A tale of two Apple Stores (the first two)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. It was the spring of 2001--a year that had not yet turned sour beyond belief--in which Apple chose to open its very first two retail stores. These two would be the first of some 25 stores opening later in the year. And in the years to come, they would be only two of over 300.

In that age of uncertainty, many thought Apple's dip into retail waters was an act of supreme foolishness. But as Apple is wont, they did it anyway. The choice turned out to be a wise one indeed.

In Virginia, some 500 people lined up in the pre-dawn hours of the morning of May 19 for a chance to be the earliest inside the first Apple retail store open to the public. The queue of Apple die-hards grew throughout the day until it reached over 1000. Security guards were on hand to make sure the throng did not violate fire codes regarding maximum occupancy.

"I have lived in this area for 17 years," said one visitor to the store, "I've never seen anything like this, here or at any mall for that matter."

In California, some 2600 miles away, hundreds of similarly-minded people lined up to enter the west coast's first Apple Store, which was due to open later in the day.

An eager opening

The doors of the Virginia store opened around 10 a.m. Eastern time, and history tells that a man named Chris Barylick (who has contributed as a writer to Macworld) was the first customer inside. He had been waiting some six hours for the opportunity.

Inside, he found a spotless, well-lit space decorated with light wood, brushed steel, and crystal white glass. Apple had laid out its products--colorful, translucent iMacs and Power Macs among them--on wall-length, bar-height tables and white, kidney-shaped platforms throughout the store. Their locations were carefully planned, as Apple had invisibly divided the space into sections via understated signs hanging overhead.

Apple had officially announced its retail initiative only four days before, on May 15. On that same day, Steve Jobs himself guided select members of the press through a tour of the Virginia location. The press liked what they saw, and their reaction had set up the opening day to be a busy one.

Apple placed that particular store with the utmost care in a high-profile, high-traffic location: Tysons Corner Center in McLean, Virginia, a wealthy Washington, D.C. suburb. Tysons Corner had the distinction of being one of the most upscale malls in Fairfax County, then the richest county in the U.S.

The California store, somewhat ironically designated "store 001" in Apple's books, opened three hours behind its Virginia cousin due to time zone differences. That particular shop stood in the Glendale Gallerina, a mall in the affluent Los Angeles suburb of Glendale, California. It held a similar internal configuration of products and layout as the one in Virginia.

Why those two locations? "They were the first two that were ready," Steve Jobs told the press in 2001. The Tysons Corner and Glendale Galleria stores may have happened to open first by chance, but like the 23 remaining stores that opened in 2001, their locations were strategically planned ahead of time. Rumors of a complex algorithm for selecting store sites persist to this day, but to put it simply, Apple followed the smell of money--and the people that have the most of it.

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