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Google's New York City store is part retail site, part 'exploratorium'

The search giant will open its first-ever retail store Thursday, as it tries to capture some of Apple's success in retail.

Google's retail store in New York City.

Google

Google this week is opening its first-ever retail store, a 5,000-square-foot hub in New York City, as the search giant pours more investment into its consumer device business. 

The store, which opens Thursday in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood, is located on the ground floor of the company's New York headquarters. It will sell Google hardware, from the company's Pixel phones to Nest speakers and displays, and showcase services including the Google Assistant and Stadia, the company's streaming video game platform. 

The location is part store, part "exploratorium," said Ivy Ross, Google's vice president of hardware design, who helped develop the look and feel of the site. The location has interactive elements, like an exhibit where customers can say a phrase and have it translated into 24 languages in real time using Google Translate. Another exhibit lets people go into a darkened room with neon lights to try out the Night Sight mode for low light on Pixel phones.

"We did this with the same design principles we use in designing our products," Ross said during a press briefing this week. "It has a sensorial, tactile feel to it."

An exhibit for trying out Google's Night Sight feature for Pixel Phones.

Google

The store is Google's attempt to capture some of the retail success that Apple has had with its stores across the planet. Some of Apple's locations, like its glass cube storefront on 5th Avenue in New York City, are considered tourist destinations that attract visitors from around the world.

Amazon has been experimenting with physical retail too. The e-commerce giant has Go stores in San Francisco and other cities that use cameras and sensors to charge people for items instead of using traditional checkout. The company also owns the Whole Foods grocery store chain.

Google said it's putting health restrictions in place for the time being, as the US tries to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. A limited number of people will be allowed at the store at a time, employees will wear masks and hand sanitizer will be available throughout the location, said Jason Rosenthal, Google's vice president of direct channels and membership. 

Google's store is 5,000 square feet.

Google

Rosenthal declined to comment on the possibility of Google building more stores in the future. 

The Chelsea store, designed by New York City-based architect Suchi Reddy, isn't Google's first effort at retail. The company has set up pop-up stores since 2016, when Google first released its Pixel phone and made a more serious push into consumer hardware. 

But the company's retail aspirations go back even further. In 2013, Google built a fleet of barges that were intended to serve as floating showrooms for its Google Glass eyewear and other consumer devices. The project, which touched off a frenzy of speculation after CNET discovered Google's connection to a barge floating in the San Francisco Bay, was meant to be a tony, invite-only experience for VIPs. The initiative was eventually scrapped before the showrooms could open.

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Tech Industry Google Alphabet Inc.