At 5th Avenue Apple Store, fans and passersby remember Steve Jobs

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The iconic glass cube of the 5th Avenue Apple store stands hidden beneath planks of white-painted plywood. The panels of glass that make up the cube are being replaced with larger, “seamless” panes – a renovation project that costs approximately $6 million, just shy of the $7 million Apple originally spent on the structure. It’s a high price to pay to make the store look only slightly different, noticeable only to the expertly trained eye. To eyes like those of the late Apple co-founder Steve Jobs, who died yesterday at the age of 56.

The scene surrounding the 5th Avenue Apple store today was much like it is any other day, with commuters busily bustling down the dark gray sidewalk, many with Apple’s white earbuds implanted firmly in their ears; hoards of customers filing into and out of the makeshift hallway that leads to the stairs and round glass elevator of the store. But beside the entrance, a large crowd had gathered to honor one of our few true visionaries, now lost forever.

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The memorial for Steve Jobs started last night, soon after the news of his death hit the airwaves and Twitter. By the time I arrived at about 1 p.m. today, the spontaneous memorial had grown exponentially. Many had left flowers and candles, some still burning despite the cool, constant wind that whipped strongly down 5th Avenue. Some had left signs. “Think Differently,” read one. “Stay hungry. Stay foolish,” read another, a quote from Jobs, which he delivered during his famous commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005.

More than anything, fans had left apples. Some had sad messages and well-wishes for Steve in the afterlife. Others had even taken a bite out of theirs to more closely mimic the ubiquitous Apple logo we all know so well.

The crowd around the memorial remained constant, though its size ranged from about 50 to well over 100, maybe more. Countless passersby took pictures of the memorial, most often with an iPhone 4. A number of photo journalists and amateur photographers had arrived as well, leaning down for a better angle of the notes and items left in remembrance.

The mood of the crowd was understandable melancholy, and startlingly quiet for a busy New York City street – so quiet, in fact, that even the 5th Avenue downtown buses and chorus of honking taxi cabs seemed drowned out by the mournful meditation of the gazing crowd.

Inside the store, the scene couldn’t have been more different. A dense pack of giddy customers, tourists and all forms of Apple lovers stood around the clean wooden tables of the store, iPads and iPhones in hand. Blue-shirted Apple employees scurried around, answering questions and talking in headsets like they were in the CIA. The place was so packed, I could barely move, let alone find a place to sit and take notes. I couldn’t even stand against the wall for long. And I eventually returned to the somber scene outside, assured that Apple’s business wasn’t suffering due to the recent loss of Jobs.

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A good number of people who stopped to see the Jobs memorial hadn’t yet heard the news, and only found out about it when they passed the candles and flowers and piles of apples on the steps. Others came solely to pay their respects.

“We are here on vacation,” said Maria Jose Castro, 25, a tourist from Santiago, Chile. “We’ve been here three days. And were in Chinatown [when we heard the news of Jobs’ death]. And we got on Twitter for one second. And it was like ‘Whoa!’ We went to the hostel. We left our stuff. And we came here.”

Castro said that when she and her boyfriend, Nicolas Copano, host of a technology television show in Chile called Demasiado Tarde, arrived at the store last night, the memorial had not yet begun.

“There was some conflict with the guards of the store,” said Castro. “They didn’t want people to leave flowers on the stairs. And a few minutes later, they let them put them on the stairs because it’s going to happen anyway.”

“It’s a historical moment,” said Copano. “Steve Jobs will be thought of as a classic figure of our time.”

Just before I left, a massive brute of a man, with long hair and a Harley Davidson jacket stormed into the crowd, pushing past a group of Asian women who were taking pictures with their iPhones. He entered the space between the crowd and the burgeoning shrine, quickly set down a single red rose, then stepped back into the crowd. He stood for only a moment, a serious look on his face. Then strode back through the crowd in the same direction he’d come. A few minutes later I heard the thunderous roar of a big V-twin echo between the buildings of 58th street as he rode away, his respects paid to the man who changed the world as no one else could.

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