The San Francisco Board of Supervisors has approved a planning code variance for a single parcel of land on Union Square, effectively giving final approval for Apple to begin construction of its proposed high-profile store. The project will involve demolishing the current triangular Levi’s store, rebuilding the adjacent plaza and constructing a two-level glass and steel retail store on a corner parcel. Over the past 10 months several city committees and commissions raised and resolved issues about the store project, even including the potential number of birds killed by flying into the huge front glass windows of the store. Last month the Planning Commission deadlocked on approving amendments to the planning code that would only affect the Apple store parcel, putting the store’s approval in the hands of city supervisors. The code section involves Apple’s plan to demolish the existing building and replace it with a structure that is smaller in square feet, thus affecting the sites’ floor area ratio (FAR). In return for modifying the FAR requirements, the amendments added nine additional requirements for the project, including that it would not result in an adverse impact to an historic resource, and wouldn’t obstruct public view corridors. After discussion, the board of supervisors approved the amendments by a 11-0 vote at its Monday evening meeting. A second vote on the amendments will be taken next week, and the mayor—who sponsored the proposal—must then approve them. If demolition begins immediately, the store could open by spring 2015. Download (pdf) the variance and supporting materials.
A Florida man has filed a series of class-action lawsuits against 10 retailers along the upscale Lincoln Road (Miami) shopping street, saying that the stores’ point-of-sale systems are inaccessible by those who are legally blind and are in violation of the federal Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). Plaintiff David New says he visited the Lincoln Road Apple store to make a purchase with a debit card, “but was unable to make the purchase independently because, at the time of the visit, Defendant’s POS Device was not fully accessible to, and independently usable by, blind people.” Specifically, a customer must enter a PIN number to authorize a debit card payment, but a blind person cannot see “the numerical references displayed on the keypad of the POS Device,” the lawsuit states. New asks to represent others who are “similarly situated,” and demands that the retailers take “all necessary steps” to come into compliance with the ADA. details
The world’s most valuable company isn’t worried that employees might be stealing Apple gear from their retail stores, and a security bag check that is the subject of a employee lawsuit is used inconsistently “at best.” What’s more, the company hasn’t audited the bag check program to determine if it’s effective at reducing employee theft, and considers loss prevention to be a low priority endeavor. That picture was painted by an employee designated by Apple to provide expert testimony in depositions taken earlier this year. The testimony also provided previously-secret insights into the operation of the stores, including the percentage of part-time U.S. employees and the chain’s employee turn-over rate. The new information comes from Carol Monkowski, Sr. Director of Store Operations, who appeared as Apple’s designated witness for the topics covered by the lawsuit. She was deposed by the plaintiffs’ lawyers on January 8th in San Jose (Calif.) and a transcript of her testimony has been filed with the court. The lawsuit contends that all store employees are required to undergo a bag check every time he/she leaves the store, and while they are off-the-clock. It also claims employees must frequently wait in long waiting lines for the bag check and are entitled to substantial back pay for the uncompensated time. The lawsuit is still in the discovery phase, and both sides are taking depositions and trading documents. read more…
Behind the neon lights, casinos and grand hotels of the Las Vegas (Nev.) Strip, there are communities of people who want to buy Apple products and need service. And there are mall developers in the area who believe they have the perfect property to host an Apple retail store, and who may be willing to relocate existing tenants to create the 5,000 square-feet of needed space. According to Racked.com Web site, one of those developers is The District at Green Valley Mall, along I-215 in Henderson (Nev.), about nine miles south of The Strip. According to Racked, a local restaurant owner has proposed a weekly farmers’ market at the mall, and submitted a permit application to the city. Among the supporting documents for the parking lot market was a lease plan for the mall showing “Apple – proposed” on a large space. The wording suggests that no lease has been signed, and perhaps that negotiations are not even in-progress. But if the proposal works out, it would be the fourth store in the metro Las Vegas area—two stores are within walking distance of the city’s 39 million annual tourists, and the third is a mile south to serve permanent residents. This potential store would be eight miles further away, providing an even larger local Apple presence. No timeline is known for project or for when the store might open.
