A sense of déjà vu

New Westfield shopping center at the Oculus offers familiar brands in a spectacular setting

Architect Santiago Calatrava’s soaring Oculus structure
Architect Santiago Calatrava’s soaring Oculus structure

The most important retailer to open in the Westfield shopping center in the World Trade Center is, no doubt, the Apple store. Not only does its sleek, white aesthetic perfectly complement the sleek, white aesthetic of architect Santiago Calatrava’s Oculus, the soaring structure that tops the World Trade Center transportation hub, but the double-level store also provides plenty of chargers for tourists and locals alike to revive their iPhones. After all, taking innumerable selfies — as one feels compelled to do in the magnificent cavernous space — uses up the battery.

Two days after Westfield’s star-studded public opening on August 16, which featured performances by John Legend and Leslie Odom Jr. of “Hamilton,” I was surprised to find that the Apple store — and many of the other shops in the Oculus — were bustling. Apple customers came in with appointments to fix their faulty MacBooks, while clerks in clothing stores ran around grabbing sizes for customers.

But not every store was open; The Real Deal reported that 40 of the 100 stores in Westfield, including major retailers like H&M and Victoria’s Secret, hadn’t opened on August 16. But those that had were still celebrating the mall’s opening. At the Under Armour store, for instance, a sales clerk excitedly announced on a microphone over thundering music that Emmanuel Mudiay, a point guard for the Denver Nuggets, would be arriving in 10 minutes. What he would do once he arrived wasn’t clear; when I asked, the clerk simply shrugged and handed me an Under Armour sticker.

In general, the stores in Westfield offer less expensive goods than in the already opened mall next door, Brookfield Place (which connects to Westfield via an underground passageway),with a few notable exceptions, such as John Varvatos, Dior Cosmetics, the “technical cashmere” purveyor Kit and Ace, Smythson, Turnbull & Asser and Stuart Weitzman.

I bought myself some sour watermelon slices from the specialty candy purveyor Sugarfina, and snacked on them as I powered through my tour of the mall. Once you leave the grand open space of the main hallway, the corridors where many of the stores are located have no windows, and I felt though I was walking through an airport terminal. Despite plenty of signs, I was frequently lost in the twists and turns of the transit hub, which fans out in multiple directions and never seems to end. I wandered around for two hours, but I’m sure there are more secret corridors I missed; it’s a shopping lover’s paradise and a bored husband’s nightmare.

The retail selection is, in a word, fine; chain stores abound, and there’s something for everyone, except perhaps, stores that can’t be found everywhere else.

Westfield’s slogan is “The new New York place to be,” implying, I guess, that it is intended to be a destination. Though that is a great exaggeration for the stores, it certainly is not for the Oculus itself, which bears some similarities to another NYC institution: Grand Central Terminal.

Calatrava has admitted that the train station inspired his design, and that’s certainly true not only of the way it looks, but also of the way people move through it. As they do at the iconic station, commuters rush from one end of the Oculus to the other, fast and focused on their destination. Occasionally, someone spares a brief, appreciative glance up to admire the beauty of where they are. A new New York place, indeed.