As a rising senior studying English at Rutgers University, I experienced shopping centers as a casual consumer, until very recently. However, for the last two months I’ve served as an ICSC summer fellow working in the publications department. With this experience under my belt, I was able to partake in a recent shopping center tour with a greater understanding of the retail real estate industry. On July 19th, the ICSC summer fellows were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of The Shops at Columbus Circle, a premier property of the Related Companies on the upper west side of Manhattan. As I toured the property, I realized that shopping is definitely an art. Shopping centers have evolved to public spaces where you can play games, watch movies, go grocery shopping, eat at expensive restaurants, and rent a luxurious apartment all at the same time. The new approaches that shopping centers have developed grab the shopper’s attention and lead you to purchase those Michael Kors sandals or that Cole Haan briefcase.
The tour was graciously led by Karl Daniel, director of guest services for the property. In giving us background about The Shops, he explained that prior to construction, many experts believed that a “vertical shopping center” in Manhattan was a terrible idea. They proved them wrong! Yet now, several years later, this wildly successful shopping center that opened in 2004 is a model for other projects in Asia and elsewhere. He pointed out that the Shops at Columbus Circle was a carefully crafted “mixed-use” property, with space for offices, residential homes, a hotel, traditional shops, as well as consumer services. While I listened to him speak about the history of the property, I soon recognized that this shopping center was really a destination. Indeed, the common areas of property have hosted television programs, music and dance performances, and celebrity receptions, among many other kinds of events.
I was fascinated by the number of people shopping in the high-end stores. I viewed many people with shopping bags and smiles brightly lit on their faces. As all the summer fellows at ICSC gathered in the atrium of the Shops at Columbus Circle, we were all intrigued by the two enormous statues of Adam and Eve from the Bible. The statues were placed there of course to draw the attention of shoppers as they walk in, and once you view them and take numerous photos next to or front of them, you apparently found yourself fascinated by the structure of the center and quality shops. A fellow intern in the Student Development department and ICSC Foundation, Christina Grafstein stated, “I was, to say the least, blown away by the creativity and genius put into that structure of property. It was mind boggling!”
Mr. Daniel led us through each floor, and I was in awe when I saw the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. The hotel is a place of luxury that is a residence for many celebrities, former residents include P. Diddy, Beyoncé and Jay-Z. Anne Hathaway was staying a few floors up. Amazing! We viewed the restaurant inside the Mandarin Hotel and as we walked in, the mouths of many of the ICSC interns, including myself, dropped open as we gazed at the New York City skyline and collection of wine. We also spotted Howie Mandel, host of television shows “Deal or No Deal” and judge of “America’s Got Talent” sitting in the hotel’s bar area overlooking the amazing Manhattan view. Everyone we had encountered seemed friendly and eager to get the shoppers’ attention. We also took a look at the restaurants within Columbus Circle such as Porter House New York, which serves great steaks, Stone Rose Lounge, per se, Masa, BARMASA, a voce, and Bouchon Bakery, where Mr. Daniel happily recounted the impressive list of world class culinary talents that called The Shops at Columbus circle their home.
While on the tour, I learned hotel tidbits from Mr. Daniel such as Beyoncé’s Rolls-Royce that is still in the parking garage! Apparently she forgot to pick it up. After that we found out that Sephora is opening up a store and they often throw parties at Columbus Circle, fellow interns and I wanted to make the trip back to attend but the rainy inclement weather dictated otherwise.
Overall, the tour was interesting and I, along with other interns, appreciated the opportunity to get the inside scoop on this exquisite shopping center. I came to appreciate that The Shops has really been an engine of economic development for this upper west side neighborhood, offering a star-studded galaxy of shopping, dining, and entertainment options for those living and staying in their towers, as well as all New Yorkers and visitors from near and far. I had never been to the Shops at Columbus Circle before! The experience has led me to want to come back and hopefully shop there one day, it was definitely a privilege.
Written by Ashante Patterson