Apple's New Chicago Store

Blair Kamin and Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune:

The long-rumored Apple store at the gateway to the North Michigan Avenue shopping district won't be a 2.0 version of the famous glass cube that forms an iconic entry into the retailer's Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan. It will be more like a high-tech version of Frank Lloyd Wright's quintessentially Midwestern Prairie Style homes, with river views to boot.

Soon-to-be-unveiled plans for the store call for a glass-sheathed temple of computing near the historic Michigan Avenue bridge and grand flights of stairs that will cascade from street level to the walkway along the Chicago River's north bank. These details are outlined in a report from the city's Department of Planning and Development, a draft copy of which was obtained by the Tribune.

The proposal will replace a vacant food court at the 401 N. Michigan Ave. office building with a 20,000-square-foot store that overlooks the river and its flotillas of architectural tour boats. An Apple spokesman confirmed late Tuesday that the plan is for an Apple store and said the company wants to start construction next year.

The Tribune site has a paywall that you can circumvent by registering for free. If you don't want to go through the trouble, there are a few articles floating around that are completely neutered compared to the original source. I'd suggest registering.

Update: I'm being told by decent human being, Nick Matonich, that if you just Google the article title, "Exclusive look at new Apple store on the Chicago River," and navigate to the story from there, it also bypasses the paywall without requiring you to register.

I'm hesitant to comment on this story when ground hasn't even been broken for the new location, especially considering the North Michigan Avenue Apple Store's fraught history with rumored remodels. In the three years I was at that store, I heard at least three different start dates for a full remodel that never happened. One was so imminent that they prepped us with advice on proper attire, and they showed how we would all function through the various phases of construction. At the time, the intention was to have us continue working in the store during the renovation. The plans for this were cancelled a day or so before it all was set to begin. A later plan called for a temporary store to be set up, similar to what happened with the SoHo store in 2011. That never happened.

However, the Tribune seems pretty confident reporting that this has already been approved, and the renderings from Foster + Partners look so incredible, that I can't help myself.

The Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired design is astounding (again, register for free on the Tribune's site to see the renderings. That alone is worth it). I also don't think they could have picked a better location for this store. Apple has always had a perfect eye for exactly where they should establish a physcial presence. The current North Michigan Avenue store is no different, but it's been there since 2003, and that entire area of Michigan Avenue is a huge clusterfuck. Placing the new location in a much more open space–not wedged between another building and a busy intersection–is smart. It looks friendly and welcoming, exactly like their stores should.

The glass enclosure–rather than a giant cube of stone–will make the new space seem far less claustrophobic and dreary, which is something the current store falls prey to frequently due to Chicago's infamously tumultuous weather. Apple will own this entire plaza, symbolically speaking. This is not something you can say about the flagship as it stands now. The building exists. It's there. It's undeniably Apple. But they're just another resident in a very crowded strip of stores. They don't own Michigan Avenue. Placing a striking structure at the mouth of that shopping district will allow them to stake a claim to that area. Good move.

My only concern? North Michigan Avenue is, to the best of my knowledge, the only Apple Store in the world that has an Apple logo that is also a window. If I'm wrong about that, I'd love to see some other examples. Bummer to lose that (admittedly insignifcant) badge of honor. Small price to pay, in my opinion.

For the sake of the North Michigan Avenue staff, I hope they get their long overdue store update. Looks like it'll turn out better than anyone could have possibly imagined.