“This is our store,” Steve Jobs said, as he introduced the Apple Store for the first time 17 years ago, on May 15, 2001. The Apple Store, Apple’s first foray into its own retail stores, opened its first two locations four days later, in Glendale, Calif. and then in Tyson’s Corner, Va. One AppleInsider staffer was present for the opening of the latter store.
In the years since, the Apple Store has grown to more than 500 stores in over 20 countries. It has surged in growth during a very difficult time for the retail sector as a whole, including in the consumer electronics space.
Steve Jobs unveiling the Apple Store at Tyson’s Corner Mall in Virginia
While helping to drive Apple’s own growth and playing a key role in the launches of iPod, iPhone, iPad and more, the Apple Store also forever changed the look of computer and electronics retail. And that look has been widely imitated, from Microsoft launching a chain of lookalike stores to Sony attempting the same to actual knockoff Apple Stores in China.
Before the Apple Store
Throughout the 1990s, Apple computers were sold in a combination of chain stores and authorized Apple retailers. Support for customers from the big-box stores was iffy, and related to how often Apple representatives and then later contractors visited, to keep the staff in line.
Starting in 1997, Apple migrated to a “store within a store” concept that it agreed to with CompUSA, shortly after Jobs’ return to the company.
At the same time, Apple pulled its products out of most non-CompUSA big box retailers, at a time when Dell was Apple’s main competitor and Apple was preparing to launch the original iMac. Apple also revamped its online store.
Jobs decided to open Apple-branded retail stores, and hired executive Ron Johnson, formerly of Target, to run them in early 2000.
The first stores
On May 15, 2001, Apple announced that it would open 25 retail stores that year, including its first two that Saturday.
The first stores, as introduced by Jobs in an introductory video and opening on the 19th, featured such products in the front section as iMacs and iBooks, as well as the then-new PowerBook G4 Titanium and Power Macs. The iPod, however, would not be released for another five months.
Children using the Flower Power iMacs at Tyson’s Corner, the day it opened
Also featured in the store were music, movies, photos and a kids section, as well as non-Apple digital cameras and camcorders. There was also a great deal of boxed software.
Another initial selling point was the original incarnation of the Genius Bar, which featured pictures of Albert Einstein and other famous geniuses who had been included in Apple’s “Think Different” ads of the time. Jobs positioned the in-store “geniuses” as able to answer customers’ questions —and if they couldn’t, there was a landline to someone in Cupertino who could.
More than 500 fans lined up at the Tyson’s store starting at pre-dawn that first day. Over the weekend, Tyson’s and Glendale hosted more than 7500 visitors, and sold a combined $599,000 in products over the first two days.
The corporate store approach had been tried before. Dell and Gateway both tiptoed into retail before Apple got to it —but both of their efforts faded quickly.
Early and sustained success
The stores succeeded out of the gate, despite a great deal of industry skepticism. Apple announced that 7,700 customers had visited the first two stores during their first two days in business, purchasing $599,000 worth of merchandise.
The Apple Store’s success never really abated. Its first urban flagship, on Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, opened in 2003, with the first international Apple Store arriving in Ginza, Tokyo, Japan, later that year. Five years to the day after the first two stores, in 2006, Apple opened its iconic “cube” location on Fifth Avenue in New York.
While the number of Apple Stores worldwide crossed 500 earlier this year with its first location in Korea, the originals haven’t been forgotten. The store Apple designated number one in Glendale, remains a popular site for fan pilgrimages. But store number two —Tyson’s —was still the first to open.