20 years of Apple Stores: The enduring art of celebration

For most UK customers, visiting Apple Regent Street was an entirely new experience. Anna recalls a sense of familiarity with an infusion of local culture. “There was the same type of gorgeous floors, big windows and a lot of light as there was at North Michigan Avenue. But the store was also made in an older building, and thus had older architectural elements on the outside. It felt much more fitting for the UK and Europe, and it was exciting to wonder where the next stores after that would open.”

Apple employees distribute t-shirts at the grand opening of Apple Bethesda Row.
Photo: Michael Wyszomierski

Apple Bethesda Row

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In May 2001, Mac users had a reason to celebrate. The iMac was a hit, Mac OS X had just been released, and soon there would be a better way to get hands-on with the latest products. The excitement of Apple was back. Lining up to be the first inside an Apple Store was as much about celebrating a reinvigorated Apple as it was about the store itself.

“There were already hundreds of people in line with what seemed like an equal number of press photographers and media worthy of the most anticipated Broadway show opening. It was so crowded that I decided to watch the festivities from the other side of the cube, away from Fifth Avenue. The Apple Store employees circled the building clapping and cheering, which brought the crowd to life. And then there he was! Steve was hustling along the arcade outside the lobby of the General Motors Building directly across from the newly-opened store. I barely had enough presence of mind as he passed to say something heartfelt like, ‘Thank you Steve, for all that you’ve done for us!’”

iPhone Premiere

August 31, 2002

“The store openings were second in popularity probably only to a boy band concert,” Aaron explains. “Up until then, the closest we had to an ‘Apple Store’ was the store-in-a-store experience at CompUSA. While those had a lot of nice marketing signs and such, the detail and quality you could see in Apple’s own design was amazing. Everything was of the highest quality, presentation was perfect. Apple had made a very obvious effort to make the security devices hidden, which made the whole setup look more approachable and inviting to touch, use, and enjoy. Apple Stores were also one of the first places to offer free Wi-Fi back then, and I definitely took advantage of it with my iBook!”

“Before the North Michigan Avenue opening, there were a few smaller Apple Stores in Chicago, but those were small, and they were all in some malls far in the suburbs,” Anna says. “North Michigan Avenue was big, gorgeous, and it was right in the middle of Chicago. So much more accessible a location without a car.” In 2017, Apple moved to the Chicago River with a grand opening that drew a spectacular crowd of if its own.

Apple Regent Street

Twenty years ago this week, Apple opened its first brick and mortar retail stores to applause, cheering, and seemingly endless lines of smiling faces. What started at two malls in Tysons Corner, Virginia and Glendale, California became a tradition spanning two decades, generations of customers, and more than five hundred new stores.

“My place in the queue ended up being the first corner, and by the time the store actually opened it was much, much longer.” Anna recalls the excitement of lining up on The Magnificent Mile to visit Chicago’s original North Michigan Avenue Apple Store. “Some people walking by were asking why we were queueing, and assumed we’d be getting some fancy stuff for free. Well, there were those white Apple Store opening t-shirts that were handed out for the first few hundred. Those were cool, but it was even more cool to be among the first ones to view the new fancy big store.

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“I’m old enough to remember ‘camping out’ to get concert tickets and such, and it had a bit of that feel,” Chris says. “There was a hearty group of about fifteen to twenty (myself included) that stayed up all night. If I recall correctly, the guy who was ‘first’ was also first for the Tysons Corner store. My friend Chris, who camped out with me, had a feeling it was going to [open] around that week as Macworld New York was that week.”

“It was a loooooong line, it wrapped around the building and went on for blocks. At that time in the city you would see people line up around the block for things like a sneaker release, but this was something altogether different. It really was electric around there. It felt like so much more than just a line of people waiting to buy a new toy. Some of the Apple employees were lined up on either side of the entrance, just inside the building, and were applauding people as they exited with their new purchase.”

Apple West 14th Street

🎈 This is part one of a four-part series celebrating twenty years of Apple Stores. Read more feature stories and special content at the links below.

“The energy that day was enormous. Everyone was excited, it was what all brought us there.”

