Steve Jobs, the Apple Computer maverick who died 10 years ago, is best remembered for spearheading the creation of the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad. At first glance, you would not hold him up as an icon of New York. But you should – for better or worse.
Like, say, gargantuan city planner Robert Moses, Jobs, who died on Oct. 5, 2011, may well go down in history – depending on your point of view – as a hero or a villain when we measure those individuals who had an impact on our lives.
One outcome is clear: Jobs should be regarded as a visionary in the annals of the retail industry of New York. Think of those conspicuous Apple stores throughout the city – and, for good measure around the world.
Look around. It seems like you can’t throw a rock without hitting an Apple store. The establishment on Fifth Avenue and 58th Street stands out as a monument to our city’s cherished history as a melting pot of cultures.
It’s fun to observe the crush of languages that are spoken in the building that has become one of the city’s notable tourist attractions, along with St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Yankee Stadium, Ground Zero, Central Park, Madison Square Garden, the Met, Lincoln Center and other destinations.
We have a tendency to take for granted our city’s landmarks and tourism Meccas (Have YOU ever been to the Statue of Liberty or Ellis Island? Yeah, I thought so!). They fit so snugly into the fabric of the town that we feel we don’t have to appreciate them.
What makes an Apple store so significant is that it looks sparkling and modern, and it has such utility. It was a stroke of genius for Jobs’ Apple to create a place where people would want to visit, not merely repair their equipment.
I don’t suppose that this point of view will be universally accepted: Steve Jobs deserves a lot of credit for presiding over the development of the stories that have changed the landscape of our beloved city.
I can hear the boo-birds as loudly as Giancarlo Stanton heard them for most of the 2021 season (it turns out that they were wrong, too). People will bleat ENOUGH – enough of the corporatization of the five boroughs. Enough of turning our city streets into a vanilla mall, complete with Starbucks, Gap stores, Sunglass Huts and the like.
Apple’s stores complete the process, they’ll say, with, I acknowledge, some justification.
I take the different view, that Apple is good for the city for the sheer sake of convenience. When I need to buy a new phone or a computer or something related, I know exactly where to go. When I need to have something repaired, same deal. I go to an Apple store and check in with a “Genius,” as Apple likes to call its repair team.
Convenience is worth a lot. And I reckon that Jobs also saw the utility in having a centralized Apple store, where the company could make sales and repair customers’ Apple products. A few years ago, I managed to spill a grande mocha on to my Mac. I raced to the nearest Apple store and they immediately informed me that I had fried the computer to the point that it was no longer reliable. I was able to solve my problem in a matter of minutes.
I can’t say if Jobs ever imagined what these Apple retail stores would stand for from a cultural perspective. The design, in any event, was ingenious, as the installations sport a sleek look and create – either through luck or circumstances or planning – a Starbucks-like vibe, in which customers like to spend time hanging out there. (I sure do!) .
Ultimately, should we regard Jobs as a good influence on the city or just another greed-head or seized the day and fattened his pockets at the expense of the aesthetic of New York City?
I take the sunnier view. I’d like to think we are better off for having those Apple stores near us. Sorry to all the mom and pop operators out there, but I like having the convenience.