Columbus Circle: Stores I’ve Never Understood and Don’t Want To


Apple stores across New York City are famous for their warm, inviting decor—as evidenced by their gray cinderblock walls, metallic ceiling fixtures and extra-bright lighting. (Sara Azoulay/The Observer)


People always tell me that the Columbus Circle area is great for shopping, but is that really true?  In a word, no. No, it is not. That is, unless your idea of “great for shopping” involves funhouse maze-style showrooms and a lot of being underground.

Apple stores across New York City are famous for their warm, inviting decor—as evidenced by their gray cinderblock walls, metallic ceiling fixtures and extra-bright lighting. (Sara Azoulay/The Observer)

I will grant that Fordham’s neighborhood is full of cool looking, one-of-a-kind boutiques.  But being a poor college student, I’m not really a member of the “boutique set.” My backpack and weathered Toms don’t tend to make a great impression on shopkeepers. So instead, I turn to the warm embrace of our area’s giant chain stores. And I can say from personal experience that the outlook from those is pretty bleak.

The worst is the Apple store—the one I’m talking about is the store on 58th Street and 5th Avenue. If you’re thinking of “the Apple store right near Central Park,” or “that place where I had one of the worst shopping experiences of my lifetime,” you’re exactly right.

The ground floor level of the store is entirely glass-encased to emphasize the fact that Apple is too technologically advanced for real walls. Inside is a spiral staircase, which leads down to the futuristic dungeon that is the showroom floor.

If you have ever wondered what it would be like to live in a dystopian society run by robots, the sight at the bottom of the stairs will answer a lot of your questions. The big, square room is full of dead-eyed tourists, staring mesmerized at Mac computers chained to bare wooden tables.  Overseeing the masses is a group of “Geniuses” in “Genius” T-shirts who like to demonstrate their “Genius” by holding iPads. The whole effect is very “1984.” I should add that the floor and the walls are all white. Let’s just say that it’s best not to think about imminent world takeover by computers while you’re down there.

Still, there are days when the white walls of the Apple store aren’t quite creepy enough  On those rare occasions, I stop by the American Apparel a block away from campus.

The actual retail options at American Apparel are a mixed bag. Some of the clothes are fun. Others are turbans. Most are either full-coverage or opaque, but none are both. Last time I went there I got a free keychain that the cashier told me was worth $10, and that was indistinguishable from a doubled-over backpack strap. It was a puzzling transaction, but no one ever said that fashion has to make sense.

Due to the New York City ordinance that mandates that all stores must have at least one set of unnecessary stairs, American Apparel features a tiny loft at the back of the store. From up there, you can look down across all the solid-colored clothing below and hope that someday, somewhere, you’ll find an affordable retailer in the area that sells shirts with actual patterns on them. Until then, just buy another chiffon button down and call it a day.

No shopping odyssey should end at AmApp, though. If you like mazes and love obscure kitchen utensils, you do not want to skip the Bed, Bath & Beyond across from Lincoln Center.

At Bed, Bath & Beyond, there are no delineated rooms or sections, just a unending stream of popsicle makers and soda machines. The only exception is one loft that is devoted entirely to bedding. For those keeping count, that means one unnecessary staircase in addition to all the escalators, of which there are at least six.

Your only real hope for finding a particular product within the chaos is to wait for someone to drop it on you from a floor above while you wander from stack of blenders to stack of blenders, pondering the futility of life. If you think you’re above having a mental breakdown in a Bed, Bath & Beyond, try shopping there one day when you’re in a rush.

As you can see, the shopping experience around Lincoln Center can range from traumatic to very traumatic. I wish I could say that I’ve grown to understand some of our stores and their quirks, but I haven’t. Maybe someday one of us will unlock the key to a successful visit to the Genius Bar. I just hope it happens before we have to accept Siri as our overlord.