For geeks and creatives, the newest tourist destination in New York City comes from a familiar name: Samsung.
In the heart of one of Manhattan’s trendiest neighborhoods, the Meatpacking District – across from the popular elevated park, the High Line, and surrounded by high-fashion boutiques – is a massive, multi-story space called Samsung 837 (named after its address, 837 Washington Street). While there are plenty of Samsung products to be found, the electronics giant has another goal.
Samsung 837 is billed as a digital playground and culture epicenter that’s open to the public. There is an auditorium with a stage for hosting events such as concerts, and lectures. Behind the stage, a giant digital screen, composed of 96 55-inch displays, is used for special screenings, such as films or the recent Oscar-viewing party; for other times, visitors can have their selfies taken with a nearby camera and have them displayed on the screen.
On the main floor, an art gallery features rotating digital installations; the current exhibit, called Social Galaxy, is a visual-aural experience that brings your Instagram feed alive, on a multitude of Samsung monitors and tablets. On the top floor, a connected living room demonstrates how a smart home works, while a full kitchen is available for cooking demonstrations and classes. There is even a small café where guests can purchase food and drink.
The one thing Samsung employees are quick to correct you on is that Samsung 837 isn’t a store, despite the various phones, tablets, VR headsets, televisions, watches, and appliances that are on display. Nothing is for sale, although employees will gladly help you purchase an item through one of its resellers. Besides being a community space of sorts, Samsung 837 is also the company’s “marketing center of excellence.” You could call it whatever you want, but ultimately Samsung 837 is a retail exercise.
Samsung 837 isn’t the company’s first foray into brick-and-mortar retail, but it is one of its more ambitious. It draws influences from its neighbor a block away, a prominent Apple Store. For instance, it has a service station similar to Apple’s Genius Bar. As Apple has successfully demonstrated, retail stores can be community-gathering places.
But Samsung 837 takes it to the next level. Instead of drawing people in with product, Samsung 837 seemingly focuses on the activity first, and then how its products could be used in those environments – from experiencing virtual reality through Galaxy VR headsets to cooking a meal on Samsung ranges and comparing selfie image quality through a showdown between Samsung’s new Galaxy S7 phone and the competition. Zach Overton, the VP and General Manager of Samsung 837, says the space was designed around eight passion points: art, music, entertainment, sports, wellness, culinary, technology, and fashion. Every section of the building focuses on these topics.
“People don’t need another store,” Overton says. “We are trying to build the flagship of the future.”
With that approach, Samsung’s latest retail venture becomes a must-see destination, even if you don’t use its products. It’s a place where you can be the first to sample the latest tech before it goes mainstream. The modern facility, developed by the firm Wonderwall and Samsung’s in-house design team, is decked out with dark, mid-century-style (albeit overly masculine) furnishings, and is a relaxing respite in a frequently busy neighborhood. It is fun to put on VR goggles, settle into a comfy chair, and get lost for a few minutes.
What we find appealing is the notion of the building as creative space that’s open to all. Besides product demos, Samsung 837 has pro-quality equipment and studios for editing video and audio, and high-end appliances for creating restaurant-quality meals. These tools and services allow people to create things like podcasts or YouTube videos, giving them access to things they might not have on a regular basis (or at all).
However, we’ve seen similar retail concepts in the past, only to see them fail or turn into something that wasn’t intended. If Samsung 837 succeeds in truly becoming a cultural hub, as designed, and function more as a community center than store, it could be a city landmark worth taking visiting friends and family to.
March 2, 2016