Apple takes wraps off fancy flagship store

Company plans to open its newest and biggest retail store, open 24 hours, on New York's swanky Fifth Avenue on Friday. Photos: Apple's glass palace

NEW YORK--Apple Computer's new 24-hour flagship store in Manhattan is set to open on Friday at 6 p.m. EDT, giving Apple enthusiasts access to products and face-to-face support all day and night.

The new midtown underground store, which features a distinctive entrance, is the most ambitious Apple store to date. The entrance sits atop the public plaza in front of the General Motors building opposite the Plaza Hotel and Bergdorf Goodman on 767 Fifth Avenue between 58th and 59th Streets.

Apple, which now has 147 retail stores around the world, opened its first Manhattan store in SoHo in 2002. For its second Manhattan store, the company chose one of the most highly trafficked shopping streets in the world, just steps away from the entrance to New York's Central Park.

"We wanted to find a place as special to New York as SoHo," Ron Johnson, senior vice president of retail for Apple, said during a Thursday press event before the store's official opening. "And we just fell in love with the public plaza."

In addition to choosing an incredible location, Apple may also have created what could become a new New York City landmark. All that is visible of the store from the street is the its glass cube entrance, reminiscent of I.M. Pei's glass pyramid entrance to Paris' Louvre Museum.

The glass cube, which takes up only about 5 percent of the GM Plaza, provides wall-to-wall natural sunlight to the 10,000-square-foot store. The glass staircase spirals down the center of the cube onto the floor of the store, which was designed by a team of people, including Jobs, Johnson and Peter Bohlin of the architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson.

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Video: Apple's 24-7 retail store
Ron Johnson, Apple's senior vice president of retail, gives the press a look at the company's new Manhattan store on Thursday.

Sam Baker of Wayne, Penn., and his family were strolling by the Fifth Avenue location on Thursday. Baker, an avid Apple consumer who recently bought the new , was impressed with what he could see from the outside.

"Design is really important to Apple," he said. "And I'd have to say this is really cool."

His 9-year-old son Otis, who has his own , was equally impressed. "I don't think I'd come to New York just to see the Apple store," he said. "But I think it looks really cool."

Aside from its innovative design, the store will also be the first and only Apple store that will be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

"The lights will always be on," Johnson said. "We don't want any visitor to New York to miss a chance to come to the Apple Store."

Aside from being one of Apple's largest stores in terms of square footage (the SoHo store is also 10,000 square feet, but over two floors), it will also be the most personal of all Apple stores. The store will be staffed with nearly 300 trained employees who will be available 24 hours a day to provide free face-to-face customer support on the store floor and along the combined 45-foot "Genius Bar," "iPod Bar" and "The Studio," which are Apple's names for its help desks.

The new store offers more than 100 Macs and nearly 200 iPods for customers to try before they buy (Apple will be giving away a new MacBook every hour for the first 24 hours the store is open). The store also offers a huge assortment of Mac an iPod accessories along with sound systems for iPods from companies such as Bose.

Five years after opening its first store in McLean, Va., in 2001, the company has opened roughly 30 stores a year throughout the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and Japan. Despite early skepticism from analysts and other industry experts, the company's retail strategy has been wildly successful. Revenue from its retail stores was $2.35 billion for the fiscal year 2005, which ended Sept. 30. And its retail stores had their biggest quarter ever during the holiday season of 2005, when they pulled in a more than $1 billion in revenue.

Compared to other retailers, the company has done extraordinarily well, Johnson said. While other companies, such as Target, generate about $300 per square foot, Apple generates about $4,000 per square foot.

"We're the new kids on the block," Johnson said. "We are just 5 years old, but we're just getting started."

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