In an unprecedented move, Apple is offering a a $25 discount on the price of the Apple TV for the next six days at its retail and on-line stores, payable in the form of an iTunes Gift Card. It’s the first time the company has offered a non-seasonal discount on a current product, and seems intended to clear out channel inventory ahead of the introduction of a new product, possibly the long-rumored Apple set-top box. The discount was posted today, simultaneous with the company’s stockholders’ meeting in Cupertino. During that meeting, CEO Tim Cook said sales of Apple TV and associated content totaled $1 billion during fiscal 2013. “It’s a little hard to call it a hobby any more,” he told attendees. Apple discounts its products only twice yearly: in late-summer for Back to School, lately a gift card with a computer purchase, and on Black Friday (U.S.), with cash discounts on select Apple and third-party products. Similar one-day holiday discounts are available outside the United States. Apple offers year-round cash discounts on computers, displays and software for K-12 and higher education faculty, staff, students and parents. The current Apple TV deal has some terms (pdf), including that it runs from February 28th through March 5th, is available only through the on-line and U.S. retail stores, and that the buyer “may decline” the gift card. promo screenshot
A distinctive glass cube has appeared in a rendering for the future The Bloc mixed-used complex in Los Angeles, billed as the new center of the downtown area. The development will revise the layout and architecture of the existing hotel and office towers, and Macy’s department store along 7th Street between Flower and Hope Streets. The cube in the rendering—which is oddly proportioned—is remarkable for its similarity to the iconic Fifth Avenue (NYC) Apple retail store, and seems to lead to an underground space. Inside, there is a suspended, glowing white circle—not an Apple logo. But lest hopes be raised, The Bloc’s official Web page shows an entirely different architecture: a sunken plaza, walkways and pools. Instead of a glass cube, there’s a tall, very red tower emblazoned with “Macy’s” in white letters. The cube rendering was prepared by EPT Design, whose Web page says it’s working with One Eleven Design to “re-imagine four level of this intriguing urban space.” The rendering is likely speculative, and so doesn’t represent the final design for the plaza, or predict that an Apple retail store will open at the site. Macy’s rendering
Attorneys for Apple have responded to a lawsuit by current and former employees asking for back wages for bag security checks, saying the plaintiffs have failed to prove the practice affects all store employees, and asking that collective-action status be denied. Apple also provided testimony from an expert who watched store video surveillance tapes, and disputed the plaintiffs’ estimates that bag checks take 20 minutes or longer to conduct. Two main plaintiffs filed the lawsuit in June 2013 claiming they’re owed back wages for off-the-clock time to conduct bag checks whenever they left the store for breaks, meal periods and at the end of the shift. Since the original filing, the plaintiffs have filed an amended complaint, Apple has filed an answer, and late last year Apple took depositions from nine employees who have joined the lawsuit. The court documents paint the plaintiffs as a rag-tag band of former Apple employees who have spotty memories, vague knowledge of Apple’s policies, and a history of terminations and disciplinary actions. Overall, Apple claims the bag checks are “not common,” apply only to those who bring Apple products to work, and consume a minimal amount of time. details
Continuing a trend towards simplicity, cleaner typography and more white space, Apple has revised the retail store Web pages to eliminate anything that is not content, bringing it under the iOS 7 umbrella. The redesign affects the main store list, individual store pages, as well as the main retail page. The overall design, element locations and drop-down menus remain for the pages. However, the new design dispenses with the previous side borders, shading and button backgrounds, and lightens up the main headline type fonts. Some elements are spaced more loosely, pushing content further down the page, as shown in the comparison view below of the same content extent. The retail pages have been revised extensively since the first one appeared in 2001—with just two stores.
Three window washers dangle from rope lines above the sidewalk at the George Street (Sydney) Apple retail store on Monday night. Several passersby snapped photos of the operation and posted them on various social media sites, including Enzo Paoli who shared this photo on Instagram. The 30-foot tall glass panels were the tallest in the chain when the store opened in June 2008. The glass windows are a key element of the store’s design, and have helped the store become an icon in city center—hence, the need to keep the glass spotless. view from up top
After seven years of agonizing debate, funding battles and design revisions, an architect has now issued a new rendering for the proposed Midtown Plaza development in downtown Rochester (NY) that includes an Apple store that breaks every one of the tech company’s architectural and design rules. The rendering is obviously speculative, yet its use of a textured metal storefront, narrow glass panels and an oddly-positioned Apple logo violates the unwritten rules of depicting another company’s trademarked architecture. The renderings were prepared by the New York-based firm of Philip Michael Brown Studio, and show the Apple store on a prominent corner, adjacent to a movie theater. Interestingly, the rendering is posted on-line in three versions, both with and without a stone wall above the metallic-looking storefront, and with-and-without an Apple logo. In all versions, a spiral glass staircase is visible behind the storefront glass, along with wall-mounted product counters. The project arises from the decline of the 1962-era Midtown Plaza complex on nine acres in the downtown area. The city acquired title to the complex of buildings in 2008. Since then, the site has been vacant as the city worked to raise funding, approve designs and demolish old buildings.
