Can tony Apple stores survive a down economy?

Are Apple stores elitist? You bet--and that's not a bad thing. Unless the U.S. economy keeps going south.

Are Apple stores elitist? You bet--and that's not a bad thing. Unless the U.S. economy keeps going south.

How do I know Apple stores are high rent? I live in Southern California, and every Apple store within 50 miles of me is in a tony, upscale neighborhood. A new store, for instance, opened in September near my home in the swankiest shopping center in the area--bar none. No Best Buy, Radio Shack, or Circuit City could touch this real estate.

Ditto for the East Coast. The Apple store nearest the town where I grew up is in one of the snazziest shopping spots in suburban Philadelphia. (The clusters of $40K-$50K cars is a giveaway.)

So, the coolest, hippest, greenest (though the latter is debatable) computer company is arguably the most elitist.

Here's the challenge: As consumers think hard (or not at all) about computer purchases, Apple is going to be more pressed than ever to deliver inspired, compelling designs to keep people flocking to its stores (and flock they still do).

A lot has changed, obviously, in the last six months. Many strips malls are languishing as more and more store fronts go vacant.

Mark my words, the first sign that the Apple strategy is faltering will be the shuttering of shops. It only takes a few closings to get the wrecking ball rolling to other stores.

Remember all those Gateway Computer stores? It started with a few here and there and then everything went all at once. The same thing happened to CompUSA and Circuit City. So, for Apple, the canary in the coal mine are its stores.

Maybe they'll thrive despite the economy. Maybe Apple really is different. Maybe.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.


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