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Will Apple's upcoming 'prototype' store serve coffee?

Construction is about to begin on a new Apple retail store in Palo Alto, Calif., which the company says will feature a "prototype" design. Will it include a place to get a cup of joe?

Apple's Palo Alto store
Apple's current retail store in Palo Alto, Calif.
Josh Lowensohn/CNET

Apple is planning to give its Palo Alto, Calif., retail store a reboot as part of an upcoming construction project that will build a new "prototype" store just a block away.

The San Jose Mercury News reports that construction on an upcoming $3.15 million, 15,030-square-foot store is imminent, and that the new location could serve as a replacement for its nearby predecessor.

"Our Palo Alto store was one of our first retail stores when we opened it nearly a decade ago and it's been incredibly popular," Apple spokeswoman Amy Bessette told the Mercury News. "We are planning a beautiful new store just a few steps away, building on everything we've learned from our customers in Palo Alto and around the world."

Like Apple's retail store on the Upper West Side in New York, the upcoming Palo Alto store will make use of a glass roof. The design is linked to architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, with the company describing it in planning documents as a "new prototype" as well as acting as a "commons for community to gather."

That last little bit makes the store a little more intriguing considering Apple's early retail ambitions. It could just be a friendly PR tagline, but in 1996--several years before the first retail store would ever open its doors--Apple had a very different plan in mind to get its brand out there. Cybercafes, with their high-speed Internet access, software libraries, and nearby patrons and support staff were popping up in cities around the world.

That year, Apple announced it would be joining forces with the Landmark Entertainment Group and Mega Bytes International to collaborate on state-of-the-art cybercafes in Los Angeles, London, Paris, New York, Tokyo, and Sydney, Australia. There visitors would be able to surf the Web, grab a snack, and use Apple's latest hardware and software.

But just a month after that announcement, Apple acquired NeXT, and soon after Steve Jobs took the spot as Apple's CEO. In the last few days of 1997, the cybercafe idea was quietly shelved, a decision Apple attributed to its partners in the business venture.

The question of what could have been lingers, though not so much these days given Apple's retail success--due in no small part to the company's end-to-end control of each store. But what makes things just as interesting was that Apple seemed to want to hold onto the coffee shop idea early on in its retail endeavor. It originally planned to serve coffee at the Genius Bar (where it served bottled water for a short time), a plan that was killed off given the need to get additional permits and train employees.

In reality, the "prototype" idea could be nothing more than a physical configuration that hasn't been done at any of its other stores worldwide. Setups like the Fifth Avenue store in New York, which has visitors walking underground on a spiraling staircase, or the company's store in Sydney, which utilized the largest pieces of glass on any Apple store, are good examples of that. Then again, it could be coffee too.