Enthused Fans Pack San Jose Apple Mini Store Opening (UPDATED WITH PHOTOS)

SAN JOSE, CA -- Some 200 Mac fans showed up Saturday for one of six openings of Appleis new mini retail stores across the United States. Under overcast skies, but warm temperatures, crowds began to gather some two hours before the opening of the Oakridge Apple store to be one of the first to get a free opening event T-shirt, and see first hand Appleis smaller consumer retail strategy.

The mini retail stores mark a new approach to Appleis retail efforts, with a substantially smaller footprint, and a new look. The size and layout of the stores allow the company to place the units in areas with less foot traffic than is needed to sustain the companyis medium-sized and flagships stores.

10 Apple employees were on hand
to handle opening day crowds.
(Click for a larger image.)

An Apple marketing executive on hand for the event told The Mac Observer that the new mini stores also fulfill a satellite store function. For instance, management and inventory specialists at the stores are equipped with a voice communication system that allows them to connect directly with inventory specialists and management at other stores in order to quickly find products that they donit have in their own stores for their customers.

The stores feature two walls of shelves with software and accessories, the companyis iMac G5 and portable Mac product lines, and the full iPod product line. Additionally, Apple is selling LCD displays at the mini retail stores; though not displayed with the limited shelf-space available, the displays are stored in the back of the store. eMac and Power Mac G5 systems are not being sold in the mini store locations.

Unlike some other locations which are over 1,000 square feet in size, the Oakridge store covers approximately 500 sq. ft.

As is always the case with Apple retail store openings, the crowds on hand loved the new layout. The walls are stainless steel, the floors are bright, white, shiny, and seamless, and the checkout counters look more like something from a futuristic Sci-Fi movie than a retail location. The Genius Bar is prominent in the back of the store, though it is substantially smaller than Genius Bars in Appleis larger format Apple Store locations.

"I like it," said Josh of San Jose, CA. "Itis a little small, but it looks nice." Josh had arrived at the opening at 9:30 in the morning to find the line already stretching outside.

D.J., also of San Jose, echoed the sentiment that the store was perhaps smaller than he expected. "Itis smaller than I imagined it to be, but itis very cool," he told The Mac Observer. "The reflective floor makes you feel like youire floating."

The floor, which store personnel had cleaned immediately before the doors were opened, is highly reflective, and easily scuffed. When asked if he would like to be tasked with keeping the stores clean, D.J. laughed and said it was the first thing he thought about when he saw how nice the floor looked. Fortunately for store personnel, the floors are also easily cleaned.

Shiny, shiny floor.
(Click for a larger image.)

According to ifo Apple Store reporter Gary Allen, who spoke to TMO Saturday, the mini store at the Santa Rosa Plaza in Santa Rosa, Calif. also was suffering from floor scuff marks and the new stainless steel walls were easily showing finger print marks.

The checkout counters are built into the walls, and feature a built-in bar code scanner. For the store opening and the near future, the checkout counters will be manned by Apple Store personnel, but the company says that at some point in the future, customers will be able to use the counters as self-checkout counters, as well. Customers can pay by check and credit card at these counters, or pay with cash at the Genius Bar. Going through the checkout process, even with an Apple Store employee handling the transaction, revealed some issues with the bar-code scanner, but once the bugs are worked out, the system should work with supervision.

Appleis once and future self-checkout kiosk
(Click for a larger image.)

Apple CEO Steve Jobs was on hand for the store opening in Palo Alto, CA, a few miles up the highway from the Oakridge opening we attended.

Brad Gibson contributed to this story.