One thing was made abundantly clear when Apple opened up its Grand Central store for the first time today: those early enthusiasts care more about the Apple experience than the products.
The Grand Central store opening garnered the kind of buzz typically reserved for a new product launch. Hundreds of Apple fanboys waited in line, which stretched into the tunnels of the station, all for a glimpse at a retail outlet. As with any product launch, the first wave of customers entered the store to thunderous applause and cheering from Apple employees.
"Your heart beats like crazy, seeing all the people cheering for you," said Gabriel Evans, a student from Poundridge, N.Y., who used his half day at school to come down to Manhattan to see the store.
The ritual of waiting in line has evolved beyond the desire to have the latest and greatest product first, and more for the shared experience of spending time with fellow fans. Stalwart fans at the front of the line have regularly talked about the bonds they've created while waiting for the latest that Apple has to offer.
At the front of the line this morning was Jacob Davis, who came down from Albany, N.Y., with his father, Robert. He got in line on Thursday morning to ensure he would be the first customer to step foot in the store. Jacob, who already has a slew of Apple products--he was carrying an iPod, iPhone, MacBook, and PowerBook with him in line--said he had planned on buying some accessories, but wasn't really there to shop.
Robert, who took two days off from work for the grand opening, said it was more about the experience of coming to Manhattan with his son. He quipped that maybe Apple would give his college student son a job.
The next person in line, Gary Allen, flew in from Berkeley, Calif., and got in line at noon on Thursday to check out the Apple store. Allen said he had been to a number of Apple stores around the world, and said he was more a fan of the architecture and how the store operates.
Allen will have a lot to appreciate. Unlike other Apple stores, the Grand Central location uses less glass and actually integrates itself into the station's more classic look. It's the fifth Manhattan store and, given the traffic that Grand Central sees, will almost certainly be considered the New York flagship store.
The store sits atop the east and northeast balconies of Grand Central, providing consumers with a view of the main concourse below, where countless commuters come in and out of New York.
Apple said the store will have two Genius Bars and a personal pickup area, allowing consumers to order products through the Apple Store app and pick them up once they reach the station. The company said the store will offer new 15-minute Express Workshops for consumers on a tighter schedule. It also boasts the largest personal setup area, as well as a room for personal training.
The Grand Central store is just the latest in a chain of more than 360 Apple stores in 11 countries. The stores have become an important extension of Apple's brand, as well as another revenue source for the company.
But many of the customers weren't necessarily in line to make big purchases that day. Allen said he didn't intend to buy anything. Likewise, Evans, who actually hopped in line right before the store opened, said he wanted to check out the Genius Bar to fix his iPhone 4S' battery problem, and pick up an accessory, but wasn't going to buy a big-ticket Apple item.
Hector Nieves, an IT consultant who works near Grand Central, said he came by to check out products to buy for Christmas, but also wasn't looking to make a purchase. Still, he said he was moved when he entered the store amid the cheering crowd, when his thoughts went to the contributions that late co-founder Steve Jobs brought to the technology world.
"I could barely hold back my emotions coming up the stairs," Nieves said.