Big Crowds Cheer Apple Store Debut in California

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A member of the Apple public relations team working the Saturday grand opening of the Apple Store at the Glendale Galleria had a bet with a coworker -- if more than 50 people were lined up outside the store before it opened its doors, the P.R. specialist would take home $30.

That may have been the easiest 30 bucks he ever made.

A great deal more than 50 people showed up Saturday for the Apple Store's debut in this Southern California city -- one of two grand openings as part of Apple's plans to open 25 retail stores across the U.S. this year. Apple executives estimated that around 1,500 people were lined up as of the store's 10 a.m. opening. The line snaked its way through the Glendale Galleria, out the door and into the shopping mall's parking garage.

"It's kind of like Field of Dreams ," said Ron Johnson, senior vice president of retailing for Apple. "We built it and they came. Clearly, Apple's customer base is very excited about this."

That much was clear talking to just a few of the Mac faithful who braved the crowds to see the new store for themselves. As far as these users are concerned, Apple's plan to expand its market share through the stores is all well and good, but they're just happy to finally have a retail chain they can call their own.

"I think it's great to have a place where you can go where it's just Apple," said Gary McDougall, an IT director at the University of Southern California and a self-described "Apple guy" since the days of the Apple IIc. "Most places you go, it's just a niche of the store, and they try to steer you away to a PC.

"That's not going to happen in an Apple store," added McDougall, who made the 25-minute drive from Inglewood for the Glendale grand opening. "That's the best thing."

Joy Santo-Diamond, an employee at California State University, Los Angeles, said she's on a campaign to add more Macintoshes at the college and having an Apple owned-and-operated nearby only helps her cause.

"I'm so glad that Apple has discovered marketing," she said.

Pacoima resident Miyonda Smith came out to the store on Friday night to catch a glimpse of it before the opening. "It was like a big shrine," she said.

Smith was back Saturday, leaving the store after purchasing two games. "I've been waiting for them to open a store forever," said Smith, a student and graphic designer, who vowed to be a regular customer at the Glendale store. "Every paycheck, I'm coming here."

A Million Mac User March?

That level of devotion was typical of the crowd that lined up in front of Apple's spot in the mall between bookseller Scribner's and the Bachrach clothing store.

William Crawford drove down from Santa Cruz, California, to see the Apple Store's unveiling. The reward for his 357-mile trek? Crawford was first in line when the store opened.

Crawford, however, wasn't the first person to make a purchase at the Apple Store. That honor went to Samuel Lee, a student at Glendale Community College who turned a final Saturday morning before heading off to the store's opening. He bought a VST CD-RW drive to go with his graduation present, a key lime iBook.

Robert Leon, a pastor from Whittier, California who's running OS X on his Titanium PowerBook G4, came with a group of eight people. "I want to meet a Genius at the Genius Bar," Leon said.

Inside the Apple Store

Those that made the trip out to Glendale Saturday saw a similar layout to the one unveiled at the Apple store in McLean, Virginia last week. The store is divided into sections to make it easier for shoppers to find what they're looking for. As you enter the store, a section for Pro users is on the left side while one for Home users is on the right. Those sections are followed by the Movies, Music, Photos, and Kids specialty areas, which feature an assortment of Macs and related products. In the Music section on Saturday, for example, customers could use iTunes to listen to MP3s on iMacs or try their hands at burning a CD.

Shelves stocked with third-party software make up what Apple director of visual marketing Michael Fisher called the "spine" of the store. In the rear stands a giant projection screen that will feature product demos.

With its white walls and wooden floors, the Apple Store looks almost like a museum. That's not unintentional, Fisher said. The idea was to create a store with a clean, precise design.

The left back corner of the store features the Etc. section, which houses products such as scanners, printers, and accessories. On the opposite end of the store is the Genius Bar -- a tech center where Apple-trained staffers will field troubleshooting questions and handing out Mac tips.

"I want Mac users to be able to come in and bring a screen shot of an error message that's been killing them for two months, and I want to help them," said Tim Collier, one of several people staffing the Genius Bar Saturday.

"It's cool for our users to be able to come in here and get an answer from a source they can trust."

And what if you manage to stump the Genius? The Glendale Store's Genius Bar has a red phone with a direct line to Apple tech support. One customer on Saturday posed a question about weather software that Collier couldn't answer; one call on the red phone later, and the problem was solved within 10 minutes.

"They've got a lot of resources at their fingertips," Collier said.

Passionate and Knowledgeable

It was hard to tell who was more excited about the store's opening Saturday -- the customers or the employees. Ten minutes before the store opened its doors, the lights dimmed and Love Shack by the B-52s blasted over the store's loudspeakers. Four dozen employees in Apple Store shirts began clapping along to the music.

"We've got passionate, knowledgeable Mac fans working in the store," said Apple's Johnson, a former vice president of merchandising at Target. "These are the best retail employees I've ever seen."

It's clear the Apple Store was a hit with Mac customers. But will the store's well-defined layout, diverse inventory, and knowledgeable staff help Apple attract new customers to the Mac platform? That, after all, is the point of Apple's retailing efforts -- capture some of the estimated 95 percent of computer users who don't even consider the Mac.

It will be a while before that question gets answered. But many at the Glendale opening, like Santa Monica real estate agent Scott Price, think a chain of stores is a step in the right direction.

"It's a great idea for Apple," said Price, as he left the store Saturday. "The retail experience is a needed tie-in to the consumer."

Andy Shalat contributed to this report.

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