Apple's New Store is Pure Glass

The latest outpost on posh 5th Avenue boasts see-through stairs, hundreds of tester iPods -- and a resemblance to the failed Macintosh G4 Cube

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New stores open and close in Manhattan every day. Rarely are they of such cultural significance that reporters show up to mark the event. Today was one of those rare exceptions.

Apple Computer (AAPL)today took the black exterior covering off the glass cube it has been hiding outside the General Motors Building (GM)on Manhattan's tony 5th Avenue for the better part of a year now. Below that iconic cube is the latest and highest-profile Apple retail store. On May 19 it will open to the general public -– and will remain open 24 hours day 365 days a year after that, according to the company.

The opening will mark the fifth anniversary of the day that Apple opened its first retail store to heavy criticism. Selling computers in a branded store couldn’t be done profitably, the critics said. Gateway's (GTW)experiment with selling its own brand of computer in Gateway Country retail stores was less than successful. After several years Gateway admitted defeat, and closed the last of its Gateway Country outlets in 2004 amid heavy losses.

What’s the verdict on Apple’s retail? The critics have been silenced. In Apple’s fiscal 2005, retail sales amounted to just shy of $2.4 billion -- about 17% of sales. And Apple stores were the place where 609,000 Macintosh computers were sold. During that period each store brought in an average of $22.4 million in sales, or about $4,000 per square foot. Overall the retail unit turned in a $151 million profit. Now we’ll see what Apple can do with some of the best shopping real estate in the world.

And what’s the store like? Take a look.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.