Inside Trump Tower, where the transition plays out in plain sight

The president-elects namesake tower on Fifth Avenue in New York looks like a no-go zone but as hundreds of tourists discover every day, its no fort even now

Anyone can walk right into Trump Tower.

In the month since Donald Trump was elected president, his namesake tower on Fifth Avenue has been fortified. Planes have been diverted from flying overhead. Dull-eyed dogs sniff the pavement out front, where large men in black helmets stand holding long guns. It looks like a no-go zone, which makes sense, because its almost the presidents house.

But as hundreds of tourists and other curiosity-seekers discover every day, Trump tower is no fort, even now. No serious airport in the country today is as easy to enter. Theres a bag scanner, but no visible metal detector for visitors to walk through.

Inside the airy public atrium, its the same shopping mall and food court that Trump conceded to the people of New York City in 1983, the year the tower was finished. With the same stinky public bathroom in the basement and the same concrete-tile patio on floor five, the same brass vitrines at street level, and the same waterfall weeping down five stories of orange Breccia pernice marble on the atriums east wall.

The difference now is, the next president of the United States who is running his presidential transition out of his apartment high above might suddenly pop out of the elevators, like he did on Tuesday morning, to accuse the countrys largest aerospace and defense contractor of doing a little bit of a number on the country. The governor of Iowa might wander by. A billionaire tech executive, or the second-richest man in Japan. Laura Ingraham, looking just like she does on TV.

The buzz lured Kyra Niklewicz and her husband, Dave, to make a detour to the tower on Tuesday before catching the Rockettes on a trip to the city from their home in Rochester, New York. Kyra, a medical technologist who works in a hospital, said the couple was pleasantly surprised at how accessible the tower was.

Were excited about Donald Trump, she said. I think he offers definitely a different perspective. Hes pro-life thats very important to us. And I think we need to give him a chance.

The Niklewiczes were enjoying the scene from two of the best seats in the house, in the lobbys floating Starbucks, which is planted on a catwalk that boasts views of the Fifth Avenue entrance one way, the waterfall the other way, and best of all for people-watching the elevators directly below. The area is banned to TV cameras, but the angles are sufficiently irresistible that cameramen keep appearing there, only to be kicked back downstairs by security guards.

The media is technically restricted to a semicircular pen facing the elevators, set off by red velour ropes on brass stanchions, which were definitely not purchased with this in mind. But reporters without large cameras, like anyone else on the scene, are free to wander about, for example to the downstairs food court, where Trumps communications director, Jason Miller, spent about half an hour eating a buffet lunch.

Were conducting this process daily, said Miller, ambushed as he finished his soda, of the selection of Trumps cabinet. The president-elect is talking to a lot of qualified people every day. Then he smiled, said thanks and jumped in an elevator.

Eric Trump, the president-elects second son, was flushed unexpectedly at midday from the Trump Grill, on which the American Academy of Hospitality Sciences has conferred its Star Diamond award, according to multiple plaques. At the grill, a bloody mary called the Youre Fired costs $15 about right for a tourist destination in midtown Manhattan. Flanked by quick-striding men in suits, the scion escaped through a quiet elevator bank one storey below the main one, which explained how he had snuck in there unseen.

Now, about those prices. Trump is a luxury brand, but the atrium of his tower is an oasis of relative affordability in the middle of one of the most obscenely opulent consumer districts on earth. Prada is across the street, Bergdorf and Van Cleef are kitty-corner, and Gucci occupies commercial space elsewhere in the building.

Tiffany & Co, directly next door to the tower, complained last week that holiday sales were down because of the bothersome security cordons. The jeweler has created an entry corridor, defiantly draped in powder blue, to its front door from a security checkpoint at the end of the block.

Tiffany, at its least expensive, sells glass bowls for a couple hundred dollars. Inside Trump tower, Trump-branded glassware starts at $3.50. Golf accessories, books and apparel can all be purchased at prices youd find in a campus bookstore. Theres a perfume for less than $20.

Slightly pricier are the items on offer at the basement booth operated by Donald J Trump for President, Inc. Here is the official campaign swag familiar from the rallies: T-shirts $25, hats $30, sweatshirts $50. But dont try buying this gear if youre not an American: proceeds count as campaign donations, which are not legal for non-citizens to make.

Sales at the Trump swag stand were not brisk. No one inside the tower on Tuesday, in fact, was sighted wearing Trump gear. People wore green sweatshirts that said North Dakota, and sports team hats and puffy coats. Maybe they had Trump T-shirts on underneath.

As of 12.47pm on Tuesday, the Trump swag booth had recorded one solitary sale, according to an inventory sheet left carelessly on display. It was a hat.

By far, the best commercial opportunities on the premises are to be found in a souvenir shop in the basements deepest recess, not counting the bathroom. Its where locals go to buy lottery tickets and cigarettes, and where the visitor might pick up a generic Statue of Liberty magnet or an NYPD sweatshirt.

The shops proprietor, who did not want to give his name because his office sits under 63 stories of pure Trump weight, said that while he would love to, he was not allowed to sell Trump-branded gear, because Trump was selling those products himself.

Hes a businessman, man, said the man. Hes a very smart guy. And hes going to make money.

Rising back out of the basement to street level, lifted by an escalator past tourists filming their descents on their phones, one has a prime view of a 40ft tree installed at the base of the waterfall for the holiday season no competition for Rockefeller center, but not bad.

The tree is the centerpiece of the towers Christmas dcor that includes wreaths, prop golden gift boxes with red bows and Nutcracker soldiers standing sentinel on the escalator landings. The background music is Barry Manilow and Bing Crosby Silent Night, White Christmas, Rudolph and the rest.

Its as pleasant as any mall or airport around Christmastime, but with an added air of expectancy. In 44 days, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States.

Meanwhile, at the foot of his tower, anyone can walk right in. And make a purchase.

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