New Yorkers have been known to queue up for many a hot-ticket item: dinner reservations, iPhones, Cronuts.
On Monday, Snapchat Spectacles joined that list as hundreds of people lined up for a chance to buy the eyewear. And after six hours of waiting — first in the wintry cold, and then in a sparsely decorated pop-up store off Fifth Avenue — I finally claimed mine.
First, a primer. Spectacles are sunglasses with embedded cameras that Snapchat introduced two months ago with the aim of funneling ever more videos to its service. The $ 130 eyewear records 10-second videos and then wirelessly sends them to the user’s Snapchat app.
As Snapchat’s parent, Snap Inc., is preparing to go public early next year, the company is betting that it can increase the amount of disappearing video content that parades on its burgeoning platform. Spectacles, if they become a hit, could help bolster that goal.
It’s too early to say whether the trendy sunglasses will succeed at that. But it’s no joke to say that they have quickly drawn a following in Manhattan.
Snapchat has kept the locations of its Spectacles pop-up stores secret — they’ve appeared in the Los Angeles area; at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif.; in Tulsa, Okla.; and even the Grand Canyon — but a pop-up in Midtown Manhattan by the glass-cubed Apple Store was sure to grab attention.
Inspired by an editor’s Twitter post about the pop-up, I headed over and arrived around 8:30 a.m. The line by then snaked around the corner of Fifth Avenue. Not too long, I thought foolishly. So, I took my place.
Within minutes, more and more people arrived, braving the late November cold and flurries. Snapchat employees decked out in identical uniforms — black jackets, black jeans and Common Projects white sneakers — occasionally patrolled the line and counted the attendees. Construction workers dismantling scaffolding outside A La Vieille Russie antiques gallery at the corner repeatedly admonished those standing in line to move closer to the building to avoid getting whacked by an errant pipe or beam.
The attendees were a mix of those whom one might expect and those one might not. Three staff members from the ad agency McCann gathered behind me. One of them, Timothy Min, an ad director, had dashed into the line out of breath, having commuted from Brooklyn via Citi Bike, subway and a frenzied run.
There were men in suits and loafers and some apparent tourists.
At least one victorious buyer walked back down the line, wearing one pair of Spectacles while hawking the other pair that he had bought with gusto. “Four hundred and you can leave the line!” he shouted. It’s unclear whether he found any takers.
Reporters from USA Today and other outlets descended, along with the temperature. By 9:30 a.m., Snapchat employees had handed out wristbands to some of those in line, demarcating in purple plastic who was assured an opportunity to buy up to two pairs of Spectacles. I received the second-to-last bracelet.
By about 12:30 p.m., the last of us were ushered into the pop-up space, which had once housed the restaurant and cafe Bottega del Vino. Once warmly decorated, it was now rendered stark white, with brick walls and an exposed industrial ceiling. Television monitors hung from one wall, rotating as they displayed footage captured from Spectacles.
At the far end, standing apart from the crowd, was the bright yellow “Snapbot” vending machine that dispensed the glasses.
Even inside, time passed slowly. Word circulated that the Snapbot was having trouble reading some credit cards. Some customers were busy taking videos of themselves and others buying the glasses. Mr. Min of McCann worried that he would run late for meetings that he had already postponed on account of his consumerist adventure.
Debates arose over which colors to get: stylish black, colorful blue or ostentatious coral. A Snapchat staff member said the most popular choice was black, followed by the teal-like blue. All decisions were final.
Several people sat on the floor, peering intently at their smartphones. A few others animatedly discussed how much they could sell their Spectacles for.
For the record: Spectacles appeared to sell, on the low end, for $ 350 on eBay, topping out at more than $ 2,000. At a few points, staff members drew a curtain in front of the machine, presumably to perform mysterious incantations — or just to restock the Snapbot.
Though the line was officially cut off two people behind me, a lengthy crowd remained outside. One man pressed his nose against the glass, then placed his palm against the store window while taking a picture of it, a portrait of melodramatic forlornness.
Around 1:15 p.m., the store’s white blinds began to descend, slowly closing off the view of the store from the crowd on 59th Street. Perhaps it was to prevent the appearance of pictures of a half-empty boutique.
Just before 3 p.m., my turn at the Snapbot finally came up. The vending machine has three giant buttons representing the colors of Spectacles, with a round screen kitted out with Snapchat’s famed lens technology, virtually placing a pair of the glasses on my face as I made my decision. Within five minutes, and after two swipes of my card, I walked away with two pairs, one black and one blue.
By 3 p.m., the final customer — Joey Pennacchio, the creative director for a video game start-up in Los Angeles, who snagged a wristband from a departing customer and persuaded Snapchat employees to let him into the store — took his turn at the Snapbot. After handing his phone to a security guard to take video of the buying experience, Mr. Pennacchio bought blue and coral Spectacles.
“I’m super stoked to get my hands on them,” Mr. Pennacchio said before his purchase. “I came in with pretty low expectations, but the vending machine is pretty cool.”
Snapchat employees cheered at the end of their 10-hour workday. The minimalist store would be cleaned up and prepared for the crowds that would surely be lined up when it was scheduled to reopen on Tuesday afternoon.
Mr. Pennacchio and I walked out of the store — and within minutes of leaving, he told me that he had found a taker for one pair, for $ 450.