The Shops at Hudson Yards defies this concept by starting its interior retail on a plaza level one floor up and siting its signature draw, the city’s first and only Neiman Marcus, on the 5th through 7th floors. Such a plan would have likely seemed unhinged in the early 2000s, but in the last decade a number of surprising successes have sent retail skyward: the Shops at Columbus Circle (opened in 2003), the renovation of the former World Financial Center’s retail space into the Shops at Brookfield Place (opened in 2015), Westfield World Trade Center (2016), the Fulton Street Transit Center (2016), and additional developments at Pier 17 and elsewhere. These are part of a new generation of shopping center design, locating retail floors both above and below street level with a frequency not seen in decades. ... The experience of going up or down a floor is routine within street-level stores across the country, and laziness or lack of interest hasn’t shuttered the upper levels of shops on Fifth Avenue. The most iconic subterranean shop on earth, the Apple store on 5th Avenue, proves that you don’t have to offer even a single piece of merchandise on a ground level to entice shoppers downward.

Himmel says that the retail floors inside the Shops at Columbus Circle were inspired by shops on Madison Avenue, with internal stairways between shop levels providing additional fabric linking the floors together. This model is becoming routine in vertical shopping centers.

Several of the earliest examples of luring shoppers up six or seven floors are just a brief walk away inside the city’s department stores, which furnish over a century’s evidence of successful mutli-level retailing.


But something went awry between the ‘70s and ‘90s, when New York became an index of retail design errors as new malls created an often isolating and confusing user experience.

The Manhattan Mall (opened in 1989) featured a shocking 13 retail floors with shopping aeries at a height that might have worked for falcons but not humans. The retail floors were eventually scaled backto only three levels, with the remainder converted to offices. Many arcades such as the World Financial Center (opened in 1988) featured winding and confusing circulation patterns with no obvious anchor draws, amended in that complex’s conversion into Brookfield Place—which now features clear circulation patterns and a Saks Fifth Avenue. The former Mall at the World Trade Center, located in the center’s underground concourse (opened in 1975) was a reliable leasing success but its aesthetics were those of a transit basement.