The 5th Avenue Apple store in New York is one of the company’s most famous locations and has become a tourist attraction.
Turns out, Apple got a deal on the location, because its past owners, including President Donald Trump, couldn’t figure out a use for the property before Apple decided to lease it, according to former Apple retail boss Ron Johnson in an interview with Recode.
The store, lovingly nicknamed the “glass cube,” is almost entirely underground. To enter, customers descend a glass staircase in a glass cube in the middle of a plaza.
“The glass cube was a really big deal. We wanted to put a store on 5th Ave. It’s the greatest shopping street in the world, and we looked for years and years,” Johnson explained. “Finally, our real estate guy came back and says ‘I’ve got a brilliant idea. We’re going to take a spot that Donald Trump couldn’t lease for 7 years, it’s been unoccupied, and we get a hole in the ground.'”
The landlord wasn’t able to find anyone who wanted to rent the space because of the restrictions on above-ground space.
That’s when Apple came up with the idea to put the store underground, with only a 900 square foot footprint above ground.
- Google Maps
That hole in the ground eventually became the flagship Apple store in New York. And Apple got a deal on it – Johnson says Apple’s rent was 1/8 of what it was two blocks away. (Two blocks away is Trump Tower, where retailers like Gucci and Tiffany have their flagship stores.)
The plaza was built as part of the General Motors building, which was owned at one point by President Donald Trump, and even had T-R-U-M-P signage, according to the New York Times. ” I love building great buildings. I own the General Motors building,” Trump said in 1999.
“Donald owned the General Motors building, for a number of years, then he sold it to a guy named Harry Macklowe, who was our landlord,” Johnson said. “We rented from Harry. This spot had been unrentable for 7 years, nobody wanted it, Donald’s a smart guy, but that’s where I give Steve [Jobs] so much credit, he could’ve said, ‘Apple’s at the top of the world, we should have a big building like Louis Vuitton,’ but he understood that doing something beautiful and simple, giving back to the community, could have more power.”
However, Apple still had to deal with the city to get permission to build its flagship at the location. The “cube” is located in the middle of a New York plaza, which means it’s public space.
“We convinced the city to let us put in this physical presence, we said look, we’re going to take 5% [of the plaza space] for our door, and we’re going to redo the plaza for the City of New York, we’re going to put in Wi-Fi. And the city said OK, and that became the Apple Store,” Johnson said.
Now the 5th Avenue Apple store faces issues dealing with traffic in the neighborhood. Police have set up barriers around Trump Tower, which has reduced the pedestrian traffic Apple has benefitted from in the past.
Currently, the 5th Avenue Apple store is closed. Apple has temporarily moved into a space nearby, and plans to double the space available at the underground store. The expansion of the location is expected to finish late next year, according to Bloomberg.
Still, people continue to flock to the glass cube and photograph it, even while it’s closed. “A few years later, the Apple Store is the 5th most photographed thing in New York,” Johnson said.