“The Tiger release was similar to an opening day. They closed the store at 5:00 p.m., then reopened from 6:00 p.m. to midnight for the event, which included giveaways. I won iWork!”

Apple Fifth Avenue

“Before opening, employees inside the store were singing, dancing and cheering. I couldn’t hear too much because of the glass, but I could feel the atmosphere. Their enthusiasm was something I had never experienced. I became a One to One student and learned a lot from the Creatives.”

Apple Carnegie Library

July 18, 2002

“It fit into the neighborhood and space really well,” Matthew adds. “The three separate floors were a great way to break out all the spaces and the staircase was a point of interest. As an Apple news junkie, I found out about the grand opening through one of the usual popular sites operating at the time — it may have been Gary Allen’s site, ifo Apple Store. We made plans to attend a few days in advance.”

Apple MixC Chengdu

“Now we’re used to constant, mostly small updates on our phones and computers. When the Tiger World Premiere happened, I had probably watched a stream of Steve Jobs demoing it at WWDC ten months earlier, read about it on the rumor sites up until release, and wondered during the installation what the intro music would sound like. There was anticipation!

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“The atmosphere was unlike anything I had experienced before.” Chris Ptacek camped out for the grand opening of Apple SoHo, New York City’s first Apple Store. After a few dozen stores in malls, Apple was ready for a flagship location in a historic post office building. Steve Jobs attended the opening. 

“There was a roar from the front of the line as Apple CEO Tim Cook and D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser appeared in the doorway windows, preparing to open the store for business.”  Peter Puleio made a day trip from New Jersey to Washington, D.C. to visit Apple Carnegie Library and took home a lifetime of memories. “When our time came to enter, the employees lining the steps cheered and offered high fives as we ascended the steps. Spotting Retail + People SVP Deirdre O’Brien, I made my way over to her in hopes of snagging a photo. We briefly exchanged pleasantries and I was able to get a photo with the 30-year Apple veteran.

After visiting Chicago in 2003, Anna was fortunate enough to attend the grand opening of Apple’s first UK store one year later. “At that point I was living in Cork in Ireland, so I asked for some time to go to the store opening and have a little London trip. Regent Street opened on a Saturday morning. In the evening there were already at least a few dozen people waiting, and everyone had something like very warm jackets, sleeping bags, or tents to stay warm. In the morning we joined the queue. There were at least three hundred people in front of us.”

December 7, 2007

December 11, 2004

April 29, 2005

The last Apple mini stores were replaced long ago with larger locations to serve the explosive growth of iPhone. When Bethesda Row opened, many people were still discovering Macs for the first time. “It was fun to meet other people who were excited about Apple and connect simply as people who were lucky enough to appreciate how great it is to use a Mac,” Michael says. “Some of us had fun showing potential ‘switchers’ the latest products, explaining that the iMac G5, which to many just looked like a monitor, was the ‘whole computer.’”

A Tiger World Premiere Scratch and Win card.
Photo: Michael Wyszomierski

Tiger World Premiere

June 27, 2003

Aaron Slater was attending broadcasting school when Apple Twelve Oaks opened in Novi, Michigan. He turned a class news segment assignment into an opportunity to attend Michigan’s first Apple Store opening.

December 15, 2012

But then a funny thing happened. The lines didn’t slow by store ten. Or one hundred. They grew, often stretching around the block or snaking through mall corridors. New products brought opening day lines back to stores that opened long ago. New versions of Mac OS X became World Premiere events. iPhone turned the dial to eleven.

Chris remembers his first trip upstairs, where he snapped a photo of Steve Jobs near the store’s Theater. “It was also the first time to get a look at the glass staircase, which was the first ever installed. Walking on those glass stairs was absolutely scary, hearing about how much they cost, and the fact that it was glass played tricks with your mind. But then it was just like now when you walk into an Apple Store — everything had its place and everything was placed where it was for a reason. One of the perks of the opening was the free t-shirts for each store. I still have two in the clear tubes!”

Apple Twelve Oaks

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Zed also welcomed Apple into its new home at Carnegie Library, but from a very different perspective. He was part of the team that opened the store. “In the days before opening, we were privileged enough to have Deirdre O’Brien and Tim Cook come in and talk to us all,” Zed explains. “There was a lot we learned together, but the thing that made me the most excited about what was to come was seeing how much effort Apple was putting into making Carnegie such a great store for people with accessibility needs.

