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Apple Store opening draws rave reviews

The opening of Apple Computer?s first retail store turns a suburban Washington, D.C., mall into a scene from a rock concert.

MCLEAN, Va.--The opening Saturday of the first Apple Store turned a suburban Washington, D.C., mall into a scene from a rock concert.

More than 500 zealous Mac fans lined up as early as 4 a.m. EDT for the chance to be the store's first customer and to support Apple Computer's retail experiment. The crowd--which earlier broke into chants of "Apple! Apple! Apple!"--roared when the store opened at 10 a.m.

The spectacle drew curious gazes from early-hours shoppers and mall workers, who occasionally stopped to puzzle over the crowd building outside the store.

The first Apple Store is located at Washington's largest mall, Tysons Corner Center in McLean, Va. The second of 25 stores planned for this year opened later Saturday at the Glendale Galleria in Glendale, Calif., outside Los Angeles.

Chris Barylick was the first customer in line, having arrived six hours before the doors opened.

"I went to this rave last night and had all this extra energy, so I decided to come here," he said. But two hours after arriving, security guards asked the Arlington, Va., freelance writer to leave. "I went from 7-11 to 7-11 before getting back here? a couple hours before the opening, he added. He later bought a copy of Mac OS X.

Dave Rand, from Basking Ridge, N.J., stood behind Barylick in line. "I'm down here to buy an iBook--the DVD model," he said.

Rand, who drove more than three hours to Virginia specifically for the store opening, could hardly contain his excitement. "There's finally going to be place where we (Mac users) can go to shop and not be directed to a PC."

Robert Drejer of Fairfax, Va., stood behind Rand, but unlike the other two early arrivals he had no specific buying plans.

"I'm looking to see what Apple put in place...what Apple is going to do in a retail place," he said.

While these three men may have been at the head of the line, the distinction of being the first person to buy something from Apple's debut retail store went to Eric Walton of Columbia, Md. But Walton, who bought a copy of Mac OS X, wasn't looking to be first, he said.

"I didn't have a computer at work with Mac OS X on it, and I wanted a copy," he said. "Being first is certainly a nice perk for showing up today."

The fans went wild
Excited Mac enthusiasts and curious PC users rushed into the store at its opening to find hardwood floors, high ceilings, bright lights and subdued displays reminiscent of Gap stores. Apple contributed to the clean look by using AirPort wireless networking, rather than unsightly cables, to connect 35 demonstration Macs to the Internet.

Jazz music that greeted the first people in the store later gave way to the B-52's "Love Shack" as customers played with Apple's iTunes digital music software and burned music CDs.

Security guards kept close track of people entering the store, as local regulations limited capacity to 80 people. An hour after the store opened, the line outside only grew longer, even after early shoppers walked out with their purchases and new buyers made their way inside.

Eric Kulczycky, marketing director for Tysons Corner Center, said he expected the crowds to grow throughout the day. Located in the nation's wealthiest county, Fairfax, Va., Tysons Corner Center averages about 57,000 customers a day--or more than 21 million shoppers a year.

"We try to differentiate ourselves by bringing in one-of-a-kind stores," Kulczycky said. "That's why we're so happy to have Apple." Other stores include Build a Bear Workshop and L.L. Bean.

The Apple Store appeared off to a good start, selling four iBooks within five minutes of opening. Rand got one of those. Sales people, who tabulated purchases on Blue Dalmatian iMacs, said software also was extremely popular. The Apple Store carries about 300 software titles.

Apple's technical assistance area, the Genius Bar, drew about 25 people within the first 30 minutes of opening.

Extending the Mac community
While Saturday marked the official opening of the store, Apple CEO Steve Jobs on Tuesday took the press on a tour of the retail outlet. "Why these two (stores)?" Jobs asked during the press briefing. "They were the first two that were ready."

Jobs described the stores as a way of expanding Apple's brand and doubling the company's market share. "Five down, 95 to go," said Jobs of Apple's market share vs. ?Wintel? companies.

Apple hopes to build on its fiercely loyal base of Mac users, who have a reputation for pitching in at computer stores to help sell Macs. Apple is employing long-time Mac users in the stores. By including a question-and-answer area in the back of the store, the Genius Bar, and hiring teachers, Apple hopes to extend the Mac community to new users, Jobs said.

To make this point, store customers on Saturday found this message in their shopping bags: "This store is our way of personally introducing you to the Apple way of life. At Apple, we are committed to building a community where knowledge can be shared freely."

This approach made a lot of sense to Drejer.

"There's no such thing as individual user," he said. "There's just the Mac community."