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Apple Inc. (AAPL): A Look Back

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On this day in economic and business history …

The first Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) Store opened to the public at 10 in the morning on May 19, 2001. Situated in the luxe Tysons Corner Center in McLean, a Virginia suburb of Washington, D.C., it was Apple’s beachhead to the retail market, and three hours later it was joined by a second Apple store in Glendale, Calif. It was also seen as a big risk.

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL)

Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) was coming off several straight quarterly losses and was still just a computer company — the first iPod wasn’t released until later that year. PC competitors were closing their own dedicated stores as the dot-com bust crunched profits and dented interest. It took a certain boldness to open stores dedicated to a very narrow product lineup, consisting then of Macs and iMacs. Tech journalist Joe Wilcox was there to experience the first Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) Store for himself, and here are some of his key takeaways:

I was surprised at the time that Apple didn’t locate in the posher [Tysons Galleria, or Tysons II] mall, which seemed to click more with the Mac demographic. But Tysons I had more foot traffic. When Apple Store opened, Tysons Corner Center averaged about 57,000 customers a day — or more than 21 million shoppers a year.

Apple Store’s look was unique and quite distinctive in 2001, particularly for a shop selling computers. Here’s how I described it 10 years ago today: “The store sports hardwood floors, high ceilings, bright lights and clean lines — similar to the look of the trendy clothing retailer The Gap Inc. (NYSE:GPS). The similarity is not surprising, considering Mickey Drexler, CEO of the Gap, is a member of Apple’s board.” San Francisco-based Fisher Development, which also constructed The Gap Inc. (NYSE:GPS) stores, built the first Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) retail shops. “Contributing to the clean look of the store is the lack of network cables connecting computers to the Internet, as Apple has incorporated AirPort wireless networking to link Macs and other products to the Net.”

Some of the first store’s features now seem positively quaint. With only one primary product — computers — Apple divided the store into quadrants, each devoted to a different computing tier. There was a “software alley” that included some non-Apple peripherals. You could burn CDs in the store! Now you can’t even find a DVD drive, let alone a CD drive, on most Apple computers.

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