Google may be working on its first true bricks-and-mortar retail store. The search giant, which has also become a software giant (with Android and Chromebook) and more recently a hardware giant, selling its own mobile devices and speakers, may soon open a retail store of its own. Rivals Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon all operate retail stores devoted to their own products.
Google's been dipping its toes in bricks-and-mortar for a while now. The company has opened small counters within larger stores and at holiday season last year, it opened pop-up stores in New York and LA. And several expert observers have noted the inescapable logic of a Google retail store, now that the company is selling a fairly wide line of hardware that includes phones, smart home devices, smart speakers (the Google Home line), virtual reality goggles, a Chromebook, and even a small video camera.
Now, it appears Google is ready to move on to the next step, with a flagship retail store in Chicago's Fulton Market district, a couple of blocks away from Google's Chicago offices. The Chicago Tribune reports that the company is "close to finalizing a lease" on almost 14,000 feet of space on the first and second floors of several connected brick buildings.
Newcastle, the real estate company that owns the space, refused to comment on the lease, as did Google, which told the Tribune, "We don't comment on rumor or speculation." Nevertheless the configuration of the space makes no sense at all if the company merely wants additional office space. It only makes sense as a retail, public-facing location.
Google has always been tight-lipped about its plans, so the fact that it won't confirm there's a retail store coming doesn't mean there won't be one. On the other hand, even if it rents the space, that's no guarantee that there will be one. In 2015, Google rented a space in New York City's SoHo neighborhood--half a block away from an Apple store. It reportedly spent $6 million renovating that space. Then it apparently changed its mind and sublet the space instead.
The real estate market being what it is, Google still made money on that deal, renting its SoHo space for $2.25 million a year. And, as long as the economy keeps humming along, it likely won't lose money in Chicago either, if it decides to pull the plug and sublet its space there too.
So this Chicago Google store is not a certainty just. But given the company's mutliple experiments in this space, and given the growing number of hardware products it now sells, it does seem highly likely that there will be a Google retail store--somewhere--within the next year or two.