“The Apple Store was about two blocks from my office and on my route to work from my apartment, so I walked by it all the time and had seen the line forming earlier in the week. My co-worker James and I obviously didn’t know, but looking back, it feels like we somehow knew that it was an important moment in time, because we made the decision to leave the office a little early that day.” No event has better captured the energy of the Apple community than the premiere of the first iPhone at Apple Stores. Nate Tharp was an iPhone skeptic at the time, but still couldn’t resist checking out the line at Apple SoHo in New York City.

Matthew Dodd and Sidney San Martín were in high school when they ventured out to see the third Apple Store in Manhattan. “We waited in line for about three hours,” Matthew remembers. “We got there around 4:30 p.m. and then inside around 7 p.m. There were some private ceremonies with staff and the billboards changed around 6 p.m.” Large billboards on top of the store with iPod ads were suddenly uncovered to reveal “Now open.” signs. The moment was captured in the duo’s vlog from that evening.

November 20, 2004

May 11, 2019

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June 29, 2007

A few months after the opening of Apple Bethesda Row, Michael Wyszomierski embarked on a four-store tour to celebrate the World Premiere of Mac OS X Tiger. Before the Mac App Store when software still shipped in boxes, Apple held in-store events worldwide on release day. Some people even dressed up. Michael explains:

“I rode my bike for 20 kilometers, and it took about two hours to get to the store from my university on the night before opening.” Míc Sun attended the opening of the eighth Apple Store in mainland China, and it sparked a passion that has only grown since. “I reached the gate facing the road. I thought it was the main entrance —  I thought I was the first guy in line. A security guard told me if I wanted to visit the store I had to wait in the mall. I got band number 41 and stayed up the whole night until opening.

Long after customers experienced an Apple Store for the first time, new store opening events and product launches continue to draw crowds because they bring together the best of the Apple community. They connect like minds and unlock new perspectives. They provide opportunities for online friends to finally meet up. They celebrate the tools and people that inspire us to do our best work.

The stories that follow catalog the enduring art of Apple Store celebrations over the past twenty years.

Apple SoHo

May 19, 2006

Aaron photographed and filmed the event with his trusty Panasonic VHS-C camcorder. The video lives on today in digital form. “One guy from Florida who was there had been to most, if not all Apple Store openings to that date. I don’t recall his name, but I also worry he wasn’t able to keep that streak going for very long when Apple picked up the pace of openings.”

Apple North Michigan Avenue

“I took the Chinatown bus from Philadelphia to New York that morning. Although I knew I was going to see the store with my friend Jase, what I didn’t know was that eventually we would be fortunate enough to be about four feet from Steve Jobs.” Photographer Jason Smith captured Apple Fifth Avenue on opening day. His encounter with Steve Jobs at the iconic cube almost didn’t happen.

“In place of the stainless steel shelves and slate floors I were used to was beautifully polished white stone, fresh paint, bright wooden Avenues and trees — real trees! — something I’d never find in my local mall stores. It was such a change of pace, and one I happily took in. I’m honored that I was able to welcome Apple into its new home in Washington, and to date, Apple Carnegie Library is always on my list when I happen to be in the city.”

“This was the second opening that I went to, and was the one hundredth Apple Store to open.” Michael Wyszomierski lined up to celebrate the original Apple Bethesda Row in Maryland, one of Apple’s first mini store concepts. “At the time, it was still somewhat unusual to be a Mac user, and many passersby referred to it as an ‘iPod store,’ not even realizing that iPod was an Apple product. The line had at least one hundred people in it when the store opened, and they gave away five hundred shirts within the first forty-five minutes of opening. I was first in line, and waited for over thirteen hours.”

“I don’t remember everything in detail after the doors opened. I had conversations with countless people. There is one story that I definitely do remember. There was an older lady in a wheelchair that was in the Genius Grove. When I was talking to her, she started weeping. They were tears of joy. She started to tell me that she remembered when Carnegie was an actual library. She used to drop her daughter off to read, but because it wasn’t wheelchair accessible, she had never been able to come in.