Perhaps it was the weather or late-night revelry, or even the low-key Dutch culture that limited the Amsterdam Apple retail store waiting line to about 600 people on Saturday morning. But the diverse group of people who waited under gray clouds was enthusiastic and anxious to see what Apple itself considers to be its best store, the peak of its architectural and construction talents. The first four people in line were from Germany, the United States and Belgium, leaving the Dutch and other nationalities to fill out the remaining spaces. The line officially started at 6:20 p.m. on Friday when Volker walked from the city’s main train station and took up a position at the front door. Within 10 minutes another three people arrived, and the line continued to build—very slowly. There were 18 people in line by midnight, making them the official overnight crowd. The line stabilized and only began to add more people about 5 a.m., corralled with metal bicycle fencing that extended down Leidsestratt. About 265 sections of fencing arrived and eventually led down to the nearby canal and around the corner. However, the crowd never occupied the entire length of the fencing.
View a gallery of grand opening photos that show the many features mentioned here. Also check the Twitter feed of the event. Volker (#1) has posted GoPano 360° videos of the store, and also check this video of the store after it opened.
About 8 p.m. two workers arrived at the front door with an unusual delivery—a glass stair-step (tread) from the spiral staircase. They both lugged one end of the tread trying to gain access through the front door, but were directed around to the rear of the store. Minutes later, the two workers were on the stairway, carefully disconnecting a tread about halfway up, and removing it. About an hour later, they installed the replacement tread—carefully. Apparently the replaced tread had been damaged in some way.
There was also almost four hours of work on the small lights mounted in the floor to illuminate the spiral glass staircase. Two workers completely removed the fixtures, leaving nothing but bare wires, and performed some operation on the fixtures. They then replaced the entire set of lights. Another team of cleaners were on ladders to clean the stairs, including a scary trip inside the 30-foot tall glass tube that is the center of the staircase. Other cleaners used a rainbow colored duster to remove every single piece of debris from any surface.
There were nine people in line by 10 p.m., and shortly after, the security team moved the line away temporarily to begin constructing the final arrangement of stanchions near the front door. The move was carefully made to insure everyone retained their original place in line. About 30 minutes, later the line moved back in front of the building.
The Leidseplein district is filled with bars and restaurants that attracts a huge crowd, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. Police were visible on foot, on bicycles, on horseback and sitting in large vans near the square across from the Apple store.
As the clock ticked forward from midnight (18 in line), it became obvious why the police were present—a constant stream of people heading into the district early to begin their weekend, and the same stream of people later who were in some state of intoxication. While walking both directions, the passing crowd stopped to ask the waiting line why they were there, what they hoped to buy—and then asked the “why” question again.
Fortunately, Apple’s experienced security team was prepared, and had erected a section of bicycle fencing about eight feet away from the early waiting line. That meant the line was physically protected from unsteady or flailing passersby as the night wore on. At each hour of the early morning, the crowds failed to diminish. A four block-long line of taxis picked up departing bar-hoppers at a stand acros from the store, assisted by a team of “guides.” Others leaving rode away on bicycles or walked south. The clock ticked past 3 a.m. (22 in line), then 4 and 5 (55 in line). Finally, at 6 a.m. the plaza was empty, the team of police left and the waiting line was by themselves. The trams and buses had stopped running, and it was mainly quiet.
Apple arranged for the Starbucks one block away to be open all night, giving the line a temporary refuge from the cold, but no restroom facilities. At about 3 a.m. the Starbucks crew made the first of several coffee deliveries to the waiting line, but quickly learned it was not that long. At about 8 a.m. a Starbucks bicycle appeared with four employees, loaded with baskets of muffins, which they handled out to the crowd. Interestingly, the muffin included a specially-printed car that headlined, “Good Morning, Apple fans.” It announced Starbucks first European concept store and “Slow Coffee Theater,” which opens March 9th on the Rembrandtplein. The employees later made a second visit to the waiting line with more muffins.
There is a Mini car store within the Hirsch Building, just down from the Apple store. Employees arrived about 6 a.m. (63 in line) in two red Minis, with signs on the side that said, “Welcome Apple.” They pulled out coffee urns from the back and set up a coffee fueling station on the sidewalk.
