Apple’s Retail Adventure: 10 Years Later

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Apple’s very first retail store opened its doors 10 years ago on May 19, 2001, at Tysons Corner in McLean, Virginia. Ten years later, the experiment many pundits expected to fizzle out is still going strong with over 300 stores open around the world and more on the way.

Aspen Grove Apple StoreInside the Aspen Grove Apple Store opening, October 2001

With that first store opening, Apple started down a path to take control over its retail presence and the shopping experience customers were presented with every time they went shopping for a new Mac. At the time, Apple was relying on other retailers to push its products, and in many cases that experience was less than stellar to say the least.

Apple’s approach to retail focused on the user experience, providing after sale services and support, and making its stores feel more like a destination or community center instead of just another store in a mall. That plan paid off in a big way as customers filled Apple’s retail locations and more stores began popping up around the U.S. and around the world.

“Literally half the store is devoted to solutions, because people don’t just want to buy personal computers any more,” Apple CEO Steve Jobs said in the video introducing the stores. “They want to know what they can do with them.”

When Apple opened its first stores in May 2001, the iPod wasn’t shipping yet, Mac OS X 10.0 was still the current operating system, and there weren’t any Macs with Intel processors yet.

Aspen Grove Apple StoreCustomers line up for the Aspen Grove Apple Store opening

The introduction of Mac OS X 10.1 was the first major OS update to roll out after Apple’s stores opened, and was greeted with long lines outside the company’s retail locations. That was in October 2001, and Apple had already opened several more stores.

A few weeks later on October 23, 2001, the iPod hit store shelves, and customers lined up yet again. Long lines for product launches became common place at Apple’s stores, and in some cases those lines started forming days or even weeks ahead of launch days.

Flatiron Crossing Apple StoreThe Flatiron Crossing Apple Store opening, May 2006

With those early Apple Store days ten years in the past, the company has opened major locations in New York City, Boston, London, Beijing, and several other cities around the world. The company offers in-store training, seminars, technical assistance at its Genius Bars, concerts, and more.

Since the stores first opened, Apple’s product line has grown to include more than just its Mac computers and accessories. Customers can now buy Macs, iPods, the iPhone and iPad.

Apple’s stores offer an iconic look that other company’s are happy to copy — most recently Microsoft with its own retail locations. Microsoft has even hired away Apple Store managers and staff to work at its own stores.

While Apple’s retail efforts regularly make the news for long lines and heavy retail traffic, they also make headlines for their problems — namely burglaries, assaults and even shootings. The store’s iconic glass fronts and well organized product layouts have proven popular with the smash-and-grab crowd, and the popularity of the company’s products have led to assaults, and even the loss of fingers over iPads.

Recently a security guard at a California Apple Store was involved in a shootout with suspects that broke into the store. The incident left one of the suspects dead, and the other two were taken into police custody.

Park Meadows Apple StoreCustomers fill the Park Meadows Apple Store opening, April 2007

Apple plans to keep opening new stores around the world thanks to the heavy traffic the locations draw in. The company sold over 796,000 Macs through its stores during the last fiscal quarter, accounting for about one out of every five Macs sold during the period.

The company will no doubt continue to work on finding new ways to entice customers into its stores, and the next changes could come as early as next week. Rumors claim Apple plans to roll out something new in its stores in the next few days.

Apparently Apple will be blacking out its store windows on Saturday to keep the public from seeing what employees are setting up, and the staff will was said to be prepping to watch a long list of training videos.

As usual, Apple isn’t responding to rumors and speculation, so there isn’t any confirmation that the company has plans for a new service or product launch this weekend.

Whether or not Apple does roll out something new this weekend, its retail venture has already proven to be a success, and it doesn’t look like that will change any time soon.

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I visited an Apple store on Apple’s Cupertino campus in the early 1990’s. They sold Apple computers and t-shirts, among other things.  I had planned to buy a Newton*, but became discouraged after playing with one in the store. I believe that was the first Apple store, and the one in McLean, VA was the first one outside the Apple campus.

* I’m still anticipating a device of that size, even if it’s called an iPod (vs iPad).


As I recall, they did this in response to the poor experience they had with big box retailers like CompUSA. I’ve never seen an “energetic” shopping crowd at any computer or electronics store, so with Apple’s limited offerings and single brand, like most people I was wondering what the hell Apple was thinking.

I’ve set foot in three different Apple stores more times than I can remember, and I can say this much: it does not matter what time of the day or part of the week you go, you will experience elbow to elbow traffic. Aside from those bait-and-switch Black Friday sales, I’ve never seen anything like it.

At Apple’s shareholder meetings, they’ve pretty consistently been saying that about half of their retail Mac sales are to PC switchers, so there is something I don’t think the retail stores get enough credit for.


This article isn’t entirely correct. The iPod was announced on October 23, 2001, but wasn’t actually released for sale until November 10. I was actually able to purchase my (and as far as I know, the very) first iPod on the 9th, as I had previously worked for an Apple reseller, and they let me have it just before their store closed on Friday. Unfortunately, that unit went toes up about a week later, but Apple sent me a box to send back the old one, and I got a replacement before Thanksgiving of that year. If you don?t believe me, just do a search for my username in the archives. All of this was documented there at the time.


I visited an Apple store on Apple?s Cupertino campus in the early 1990?s. They sold Apple computers and t-shirts, among other things.  I had planned to buy a Newton*, but became discouraged after playing with one in the store. I believe that was the first Apple store, and the one in McLean, VA was the first one outside the Apple campus.

The store on Apple’s campus that you’re referring to is The Company Store ( From the linked page:

The Company Store is the original Apple Employee store located at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino. We are open to the public, but we are a little different than your local Apple Retail Store. While we don’t sell computers or have on-site support or repairs, we are the only place in the world that sells Apple logo t-shirts, caps and accessories. So, if you find yourself in the San Francisco Bay Area, please stop by and visit us.

Judging the picture, some of the furniture and fixtures there now resemble that in the Retail stores ( But the two types of stores don’t serve the same purpose. Initially they weren’t even run by the same division of the company, and that may still be true today ??as a former Apple Retail employee I should probably know that, but I’ve never been out to Cupertino.

You may see this as splitting hairs, ibuck, but Jeff’s article is correct in stating that Tyson’s Corner was the first Apple Retail store to open.


I believe that The Company Store has been at its current location ever since Apple’s R&D campus (1-6 Infinite Loop) was completed in 1993. These days, non R&D functions are also housed at Infinite Loop. As noted, Apple Retail stores date back to 2001. The second one was in Palo Alto I believe.

Apple also used to have a mail-order catalog, The Apple Collection, where you could buy Apple-logo gear.


Some great nostalgic stuff, by the way: Snow iMac (heheh, and a Blue Dalmation iMac in the video), Garamond Narrow corporate font, “Everything is easier on a Mac” (indeed it is), etc.. The other Macs on display are pretty great also: Power Mac G4, iBook, Titanium PowerBook G4, etc..

I doubt it lasted long (as it was a silly and somewhat wasteful idea) but they used to hand out bottled water at the Genius Bar. I guess that made it more of a “bar.”

What I miss the most is the boxed software section in the middle of the store. Sure it’s mostly Riven and Baldur’s Gate in the video, but hey, actual software, in actual boxes!! There is still a tiny, vestigial software shelf in current Apple stores, but it’s hard to find and will probably vanish in deference to the Mac App Store.

Though the red phone is pretty awesome as well.

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