Samsung’s virtual-reality hub is palpably fun

A woman at Samsung 837 watching a 360-degree VR promotional movie, showing basketball players and dinosaurs in action and travel destinations. The images projected behind her were not related to what she was seeing through the goggles. Photos by Bob Krasner

BY BOB KRASNER | Outside Samsung’s new flagship location is a relic of the past, a sign that reads “Super City Wholesale Meat.” But inside Samsung 837 they’re not selling anything that will upset your vegan techie friends. In fact, aside from decent coffee and some very large donuts, you can’t buy much of anything in the 55,000-square-foot space. Apparently, the powers that be figure that you’re probably going to buy the merchandise elsewhere anyway, so why bother selling it here ?

A woman wearing a virtual-reality viewer at Samsung 837 has fun zooming through outer space while dodging meteors.

So don’t call the three-level space at 837 Washington St. a store — it’s being billed as a “cultural hub.” While the one-year-old flagship has been the scene of free concerts (Gwen Stefani), listening parties (John Legend) and interactive art exhibits, the place is basically one big advertisement, sort of like an interactive billboard.

From the massive viewing screen (made up of 96 55-inch screens) to the virtual-reality goggles, most of the content is all about Samsung. All of its latest toys are there to play with, and there is even a team on hand to provide tech support for your devices.

A DJ — apparently not a hologram — in a glass booth keeps it “real” with cool tunes.
A man wearing VR gear is using a wand to move objects around in his scenario.

Aside from the Smorgasburg snacks, the only souvenirs one can leave with are digital. There’s a 360-degree photo booth, with rag & bone-dressed employees standing by ready to send your super-selfie to you via e-mail.

Exhibits change regularly. At the moment, you can also be captured photographically by a Galaxy S7 on your way through a tunnel designed by photographer Carlos Serrao. Titled “Hu: The Spectrum of Being,” the combination of multiple flashes and time exposures creates a unique image each time someone walks through the darkened runway. That result, too, is transmitted to you electronically.

If you’re in the neighborhood with the family, it’s a cool place to bring the kids — or your parents. Nine-year-old Kai, who came down from Chelsea with his mom and dad, proclaimed his VR experience to be “really awesome!” Having just traveled around the world and sat face to face with a dinosaur while sitting in an easy chair, he said, “It felt like it was real.”

Daniel, his dad, 38, had experienced VR before, but said, “This was much more intense.”

People can wear goggles and headphones and see 360-degree news stories provided by The New York Times.

Time will tell if Samsung’s non-store will force nearby Apple to rethink how it does business. But in the meantime, it’s one establishment in the Meatpacking District where your wallet is safe.

Before it was redeveloped with the new building Samsung now occupies, the property was owned by James Ortenzio and was home to a series of low-slung refrigerated meat lockers built in the 1930s. Ortenzio, nicknamed Mr. Meat, was formerly president of a meat distribution company, and also chairperson of both the Hudson River Park Trust and the Manhattan Republican Party. He considered redeveloping the Washington St. site into a movie theater before ultimately selling the building in 2008 for $40 million.