Tampa Joins The Elite Few

[Editoris Note: Observer Vern Seward, VSeward in the TMO Forums, attended this weekendis opening of the new Apple Store in Tampa, Florida. The following is his account of the opening of the new Store.]

Not rain, nor snow, nor gloom of night...

Well, it did rain off and on while I drove to Tampa from Orlando. While it wasnit night it was gloomy, and I donit think it has snowed in September in Central Florida since the time of the saber tooth tiger. Still, the trek to get to Tampais new International Plaza was wet and windy as we drove through the remnants of tropical storm Gabrielle, but it was well worth the effort.

On September 15th, Appleis newest retail store opened to a line of patient, but extremely enthusiastic Mac users, somewhat enthusiastic Mac wannabe users, and a decidedly curious crowd of onlookers. My wife and I arrived at the mall at 9:00 AM and already there were people gathering in front of the sparkling new store. As I took a few pictures I spied a gent in a black Apple tee-shirt with matching baseball cap. He had to be an Apple employee, so I walked over to see if I could talk him into letting me inside before the crowd swamped the place. Sure enough the Apple clad gent introduced himself as Dan Bell and he was more than happy to accommodate my request. He flagged down one Ms. Linda Turner, Regional Director for the Eastern US for Apple, who personally took me back through the employeeis entrance and to a still darkened store. Could this get any better, I wondered? Ms. Turner was clearly excited about the opening as she directed mall security in anticipation of the crowd of folks wanting to get in.

"We are very excited to be here in Tampa, weire ready to open our doors," Ms. Turner said.

She then left me to my own devices. I was a kid in a candy store. I was able to walk through the store and take pictures and movies to my hearts content, play with whatever I wanted, and all before the building crowd could even cross the storeis threshold. Life can be kind sometimes.

Like other Apple stores, this store was laid out in sections, which featured a particular function for consumers and pros, and like in other Apple stores, every current Apple product was on display. Every iMac, TiBook, iBook, and Mini Tower was operational, and all the connected gadgets were fully useable. All systems had Internet connections, and all were loaded with software from various vendors. What impressed me was the fact that I was able to fully utilize an iMac to download the movies and picture I took with my Kodak DX3600 and put them on my iDisk right there in the store. Everything worked flawlessly.

Another thing that impressed me was the amount of software that was available. Anyone going into an Apple Store will leave knowing that they can find nearly any type of application they need. If itis not in the store the Apple reps and the folks manning the Genius Bar will tell you how to get it.

Oh yeah, the Games! Itis one thing to see a title listed in a catalogue, itis quite another to see the real thing, hold it in your hands, turn it over to read the system specs, and see, "Macintosh G3 or G4..." I found titles I knew were suppose to be out, but could never find at other stores that sell Macs. Games like Summoner, Balduris Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast, and Alice were all available. In fact, there were more games in this store for the Mac than I have ever seen in one place. It was enough to bring a tear to any Mac gameris eye.

10:00 AM finally came and Rick Brandenburg, the Apple store manager, welcomed everyone into the store. Cheers and applause erupted and the first 100 customers entered the store, each personally welcomed by Rick as they entered. Mall security kept things moving in an orderly fashion. The first five guys in the store also came over from Orlando; they had attempted to stay in the Mall over night but were kicked out by Mall security. Now thatis dedication for you!

The customers outside the store, while not as many as those reported at other Apple Store openings, were nonetheless anxious to get in. The line snaked through several bends in front of the store, another line formed along the wall leading away from the store towards Dillards, then the overflow from that line formed another line across the walkway. In all I guesstimate 250 people were in line at the opening. When I left 2 hours later there were still people in line. It reminded me of a theme park ride line that expands and shrinks as the day progresses. In the time I was there at least 500 people had passed through the door and the store was doing a brisk business. Lots of software and some hardware was purchased within the first hour.

Rock and Pop music played in the background as the hubbub of a hundred plus people poked, pressed, and fiddled with the many digital gadgets that were on display. In the Kids section, youngsters were trying their hand at Cro-Mag Rally and Nanosaur. There were educational games also loaded for parents and kids to try out. The most impressive section was the iDVD area where high-powered Mini Towers loaded with Final Cut Pro, iMovie2, and iDVD was displayed. There was also a large flat panel TV connected to a DVD player on hand to show how a finished DVD created with iDVD looks. Very impressive.

There were only two small disappointments with my experience;
1. There were to be no demos on the big screen. The folks who do these demos actually come from California, and because of the tragedy on Tuesday, they were not able to fly in for the opening. The good thing is that demos will happen at the store soon. Please check the Apple site for demo dates and times.

2. I could not get a confirmation on whether or not Apple will offer the free Mac OS X 10.1 upgrade at the Apple stores, as some rumors have it. Darn it! Dan Bell and Rick Brandenburg could not verify or deny this, saying that, while they knew that Mac OS X 10.1 will be released this month, they had nothing telling them the actual release date or how it was to be released. I guess weill just have to wait and see.

Iive done Apple demos in Circuit City, CompUSA, and Sears, and I have to say that the Apple store is a wonderful experience. Itis like a breathe of fresh air. When you leave the store youill think exactly what I did, that THAT is the way Macs should be sold.