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Manhattan’s Newest Mall Is Worth the Trip Downtown

But not necessarily for the stores.

Westfield World Trade Center Shops Photo: Westfield

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New York’s latest mall is the Westfield World Trade Center Shops, an architecturally stunning structure in downtown Manhattan.

The bone-like structure of The Oculus — the main passageway through the World Trade Center Transportation Hub — is becoming one of the most Instagrammed buildings in the city (people are taking to lying on the floor to get the best shot). The addition of more than 100 stores for the thousands of daily commuters who pass through is an added bonus.

Below, two Racked editors discuss if it lives up to the hype.

Laura: So one thing that’s really interesting to note about Westfield, the developer, is that they’re behind so much of the country’s airport shopping.

Cory: LAX is a really great example of what they do — there’s a Fred Segal and other stores that feel very LA, but then also feel very Westfield. It's all very shiny, and perfect for when you're traveling.

Laura: It definitely feels like they're going after the commuters with this new mall — it’s literally connected to Fulton Center. People are passing through on their way to work. But are any of the stores here a destination for you? Would you go out of your way to go shopping here?

Cory: Well, what I would do is take people from out of town here to see the actual building.

Laura: Agree. There's nothing that I would go out of my way for. But I’d stop in if I happened to be passing through, though I don't really pass through the bottom of Manhattan that much.

Cory: Actually wait, I lied. I would go out of my way to go to Eataly.

Laura: Well, technically that’s not part of the mall, but it's all connected and they're all in the same kind of space. They don't have any signs up right now though, which makes it incredibly difficult to find anything. We had to ask several people how to get to Forever 21.

Cory: We found it.

Laura: Don't worry, we found it.

Cory: Everyone seemed confused.

Laura: True.

Cory: It was beautiful though. Standing there underneath the Oculus, looking out, you can catch glimpses of all the buildings and the sky through the bone-like structure. It's subterranean, but there's still all of this gorgeous natural light. It's a pleasure to be there. That's a totally different way to shop, that's a totally different kind of mall.

Laura: It's not something that New York is really used to seeing. Growing up in the suburbs where I would be driving to the malls, I was always so excited to go shopping in New York, where stores are just freestanding and hanging out. This all came at the same time as the rise of online shopping.

You were saying before that shopping is more of an activity than an errand. You go online to buy something specific, but you often go into a store to browse. I don't know, it's just crazy to me that we have a mall in the most recognizable spot in Manhattan now.

Cory: And the other malls that are in New York are a completely different experience. There's the Manhattan Mall, which is terrible.

Laura: That place. If only you could see the terrible face I just made.

Cory: She made a really terrible face. It's like J.C. Penney and a dollar store. I guess The Shops at Columbus Circle are a kind of mall.

Laura: They're starting to get better.

Cory: The only other one I can think of are the shops at Atlantic Terminal in Brooklyn, which is another transportation hub, and that mall is also terrible.

Laura: But contrast that with the luxury malls that have popped up in lower Manhattan — there are about 30 high-end stores at Brookfield Place right now, and there's going to be 125 at the Westfield World Trade Center Shops.

Something else I was thinking about, especially just comparing these two, is that there isn't any anchor at Westfield that I can think of. Everyone talks about the anchor tenant at Brookfield being the forthcoming Saks. It’s a huge deal for Saks to open a second location in the city. Do you think it makes a difference for there not to be that one thing you need to go to at Westfield?

Cory: Yeah. Westfield feels much more of a place you pass through. Like, I'm going to walk through it on my way out of the subway every morning once our office moves down here. I'm going to walk through it on my way to the 9/11 Memorial when I have friends and family visiting town.

Laura: Yeah, I mean, there's nothing here that makes me feel like, "Man, I'm really excited for this store to open." Honestly, I love that it's all about the convenience factor, but it's a little disappointing that there isn't anything incredibly new. There are a couple of European retailers that have a first location there, but there's nothing like, "Oh my god, this is here, this is great."

Cory: I found myself looking at the list of stores before it opened and tried to think of where I’d want to pop in while we were here. The list, taken as a whole, is a little underwhelming — it’s just brands like Kiehl's and M.A.C. Places that maybe you would stop in and get a sample, but I don't want to go out of my way for a Kiehl's.

Laura: Caudalie has a little treatment room in their store. There’s a big discrepancy between the high and low of what you can actually buy here. It's really all over the place. Like, Breitling on the main floor.

Cory: Yeah, there were a lot of watch brands, a lot of luggage brands, too, like Smythson was there.

Laura: Tumi.

Cory: Again, like the airport brands. They're such Westfield brands. They're in every airport. There's always a Tumi, there's always a Kiehl's, there's always a M.A.C.

Laura: Always a MAC.

Cory: Which, I appreciate, actually. The Forever 21 was actually nice and big though. And the COS —

Laura: Once we found it.

Cory: The COS looked sizable, but it looked too crazy to go in. The other stores were decent-sized, too.

Laura: Everything felt right, nothing was a big surprise. It was like, "Oh, yeah, that makes sense, mall."

Cory: It will be interesting to see it all once everything's opened up. For me, the most striking thing about the Westfield World Trade Center was how actually physically beautiful the space is. It will be nice to go back and check it out once the madness has died down. The press preview was definitely crazy. And it was extremely hard to even get into the building.

Laura: Oh, yeah. Construction is still nuts over there. I have no idea when any of that's going to be cleared out, if ever. New York is constantly under construction.

Cory: But in a way, it was kind of a low-key opening.

Laura: It's almost like, what's next for it, now, you know? Where else is there space to do something this massive? To really start from scratch. That's a big part of it, post-September 11th. And every office is here right now. That, and new residential buildings, and tourism — that's all going to lead to retail as well. What does it mean for downtown Manhattan?

Cory: Well, it feels like a shift from Midtown. Part of that could be me being a little self-oriented because our industry's moving down there. Is this going to be the new Midtown?

Laura: Is it going to be like, "I don't go above, what, Canal Street?" Is that going to be the new benchmark for cool?

Cory: I don't know, but it's not even about being cool — it's the mall! It's very mid-range, vanilla. The stores were nice to walk through, but we couldn't even remember half of them after we left, sitting here trying to talk about it. I don't know that this is how I would define cool.

Laura: In general, I do appreciate that there's a new rise of the mall. I grew up with them, I grew up hanging out in them, as a lot of us did. Especially people who grew up in the suburbs.

Cory: There's something kind of nice about this transient space. The same way I actually kind of like being in airports. It's such a turning-over of my normal routine. I always buy a magazine and a really expensive coffee, and all this other crap I don't need just because I'm there. There's something weirdly comforting about that.

Laura: But that feels good because it is out of your normal routine. Let's say you do that once a month — what about when you're doing it five days a week?

Cory: Well, I don't think I'll be shopping there five days a week.

Laura: Right.

Cory: Probably once a week, when I'm going through all the time.

Laura: Oh, yeah.

Cory: Like, stop and browse & Other Stores. TBD, I guess.

Laura: TBD. We'll report back in a year.

We're live at opening day of the Westfield World Trade Center Mall in NYC!

Posted by Racked on Tuesday, 16 August 2016