Hudson Yards Is Going All Out to Make New Yorkers Love Malls
Hudson Yards is officially open. One week in, the massive mall is filled with crowds willing to spend money on expensive coffee and croissants—and even more expensive clothes.
“Here we go,” reads the text on a banner promoting the opening of Hudson Yards, New York’s 72,000-square-foot mall, or retail center, or “billionaire’s fantasy,” as New York magazine’s Justin Davidson described the entire housing and retail development.
The banner has no punctuation. How the sentence ends depends on your tax bracket.
If the idea of roaming New York’s first Neiman Marcus department store with the intention of purchasing a designer dress is feasible, you might lace up your thousand-dollar Louis Vuitton sneakers and think, “Here we go!”
Or maybe you’re one of the many people who have pointed out that Related Companies, the real estate firm that paid $1 billion for Hudson Yards’ development rights in 2007, earned a reported $6 billion in government subsidies, per The New School.
In that case, as you approach the behemoth collection of buildings—said mall, the climbable “Vessel” sculpture by Thomas Heatherwick, The Shed art space (coming soon), and a plethora of pricey condos—you might grit your teeth and mutter, “Here we go...”
Hudson Yards, at least as an architectural project, has been the target of much scorn. Davidson wrote: “This para-Manhattan, raised on a platform and tethered to the real thing by one subway line, has no history, no holdover greasy spoons, no pockets of blight or resident eccentrics—no memories at all.”
“A relic of dated 2000s thinking, nearly devoid of urban design, it declines to blend into the city grid,” The New York Times' Michael Kimmelman wrote. “It is, at heart, a supersized suburban-style office park, with a shopping mall and a quasi-gated condo community targeted at the 0.1 percent.”
So, how does this not-of-New-York invader work as a shopping center, in a city known for its lack of malls? Sure, they are present (such as at Columbus Circle), but people don't visit New York City for its malls—until, Hudson Yards hopes, now.
Hudson Yards held its star-studded opening the night of March 14, attended by VIPs like Anne Hathaway, who cosplayed a schoolmarm in an ill-fitted plaid blazer, and Billy Porter, who arrived in typically regal fashion, wearing a fur coat with leather piping.
On a Tuesday morning four days after the event, the mall seemed to have withstood its first weekend.
Around 10:30 a.m., employees of the various shops and restaurants prepared for the day. One employee at Blue Bottle, a boutique coffee stand, restocked bags of beans near the cash register, while a horde of impatient, uncaffeinated humans formed around him. “It’s never dead,” he said. “There are always lines.”
At Citarella, an upscale food market known for its pre-made meals, a clerk sighed when asked how her first few days went. Around 60 to 80,000 people visited Hudson Yards on Saturday, and no doubt many of them were drawn to Citarella’s promise of free samples. But, according to the employee, the grocery's checkout system crashed, because of course it did.
Shoppers did not seem to know, or care, about first-day hiccups as they rode escalators up and up and up to the three-floor Neiman Marcus, stopping to take the requisite photos in front of the taxi installation placed at the department store's entrance.
Those who elbow past the crowd will enter an 188,000-square-foot space that provides, against all New York City logic, some welcome breathing room.
As one female shopper fingered the edge of a Carolina Herrera gown, she stage-whispered to her friend “This store is really well laid out,” so loudly that this writer assumed she must have been a plant.
Cybelle Srour moved to a new apartment complex across the street from Hudson Yards last summer. “I wanted to be a part of seeing it happen,” Srour told The Daily Beast outside of Neiman Marcus’ food court. Between the construction of Hudson Yards and the handful of art galleries just south on 30th street, “I thought there was a buzz and and an energy around here.”
Though Srour took her time on Tuesday roaming Neimans, she admitted that she would later hit up H&M to “actually buy something.”
“People can write about Hudson Yards until they’re blue in the face, but the reality is that it will be defined by the people,” Srour said. “It’s up to the city, the tourists, the people, to interact with it and decide their own relationship to the neighborhood.”
“It’s three days in!” Srour added. “Give it a chance, for God’s sakes.”