At 7 a.m. Apple’s still photographer and the New York-based video crew arrived and began documenting the waiting line. Two time-lapse cameras had also been set up across the street, one on makeshift ladder tripod, and another high up on a building. The video crew obtained signed releases from the waiting line, conducted individual interviews, and took overall shots of the line. One videographer wore a Steadicam attached to an Arri camera, all while riding a Segue two-wheeled cycle throughout the store, and outside along the waiting line.
Just 30 minutes before the opening potential danger loomed from a gang of pigeons that decided to roost on the edge of the roof above the waiting line, at the fifth floor level. The line quickly scrambled to move away from beneath the pigeons or risk being soiled.
An hour before the opening, the store’s 300 employees gathered on the upper level for their final pep-talk. There was cheering and yelling audible outside. About 9:30 a.m. the line was back to the canal and out of sight of the storefront. The employees came down the stairs and formed up on the stairs for a group portrait. They raised they arms and chanted, “Holland! Holland! Holland!”
At about 9:45 a.m. the employees came outside and ran the length of the entire line, giving everyone a high-five. Some of the employees wore orange clothing, a nod to the national color of The Netherlands. About five minutes later the first drops of any precipitation began to fall on the waiting line≥but then quickly stopped.
As the 10 a.m. hour approached, the store staff began clapping and chanting—but then realized that the front door key was missing. Within seconds an anxious staffer arrived and held up the key to the crowd! As the doors opened, the volume of the employees increased to “deafening,” and Volker was waved inside. The noise increased even more as the following visitors were allowed inside to walk through the corridor of employees, giving them high-fives. Unlike smaller stores, the Amsterdam store swallowed up the crowd easily—there were few visitors at the rear of the second floor for many minutes.
Even two hours after the store opened, new visitors were met with a double line of store employees chanting, doing “the wave” and giving high-fives. The excitement never faded away.
Newly-hired Sr. VP Retail John Browett was at the grand opening, and moved throughout the ground and upper levels. He was seen talking to Steve Cano, Sr. Director of International Retail, and Bob Bridger, VP of Retail Real Estate and Development. Browett appointment was announced January 31st, and this is the first store grand opening since that day. It’s unknown if Browett attended an earlier grand opening, while he was under consideration for the position.
The commemorative T-shirts were unique and unusual. They were in a white box sealed with an orange-colored adhesive tab. Inside was an orange shirt with a play on the word Amsterdam in white characters: an Apple logo, followed by an apostrophe, followed by the letters “dam,” making it Apple’dam. Several early visitors to the store broke out their T-shirts and proudly put them on.
In typical Apple fashion, construction of the interior was a labor of love, taken from history. Everything is a recreation, although it is impossible to tell even from a close examination. The employees are still in awe of the store, since they had their first view of the interior just nine days ago. Steve Jobs signed off on the project before the project before he died last year, and Apple has taken great care within the company to credit the artisans, craftsman and construction team who created the store.
The superlatives are many: most number of Apple products on display of any store in the chain, second-largest store in square-footage, and largest volume of any store in the chain. But those are just numbers, when a store should really be judged by its appearance.
The large lighting chandeliers are copies of those used at the Opéra (Paris) store, only in a larger size. Viewed individually they are impressive. Viewed together in a symmetrical line (either horizontally or diagonally), they are even more impressive. The metal-and-glass boy of the fixture slides away to the side to allow replacement of the light bulbs.
The square support posts, decorative round columns and surrounding masonry detail are exact reproductions of the original building structure. They were painstakingly created by hand, by artisans who used the few intact sections that that remained from decades of reconstruction. Some of those original sections are still visible in secret locations on the upper level.
The support columns were made from 48 different pieces of plaster, carefully assembled by hand, then finished to make it appear as one solid piece of stone. Other parts of the stonework were similarly constructed.
The floor on both levels is Apple’s standard Italian stone tiles, but lots of it. It is laid out in the usual fashion—with one exception. To maintain symmetry with the square support posts, the stone tiles adjacent to each support column are just 2 inches square, instead of the usual 30 inches. Therefore, grout lines radiate out precisely from each support post, rather than from some arbitrary point in the store.
The store is organized in typical fashion, with all products on display on the lower level. Each level has its own personality based on the style of windows, and has a view of the other level via an indoor courtyard topped with a skylight set in a light well—the three floors of the building visible through the skylight. Significantly, there is a walkway on the inner side of the courtyard at the upper level, so visitors can wander completely around the opening to gain a view of the store from any angle.
