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Inside Apple’s new New York City store

A sneak peek at Manhattan’s fourth Apple Store, set to open Saturday Nov. 14

Photo: Philip Elmer-DeWitt

The Upper West Side, that bastion of liberal thinking and discretionary spending nestled between Central Park and the Hudson River on the island of Manhattan, is finally getting its own Apple Store.

The retail outlet — Apple’s 279th and the city’s fourth — is scheduled to open Saturday morning. On Thursday, the press got an early tour of the facility.

It’s a striking edifice, all glass and grey marble. The exterior is dominated by a two-story glass facade, a big white apple logo and a curved glass roof — a first for an Apple Store.

The ground floor interior is classic Apple (AAPL) retail, with 16 stand-alone blond wood tables on roughly 8,500 square feet of retail space — the largest single-floor display of Apple products in the world, according to the company.

More photos and an update below the fold:

Looking south, through the glass roof. Photo: PED

Down a spiral glass staircase is a similar-size service space with two walls of software and gear and another 16 tables loaded with iMacs and MacBooks. There’s a giant TV screen mounted in front and a 45-foot-long Genius Bar along the back wall.

In the works for nearly two years, the store is situated on a sharply angled site formed by the intersection of Broadway and 67th Street, one block north of Lincoln Center and a block and a half west of Central Park. The No. 1 subway train stops one block south and there’s a big Starbucks half a block east on Columbus Ave.

Street level tables and video display walls. Photo: PED

The address, 1981 Broadway, is the last free-standing retail space on the avenue. It was home for many years to the Cineplex Odeon Regency Theater. The theater was torn down in the 1990s to make room for a Victoria’s Secret outlet, which has given way in turn to a high-end computer, MP3-player and smartphone emporium.

Apple began building its own outlets in 2001, and they have proved enormously profitable. A record 42.7 million customers visited Apple Stores last quarter, generating $7.6 million in revenue per store, up 15% year over year. All told, Apple Stores brought in $6.6 billion in revenue in fiscal 2009, more than the whole company generated ($5.4 billion) in 2001.

Basement level, with MacBooks and Genius Bar. Photo: PED

“We have the highest performing retail stores on the planet,” boasts Ron Johnson, the former Target marketing whiz who runs Apple’s retail division. Johnson told the press on Thursday that the average Apple Store generates $4,300 per total square foot (including storage space), the equivalent foot for foot of 5 Best Buys and 15 Target stores.

The “significant” stores (what Apple used to call its flagship stores) do much better. According to a Bloomberg report last summer, Apple’s big glass cube on 59th St., across the street from the old Plaza Hotel, is the highest-grossing retail outlet on Fifth Avenue, bringing in an estimated $35,000 per square foot, nearly double the gross of Tiffany’s sales floor and triple Harry Winston’s.

Ron Johnson with glass staircase. Photo: PED

“People forget that when Apple began building stores, everybody said it wouldn’t work,” says Michael Gartenberg, vice president at Interpret, a market research firm. “They ended up redefining retail. Now they’re not just the Nordstrom of technology. They are the new Nordstrom.”

Doors to the Upper West Side store open to the public Saturday, Nov. 14, at 10 a.m.. Staffers will be handing out 500 free children-size and 2,000 adult-size Apple T-shirts for the faithful who queue up early. For hours and directions, click here. Apple’s press release is here.

UPDATE: For video of this store opening (and two others the same day), see Apple staffers go nuts on 3 continents.

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[Follow Philip Elmer-DeWitt on Twitter @philiped]