.