Google’s plans for a store may be more like a museum
FORTUNE — Just 295 feet down the block from Apple’s aapl first retail store sits an empty space that could not only make history but also change the face of the Google GOOG experience.
That’s a lot to be said for an 8,000-square-foot storefront, but according to Crain’s New York Business, Google is reportedly close to signing a deal to debut its first ever brick-and-mortar store at 131 Greene St. in New York City’s trendy SoHo shopping district.
Google declined to comment for this article. But real estate agent Faith Hope Consolo confirmed to Fortune that Google has been seeking out a space for months. The chairman of New York’s Douglas Elliman Real Estate retail group is not involved with the deal, but says Google has been focused on Greene Street, just one block away from its largest competitor.
A flagship store could serve as a boon to Google as it ramps up efforts to become a hardware player with its products including the Nexus tablet and smartphones, Chromebook Pixel laptop, Chromecast for television, and the forthcoming wearable tech Google Glass and smartwatch.
But whether that’s enough to sustain a retail store isn’t the question, according to Sucharita Mulpuru, an analyst with consulting firm Forrester Research.
“To me it’s somewhere between a pop-up store, which is a marketing contest, and a flagship experience destination that is intended to bring an experience alive,” Mulpuru says.
The store could serve as a Google museum providing new exhibits and ideas every few weeks. Mulpuru argues it is more akin to an on-land version of the mystery Google barge afloat along the West Coast, providing the tech firm yet another tourist attraction.
“Everyone is fascinated by the behind-the-scenes innovation showcases,” she says. “It’s like the equivalent of having the 60 Minutes announcement of the drone every few months.”
A spot in SoHo wouldn’t be the company’s first testing of the retail space. Late last year Google launched Winter Wonderlabs, or pop-up shops in six cities around the country that showcased its latest products during the holidays, signaling what many speculated as a precursor to a more permanent presence.
Aside from a groundbreaking foray into retail, Google is also playing catch-up. While Apple pioneered the tech retail space through its harmonious ecosystem connecting its hardware and operating system, Microsoft msft and Windows struggled with tying its devices into their software-driven business. It’s hard to measure the success of the Microsoft store — which launched in 2012 — since the company doesn’t disclose revenue for its retail operation, but Microsoft is far from making its hardware as popular as Apple or Google.
Google has little worry about Android claiming the biggest market share of handset operators, which sends customers back into its operating system and shares the information and data that Google thrives on.
“Google has had more success than Microsoft in penetrating with their hardware devices and going at it from a different route,” Morningstar analyst Peter Wahlstrom says. “If you have a touch-point within a particular environment, that could lend itself to a very good user experience.”
By creating a flagship store, the tech giant could worry less about pushing units of phones and more about engaging the public in products like Google Glass and Google smartwatches, initiatives like Google Fiber and driverless cars while also setting up an information service akin to the Apple Genius Bar and creating an experience destination in one of NYC’s most well-tread, posh neighborhoods.
Indeed, even Samsung is creating studios within Best Buy BBY, which is desperate to keep afloat by maximizing the store-within-a-store concept. According to the warehouse retailer’s fourth-quarter results, Best Buy currently operates 1,400 Samsung and 600 Windows pop-up stores, creating more of an exhibition hall than an electronics store.
Jan Dawson, chief analyst at independent tech research firm Jackdaw, imagines a similar concept for the possible Google flagship.
“It makes a bit more sense the store would be around telling the Google story,” he says. “Like Samsung studios, it might be more about absorbing their vibe and evangelizing the way of doing things instead of shifting a lot of boxes.”
As Apple demonstrates, creating your own space allows a brand to control the messaging and delivery of products and services. Regardless of whether the alleged NYC flagship is successful, the value is in the marketing and public relations aspect for the rest of the company.
“You have all these different facets of Google that people think about, but never actually put together,” Wahlstrom says.
Opening a shop amid some of NYC’s most expensive real estate may help Google customers put all the pieces in place.