While most speculation about new Apple stores is focused outside the United States these days, a job listing has appeared pointing to the center of Michigan for a future store. Today Apple gave a Valentine’s Day gift to the city of Lansing with the formal announcement of job openings at a store somewhere in the city. At the same time, a second job listing has confirmed earlier speculation of a future Ohio store. Lansing is a city of 113,000 nearly in the middle of the lower peninsula, with Apple stores just over an hour away both east (Detroit region) and west (Grand Rapids). As usual, today’s listing doesn’t provide a specific location for the future store. However, the Lansing Mall and Eastwood Towne Center are possibilities within the city limits, as is the super-regional Meridian Mall just 15 minutes east in Okemos. The future store will fill in Apple store coverage for the mid-state and bring the state’s total to six stores. Based on past timelines, the Lansing store could open this fall. In another job listing posted today, Apple confirmed an earlier report of a future store in Dayton (Ohio). Again, the exact location isn’t known, and the store could open this fall. Update: Within days a commenter noted a black barricade across space #4 at Eastwood Towne Center, a 6,019 square-foot location that is listed as “leased” on the mall’s Web site. On February 20th a building permit application was located that confirmed the store’s location. read more…
Even as some of Apple most talented retail store executives have left the company, one exec is moving up. Today the company announced that Denise Young Smith has been promoted from VP Global Retail Stores to head the company’s Human Resources Department. The promotion dovetails with the promotion of company HR head Joel Podolny to dean of Apple University, an internal leadership development program begun in 2008. In an email to Bloomberg News confirming the promotion, Apple spokesperson Christine Huguet said, “We are excited that Denise Young Smith will expand her role to lead Apple’s worldwide human resources organization.” Young Smith, 58, is an original Apple retail employee, recruited in 2000 as director of retail HR and eventually promoted to retail vice-president. She graduated from Grambling State University (La.) and received a degree in communications and journalism. In college she also participated in dance, music and theater activities, talents that she practices today as a singer. Young Smith has performed at Carnegie Hall, according to her bio, at overseas music festivals and in the San Jose area. Young Smith is a frequent visitor to retail store grand openings, particularly as Apple has expanded internationally. Few retail executives have moved upward through the company, particularly in recent times. In fact, since Sr. VP Retail Ron Johnson left the company in June 2011, several other top and mid-level executives departed rather than seek promotions. The retail Sr. VP position has been vacant for the past 15 months, but Burberry exec Angela Ahrendts was appointed to the spot last year, and is due begin work in May.
Apple’s retail store expansion into China has been slow and methodical, and has not reached any of its publicly-stated goals, leaving store watchers with little to see. But now tipsters say two stores are in different phases of construction in Chongqing central China, with one store possibly opening this year. The region is home to 28 million residents, and is a major transport hub on the Yangtze River. The nearest Apple store is MixC Chengdu, about four hours away by road. The first future store is under construction at the Paradise Walk mall, one of the city’s most upscale shopping destinations. The store will reportedly resemble the existing IFC Mall (Hong Kong) store on two levels, and construction is underway behind bamboo poles and screening. The second store will be at Guotai Square, a new development. This store will resembled the Pudong (Shanghai) store, but construction appears to have stalled for now. Former Sr. VP retail Ron Johnson set a goal of having 25 Apple stores open by February 2012. And last year current CEO Tim Cook said he wanted to double the number of China stores within two years. Despite those efforts, there are just 11 stores in the country now, with reported future locations only in Dalian and Guangzhou. According to tipsters, the Paradise Walk store could open by year’s end, but the timeline for the Guotai Square store isn’t known. photos
Apple enthusiasts living in Dayton (Ohio) have felt lonely for the past 13 years without a retail store, and downright sad as rumors of a possible store have come and gone. Now, there may be sunshine on the horizon after a black construction barricade has appeared at The Greene shopping mall, and a tipser reveals that several retailers have been relocated to create a prime space, both Apple trademarks. The first Dayton store rumors surfaced in 2004 and centered on the Dayton Mall, then undergoing an expansion. Two years later The Greene opened, and once again rumors arose about an Apple presence. In the meantime, Apple product users have had to travel to the Kenwood Towne Centre (Cincinnati, 45 minutes) or Easton Town Center (Columbus, 1:17) stores for products or service. The Greene is just 10 miles southeast of downtown Dayton along I-675 the the suburb of Beavercreek. If construction is underway now behind the barricade, the Apple store could open this fall. Update: Within a week Apple posted a job listing for Dayton, but without a specific location, and a black barricade was noted in front of space C15. The store could open in fall 2014 read more…
Visitors to the Third Street Promenade (S. Calif.) store have spotted air sampling equipment on the product display tables, an indication the company is attempting to trace the source of bad odors that have been plaguing the store. The persistent and foul odor appeared several weeks ago, and was publicized last week in a post on the financial-oriented The Street Web site. Because of the large number of daily visitors to each store—3,000 on average—it is not uncommon for stores to have some type of odor. However, now the company has hired a company to test the air using Sensidyne Gil-Air air sample pumps at TSP. The gear is commonly used to collect airborne asbestos, lead and other contaminants for lab analysis. Here the equipment is being used to collect all the airborne particles to help solve the odor mystery. Like other Apple stores that use an under-floor ventilation system, the TSP store has ductwork and a trench underneath the stone floor. The space also contains a sump pump to prevent the accumulation of water in the space. photo