Two native New Yorkers named Dennis and Paradise, both 20, rode the 7 train in from Long Island City to stop by the stores. “I’m only used to the Queen Center Mall,” Dennis said. “That’s a lot less fancy, and it’s smaller.”
Though the couple had mostly come to check out Hudson Yards’ expansive food court, both were craving burgers, and decided to hit up a go-to, Shake Shack.
Laura Mandel and her teenage daughter Lucy, who live on the Upper West Side, planned to spend a day poking around the shops. Lucy, off for spring break, brought her camera to take photos of the Vessel sculpture, though the two were not planning to climb it for fear of heights.
“We were in Seville, Spain, and they have something called ‘The Mushroom’ there that’s built out of wood,” Laura said. “It’s the largest wooden structure in the world. I guess you can say, ‘What’s the point?’ but to me, it’s cool. It’s great to look at, though I’m a little concerned about people going up there and doing things they shouldn’t.”
The Mandels had a game plan for the day—Neiman’s, upscale womenswear chain Aritzia, athleisure heavyweight Lululemon, and Heidi Klein, an online swimwear brand testing its first brick-and-mortar store in the space.
Though critics have sneered at the idea of a mega-mall corrupting our fine city, customers armed with shopping bag after shopping bag truly did not seem to mind.
“We love malls,” Laura said. “If we want to go to three stores, we can just go from one to the next. When you live here, you want to get things done, and I have to go home to make dinner. Maybe I’ll go to Citarella to get groceries for tonight—maybe I’ll make salmon tonight.”
One can find salmon at Hudson Yards. Croissants abound. There are enough scented candles in Jo Malone, Molton Brown, and Neiman’s to ensure you will never need another hasty “Shoot, I forgot it’s their birthday” present ever again. There many pretty succulents dotting storefronts, just waiting to be purchased and promptly killed by some forgetful millennial.
Strolling past the maze of shops feels like walking around inside the Instagram feed of a stylish friend, who always insists on getting coffee “soon!!!!” but never actually makes concrete plans.
There is a surprising lack of public benches or seating (though you can try your luck at snagging one of the few outside Citarella). Kathleen Corless, director of communications for Related Companies, told The Daily Beast that more seating will come "in the next few weeks and months."
A word to anyone who likes to nosh while they walk: trash cans are also strangely scarce at Hudson Yards. Look for tiny receptacles at the foot of a few escalators.
It’s easy to pass by stores—Cartier, Uniqlo, Kiehl’s, so much ice cream!—and assure yourself that Hudson Yards has everything. But continue up each floor, and there is a lot you won’t find.
Sure, most developers would not take many risks when there is a reported $20 billion on the line. But if the idea is to replicate New York City's street shops all under one roof, more could be added.
You’d be hard-pressed to find a bagel. As Eater’s Ryan Sutton noted, the only place for pizza starts at $11.50. However, on street level (and currently open from 5-10pm) is Mercado Little Spain, a bustling collection of Spanish food outlets, bars, and stores created by chef José Andrés—and the most lively, least antiseptic-feeling space in the whole development. Here you can sit or stand solo or with friends, drinking wine and eating piping-hot paper plates of patatas bravas.
With its live/work/play ethos, Hudson Yards aims to be a new—scratch that—the new Manhattan neighborhood. So where are the newsstands, the bookstores, the sex shops? (And where does one get all their pretty new Kenzo dresses dry cleaned?)
Any lingering belief that Hudson Yards might be an accurate representation of the city it sprung itself on will vanish on the mall's third floor. There, the artist Lara Schnitger installed “I Was Here, 2019,” an 88-foot sequin tapestry.
The sequins change color when touched, so visitors can scrawl pictures or notes. According to Hudson Yards, the Schnitger's made-for-Instagram piece, “invite[s] viewers to positively express and communicate messages.”
Guests left peace signs, hearts, their initials, and even “Your Mom is a Nice Lady” scratched on the wall. Over the course of 15 minutes, a few dozen people wrote on “I Was Here, 2019,” and unlike the scratchitti anywhere else in this city—bar bathrooms, subway stations—not one of them drew a dick.
Welcome to the neighborhood. Here we go.