There may be empty spaces in the Big Apple’s shopping districts, but there is also much to draw the eye. John Ryan reports.

As the mercury dropped to -9ºC during the day, New York was a place for the hardy, well insulated or both.

The annual retail gathering NRF was under way, and many of the more interesting shops had fewer customers than store tourists taking a break from listening to another conference presentation.

“There is quite a lot of empty retail space in Manhattan, but there are also a good number of new arrivals and revamps”

For those that did, two things were apparent: there is quite a lot of empty retail space in Manhattan (much less the case in fashionable parts of Brooklyn), but there are also a good number of new arrivals and revamps to make a trek around the city worthwhile.

What follows is a selection of some of the more interesting names to have appeared on its famous streets and avenues, as well as some thoughts on what they represent.

Target, 34th Street

‘Miracle on 34th Street’ might be one way to describe the appearance of a two-floor, 43,000 sq ft discount retailer in the heart of midtown Manhattan. But little has been left to chance in the design and product mix for this staple of American retail.

The ground floor is relatively small and consists of a bank of largely self-service checkouts and a smattering of women’s fashion.

There is also a click-and-collect point, as well as a ‘Grab & Go’ chiller unit for those not inclined to spend big on lunch in the Big Apple.

A nod is paid to the fact that this is Manhattan, the tourist Mecca, with a range of New York-themed clothing occupying two wall panels close to one of the exits.

The basement is where the real action is, however. The overwhelming initial impression on reaching the bottom of the escalator is that most of this store’s shoppers are women looking for low-price fashion.

But there is actually rather more to the store than this – it’s just that the category is given a highly dominant position on the floor.

“From phone chargers to interactive store maps, a lot of thought has been given to how people shop in the area”

Display is basic and, to an extent, old-fashioned. But navigation is straightforward and getting through fashion to the candy, fresh food and electronics departments is easy.

There are also a number of elements aimed at local shoppers. From phone chargers to interactive store maps that can be downloaded via the Target app, a lot of thought has been given to how people shop in the area.

But perhaps the most obvious manifestation of the desire to appeal to the time-pressed Manhattanite is same-day delivery (for a charge), with the island being zoned as far as deliveries are concerned.

This may not be the most glamorous downtown store, but it joins a handful of other half-pint-sized Target stores in New York and certainly fulfils a need.

Nike, SoHo

Personalisation remains a top priority for retailers, and in few places is this more evident than in the Nike SoHo store.

Open for little more than a year, this 55,000 sq ft, five-floor space has already had a store-wide makeover, with the exception of the half-size basketball court on the top floor.

The major updates have been done on the ground floor. As the shopper enters, there is an enclosed personalisation workspace to the right, a circular central counter with a scrolling digital beacon above it and more areas for making product the shopper’s own at the back of the store.

All is white on this floor and those that follow, and the brand’s current ‘Equality’ campaign is highlighted throughout.

Dyson, Fifth Avenue

The second physical outpost of the electronics brand is on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue, close to the Rockefeller Center, in one of the world’s most expensive areas to trade in.

Billed as the ‘Dyson Demo’ store, like the London original this outlet is about making shoppers aware of the brand and showing off product capabilities.

Good use is once more made of long digital walls and lightboxes, and the backlit wall panel of selected phials of dirt to throw on the floor has been made more of a feature in this store than in London.

There is a certain razzmatazz here and, although the square footage is relatively modest, it would be hard to walk past without at least stopping to take a look.

Amazon Books, Columbus Circle

Open since May 2017, the Amazon store on the second floor of the upscale Time Warner Center at Columbus Circle, just next to Central Park, is strange.

This may be a bookshop, but around 50% of the frontage is devoted to Amazon electronics and Kindle accessories.

When the visitor gets beyond all this to the actual books, it is a selection of tomes that get reviews of 4.5 (out of a possible 5) or more, meaning that it’s a bestsellers shop.

It is also a store that aims to drive customers back online by offering Prime shoppers lower prices.

In many ways, the store resembles a website and is certainly a pointer to the direction of travel for online retailers who are considering what to do next and how to make their offers physical.