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Time Warner Centre 'Mall'

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Like 'Stamford in Midtown': Shoppers Pack the New Mall

By COREY KILGANNON

February 9, 2004

It took Diana Perdomo, a 22-year-old student from Manhattan, a several-minute stroll through the vertical shopping mall in the new Time Warner Center to arrive at a verdict about the place, known as The Shops at Columbus Circle.

TimeWarnerMall.jpg

Frances Roberts for The New York Times

A view of the crowd on Saturday at The Shops at Columbus Circle.

"It's like a mecca for everything," Ms. Perdomo said, strolling arm-in-arm with her friend, Sarah Ladmer, a 19-year-old cocktail waitress. They gazed wide-eyed at many of the luxury and specialty chain stores, including Joseph Abboud, A/X Armani Exchange, Cole Haan, Eileen Fisher, Thomas Pink, Sisley, Stuart Weitzman and Hugo Boss.

The four-story public galleria of stores, restaurants and bars - the retail component of the $1.7 billion Time Warner Center at the southwest corner of Central Park - was celebrated with a star-studded opening last Wednesday night.

It opened to the public at noon Thursday, and has been much discussed in the retail circles and the media. But over the weekend, the mall faced its most important critics: the shoppers themselves. Just as in the blockbuster film industry, the opening weekend of a top-flight retail center is closely watched as a predictor of its long-term success.

"This is it, the magic moment," Kenneth A. Himmel, the president of Related Urban Development, which helped develop the retail operation, said as he stood on the second-floor balcony Saturday morning peering down as the first weekend shoppers streamed in through the massive glass doors. Mr. Himmel called the weekend a litmus test of the mall's drawing power and a test of whether New York's street-loving pedestrians would have the patience to ride escalators and elevators up and down four floors and trapise through yawning, crescent-shaped spaces that connect two city blocks.

"There was a time we didn't know if they'd come," he said. But come they did. Shoppers showed up in droves and there were high-profile sightings. Michael Eisner strolled in early Saturday morning and Chelsea Clinton waltzed through the first level toward the Coach store around noon. Passing a tuxedoed worker pushing a trash can, she chatted on her cell phone but withheld her opinion of the mall and all other comments, when approached.

Comparatively few of the thousands of people gawking at the new space actually carried shopping bags, and it was hard to tell how many visitors were actually buying. At any given time, hundreds of people milled through the fourth floor, for example, even though there were none of the floor's signature restaurants have opened. They squinted through darkened windows and peered at fact sheets.

One of the busiest stores was Whole Foods, whose 59,000 square feet make it the largest supermarket in Manhattan, with a wine store, sushi bar, juice bar, 248-seat cafe, 42 cash registers and 390 employees. Mr. Himmel smiled as a Whole Foods employee, posted at the entrance to the basement store like a bouncer, regulated the hordes of shoppers elbowing one another out of the way, to better ogle the $50 beef tenderloin and order Jamba Juice smoothies.

And since most New Yorkers are nothing if not critical, few shoppers reserved judgment on the new center

Ms. Perdomo, who compared the retail center to Mecca, also warned that it might be too upscale to attract a broad enough spectrum of shoppers. "They need more variety to attract different types of people," she said. "There's nothing down-to-earth. A good business has to offer diversity."

Jennifer Patel, 29, an internist from Manhasset, held up a purple macram

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Even though this project abuts a pretty nice part of Central Park, that corner was kinda ratty. I'm sure it has infused it with alot more foot traffic.

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