Apple Store Breaks Previous Attendance Records With Mall Of America

(MINNEAPOLIS, MN) ? At 6:45 a.m. Saturday, there were already 20 people in line, awaiting the 9 a.m. opening. By 8 a.m., the line was down the south side of the Mall. By 9 a.m., estimates indicate that there were literally hundreds and hundreds of Mac fans lined up to welcome Apple Computer to the Twin Cities.

Known as the largest mall in America and one of the largest in the world, the Mall of America is a marquee tourist spot. Couple that with Appleis much-publicized foray into the world of retail-store sales, and you have a classic case of shopping itil you drop.

Mac users came from many locations around the country, as well as from neighboring states (Wisconsin, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota). One gentleman had been here since 2:00 AM, hailing from the "Iron Range," a northern Minnesota area known for its iron industry.

During the waiting period, it felt like a family outing more than a store opening. One family brought Apple pie and Apple juice to pass out to neighboring shoppers. Another sat down his toddlers to watch a "Chicken Run" DVD-ROM on his PowerBook G3. A wide assortment of laptops started to appear, representing Appleis portable products from the last few years, as many availed themselves of the AirPort reception from within the store. (See Rodneyis Pictures for more information.)

As time went on, the lines grew longer and longer, while the conversation became more and more animated, as Mac users swapped tales, rumors, and Mac tips and tricks. This reporter took lots of time to ham it up, kneeling in front of the Apple logo for moments of prayer and reflection.

From time to time, Iid walk down to the ends of the lines to make fun of people for sleeping late (anything after 3:00 a.m.). Having sold Macs at various stores throughout the Twin Cities, I recognized several customers from those retailers, as well as spotting several Mac User Group members and local graphics professionals. It wasnit hard to spot the die-hard Mac users. Everywhere I looked, I saw "Mac Geek" T-Shirts, as well as permutations of OS X logos, Apple logos, and even an Intel-bashing shirt that brought a tear to my eye.

It wasnit hard to get Mac fans to talk, either.

"Iim just here to enjoy the experience of opening the first Mac store? in Minneapolis, Minnesota," said Patrick Rhone, who is a quality assurance specialist at the Minneapolis office of Power On Software, a Mac-only developer of titles like Rewind and Now Up-to-Date & Contact. "I wouldnit miss this for the world. Anything Apple, Iim there."

One of the easiest things about interviewing Mac users is that there is an instant bond and camaraderie. There were many people interviewed who talked at length about their first Macs, their first MACWORLD experiences and why they believe in the brand. Yes, the word "believe" and "belief" were bandied about the word "Apple," in the same sentences.

One gentleman identified himself as a Lucent employee from Michigan, whose schedule "just happened" to have him in Minnesota on Saturday. I tried to pump him for information on an updated AirPort with longer range and speeds beyond the current frequencies. All I got was directions to the Lucent home page, where I could buy devices that would increase my AirPort range to two miles. Hey, thanks, guy.

Several people were there to spend money. One family consisted of a thirteen-year-old kid named Ben who was programming REALbasic code on his iBook as Mom looked on, talking about how they need to purchase their fourth Mac this year. I talked to Ben, as he proudly showed me his program: all it did was create a bouncing ball that bounced across the screen. I would laugh at his efforts, but all I can do is that "Hello, world" script.

As 9 a.m. drew near, rhythmic hand clapping began to echo through the mall. Two women came in to open their store next door. "Weire all here to visit you guys," some guy shouted. Then the Apple Store Manager came out to welcome us in. I couldnit hear anything because someone was screaming their lungs out. Maybe that was me?

The music in the store cranked up several notches, and the doors opened.

Inside, people touched, poked and prodded the merchandise. Every attendee received a shirt upon exiting the store (on the front of the shirt was an Aqua Apple logo and the words "Mall of America." On the back was the barcode imprinted onto the Apple logo with the words "Shop Different" below it). Many of us couldnit wait to leave to get our shirt, and asked to get a shirt. The security guards held back the lines while the first group of us browsed the store.

The Genius Bar was stocked with bottled water. I got mine. I didnit know shopping could be so dehydrating. In the right section of the store, a sales staffer snapped two guysi photo and then showed them how to import the pictures into an iMac. Store employee Gretchen Stewart manned the kids section. Staffer Ed Barlow manned the POS (Point of Sales) machines, which were comprised of two iMacs with custom software installed. Assistant Manager Amy Beskar directed traffic.

I went to the section in the back left, where wine was served last night. I was told that that was only for last night. "So much for iShop Different,i" I laughed.

In the middle of it all, I paused and pondered the fact that this was one of the first places Iid ever been where Mac users were able to discuss, play with, and learn about their favorite computing system, without having to answer to the ribbing from PC users and PC sales people. If for nothing else, enabling this kind of atmosphere is more than enough reason to bring this Apple Store to town.

I predict that this store will live long and prosper.

Donit you agree?

When Rodney O. Lain isnit busy writing news reports in the first person (despite TMOis rules to the contrary), being interviewed by newspapers and radio stations, or being invited to hobnob with Apple VIPs, you can find him at The Mac Observer with his "iBrotha" column. He lives in St. Paul, MN -- five minutes from the Mall of America.