NEW YORK — As crowds filled around 58th Streetand 5th Avenue, not everyone was awaiting the arrival of the Pope.
The site diagonal to Central Park is also home to Apple’s flagship 5th Ave Store. True to form, lines have been increasing over the last few weeks for its own big event: the first in-store sales of the new iPhone 6S and 6S Plus.
As of midday Thursday, lines for Apple’s new phones, which have been available for pre-order since Saturday, stretched a half block around the 58th Street store. One security guard monitoring the scene said he expected Apple’s line to grow over to 1,000 people by the evening. Still, that’s a small cry from last year’s line and a drop in the bucket to the hundreds of thousands expected to see the Pope Friday at the United Nations.
Apple’s iPhone launches are notorious for their large crowds. Last year’s iPhone 6 and 6 Plus launch saw lines extending over 20 blocks, with some lining up weeks to be among the first to buy the devices.
Many of those in line this year were buying the phones to resell domestically or overseas, where there is high resell value for the devices. Many were speaking languages other than English, particularly Chinese or Russian. For them the wait for iPhone came down to a business decision.
The choice between Pope and phone wasn’t so easy for Miguel Guevara, a 24-year-old Apple fan and devout Catholic from New York. Guevara was fifth in line waiting to buy a new iPhone 6S Plus in Rose Gold for himself and a Rose Gold iPhone 6S for his mother, he said Thursday. He’d been waiting since Wednesday, giving away his shift at retail store Tommy Hilfiger to get in line. He’s also a student at Pace University, but isn’t missing school thanks to the Pope’s visit.
“I’m a religious guy,” says Guevara, showing off a cross tattoo on his inner right wrist and rosary beads that he keeps in his pocket. “Its unfortunate that I’m gonna miss the Pope, but I’m sure its going to be packed anyways.”
“And I have DVR, I have my roommate DVRing it.”
The Papal visit has made waiting a bit more difficult than years past, with security prohibiting tents and folding chairs ahead of the Pope’s arrival.
“It would be nice to see the Pope,” says Jackie, 18, who was fourth in line with his friend Andres on behalf of CharityDevice.org. The site that lets people donate their old devices, which are then refurbished or resold with the money going to support clean drinking water and other charities. Both have been in line for around two weeks, and in exchange for their efforts, will each be getting a 64GB Rose Gold 6S.
Jackie notes that the Apple Store is on the Pope’s route to St. Patrick’s Cathedral so they will still see him while still holding their spot in line.
And while the iPhone line-waiters have become a tradition in New York, the spectacle still draws the curious . “A lot of people walk by here and they ask you every time, almost every five minutes,” says Andres, also 18. “Before they put all the gates up, every five minutes somebody would ask us, because they saw all the chairs, ‘what are you waiting for?'”
Follow Eli Blumenthal on Twitter @eliblumenthal