Both levels are dominated by the spiral glass staircase at the front of the building. The curved corner of the building matches the shape of the staircase as it ascends in a left spiral. The glass-and-metal windows on the lower level give way to wood-paned windows when you arrived at the upper level, bathing the entire space in natural light. There is are two landings on the way up the staircase, and a huge glass landing platform at the top, constructed of glass triangles, that leads to the upper level—or provides space for gawkers. The staircase is lit by a circle of lights mounted in both the ceiling and the floor, both day and night.
The staircase also faces the only presence of stainless steel in the store—a six-inch high facing on the second level floor. Somehow the finish looks different than the stainless steel usually seen at Apple’s stores.
The interior is at once both a daylight and warm incandescent space, depending upon the time of day and your location within the store. During the day, a visitor can transition from daylight near the windows, incandescent in the interior, and back to daylight near the courtyard. At night, there is both warm lighting everywhere from the overhead fixtures, but also whiter light from the backlit wall graphics.
Back of house space is to the right of both levels, accessible through doorways.
Tackling individual levels, the lower level is lit by the huge arched windows and the back-lit graphics, and its tall ceiling gives it a spacious feel. This level is reserved for the display of all Apple’s products and, within the inner courtyard, training or live events. The Mac Pro is on display at the rear of the space, right next to the Apple TV display. By one count there are 17 pieces of wood display furniture on the lower level.
The upper level is lit by outside light through wood-paned, white-painted windows that retain the building’s original design. The design is clean and impressive, especially since the windows run the entire perimeter of the floor, including behind the 20-meter Genius Bar. And yes, the bar appears to be one single piece, although there must be invisible seams somewhere along the length. Behind the Genius Bar are three large video screens, mounted into glass sheets since there is nothing but windows behind the bar. The mounting technique was first seen at the Grand Central (NYC) store, where mounting video screens on the historic walls was prohibited.
There are huge areas set aside for customer support activities, including Workshops, the Kids area and Startup. Again, there is lots of wooden furniture—36 pieces. The store has a total of 53 pieces, or about four times an large Apple store in a shopping mall.
At the rear of the second level there is metal wall shelving for cases, headphones and other small accessories, and wood shelving for larger accessories. Proudly, the store was selling this-store-only cases with a Netherlands theme, including for the iPad and iPhone.
The Briefing Center is also on the second level, accessible via a corridor that leads to the south, through a small lobby with seating, and to a front space of the building. It’s equipped with a large table, a video screen and a wall counter with computers. The wood-framed front windows provide an impressive view of the street and buildings beyond, as well as soft lighting.
Purchasing products is done just like at other stores, from employees equipped with wireless point-of-sale devices. But at this store, they are using iPod touch devices inside an Ingenico iSMP shell (data sheet, pdf), a larger device than used in the United States, and manufactured by Infinite Peripherals. There is no dedicated point-of-sale counter in service, although such a counter does exist on the ground level. Right now, the furniture is there, but no computers are in position. Several cash drawers are also installed at various points around the store, with the end of the wooden tables.
The most impressive areas of the store transcend any reference to Apple or computers. The courtyard mimics the chain’s first, at the Covent Garden (London) store. But Amsterdam’s courtyard has four sides of visibility instead of just two at Covent Garden, giving it more walkability. The no-detail white walls of the lower courtyard also provide a impressive effect, compared to Covent Garden’s tan brick walls and black wrought iron.
The rear-left of the second level is most impressive, with its white-framed windows and natural daylight streaming in to illuminate Apple’s wooden furniture. At the rear corner of the store, in this more-quiet zone, it’s difficult to recognize exactly where you are, either geographically on earth or within the retail world. You could sit on a stool here and pleasantly zone out, oblivious to Amsterdam, Apple or retail sales.
But lest you think that Apple is all about architecture and construction, it’s not. As always, it’s about the experience, both for the employees and visitors.
The Covent Garden store is the sister store of Amsterdam, both for formal training and for personal support. And Apple took an extraordinary step to enhance that connection: Workers took down the original cut-out Apple logo signs from outside Covent Garden, and installed them at the Amsterdam store. Yes, it’s more than a store.E-mail this story