Apple’s newest retail store opened to a moderately large crowd on Saturday, fully revealing the Passeig de Gràcia (Barcelona) store’s interior design, which includes a huge volume of space, locally quarried stone and some strange design decisions. It’s Spain’s second street-level store, and the company reportedly had considered other spaces in the city before settling on this conspicuous, corner location. About 75 people officially made the overnight stay in front of the building, watching the cleaning crew meticulously wash the windows for the fourth time, and scrub and dust every interior surface. Few overnighters slept during the very balmy night, but rather talked with each other about Apple or used the company’s products to stay connected. As the 10 a.m. opening time approached, the sun rose over adjacent buildings and both the temperature and excitement increased. Finally, the manager opened the doors and welcomed first visitors Ray and Eduardo into the store, followed by hundreds behind. The entrance space is very tall, and stone steps invite visitors to move upward and inward. As you move into the store, tall windows are the left and tall back-lit graphics are to the right. Above you in the tall ceiling is a cut-out, allowing you to see the upper floor. When you reach the rear of the store, you can ascend the glass stairs or head downward on a set of stone steps. Either decision leads you to other interesting areas of the store to explore, and the store’s various products and services. View a gallery of grand opening photos.
The Waiting Line
The weather was a perfect 72 degrees overnight, so no one had to bring sleeping bags, blankets, tents or rain gear. Instead, it was more about technology and talking. Ray was the first person to arrive in line, at about 1:10 p.m., followed 10 minutes later by Eduardo. Both were immediately spotted by the Apple store’s manager, who came out to welcome them and have a photo taken with them.
In the next hour, nine more people showed up in line, and then at 7 p.m. there were several others who joined. As midnight approached—the unofficial deadline for claiming “overnight” status, about 50 people were in line.
Someone in the line at about position #10 began recording the names of those who were in line, and giving them a printed number badge. While well-intended, the process meant that perhaps 20-30 people were given numbers for the line, and then just left, intending to come back closer to opening time and take their numbered spot in line. That resulted in a strange sight along the line: someone wearing a #28 sticker on his shirt was physically sitting about 15 positions back in the line.
The number organizer stopped the process after about 110 numbers had been given out. Closer to opening time the security team questioned someone’s right to be in line, but apparently it was quickly resolved.
The traditional friends-and-family event went live at 4 p.m., with at over 200 lining up at the side of the store to enter. On the other side, a group showed up with four camping-style folding chairs, purchased just up the street. According to one person, the group intended to attend the grand opening, clean up the chairs a little, and then return them to the store for a refund. The chairs reported cost 10 euro each.
Pallets loaded with boxes of new stanchions arrived in the evening, and the security team spent hours unboxing them and setting them up. At least six loads of heavy metal bicycle fencing had been delivered earlier, and were spread out up Passesig de Gråcia ready to be deployed. Only about half were ever needed to guide the waiting line. Only about one-third of the stanchions were ever unboxed, and later were trucked away.
At about 8 p.m. a group of about 200 protesters arrived at Plaza Catalunya, members of a syndicate (union) angry over government budget cuts. There was some speculation amongst the waiting line that the protest group would walk over to the Apple store, but within 90 minutes they disbanded without incident.
A television news crew arrived at 11 p.m. and interviewed those in line. A radio reporter also made the rounds before midnight. The store employees cleared out about midnight, but not before someone from Apple made the rounds with trays of ice cream for the front of the line.
From midnight to opening the cleaning crew was in constant motion, wearing bright orange T-shirts as they washed, mopped, wiped, dusted and scraped every surface of the store. The outside of the upper-level windows were cleaned at least twice while the waiting line was there.
At about 1:15 a.m. the cleaning crew needed access to the east side of the building for their platform lifts. So the waiting line shifted around to the south side of the building for about an hour. At that point, the security team had loosely arranged stanchions on the east side, keeping everyone close to the building. The stanchion lines were broken every 40 feet or so, to allow cross-traffic by visitors to the other businesses along the street.
Many people stopped and asked questions of the waiting line, but there was little harassment from Windows enthusiasts. A trio of troubadours passed by from a recent bachelor party gig, and played a short song for the waiting line. Given Spain’s traditional late-night social schedule, the night was quiet.
At 6 a.m. the security team tightened up the stanchion spacing, essentially making it single file, and leaving little room to sit down or even stand side-by-side with someone. At that point there about 100 people in line, extending not much further than the northern end of the building. At this same hour the first store staffers began arriving for work.
At 7 a.m. Apple’s photo and video teams showed up to begin their coverage. They had people passing out model releases to the waiting line, allowing Apple to use their image in photos and videos. The team set up a time-lapse camera at the corner, but there didn’t appear to have been one running overnight, as at most recent high-profile store openings. More store employees began arriving for work at this hour.
The sun had risen about 6:15 a.m. but had been hidden behind buildings and trees until about 9 a.m. Even though the temperature was moderate, it was very hot standing in the sun as it shined down Gran Via and onto the front door of the store.
Apple employees came by at least twice with bottled water, and members of the cleaning crew came by just as often to collect trash from the crowd.
At about 8:30 a.m. young man approached the front of the line, waited a moment, and then the security guard lifted the stanchion tape so he could enter. The man stood there silently for about 30 seconds, puzzling everyone at the front of the line, particularly #1 Ray. Finally, someone asked the man what’s he was doing, and he said he was in line for the grand opening. Carefully, the group explained that he had not arrived at the end of the line, but at the front of the line. Confused, he turned and exited the line, past the conspicuous front door of the store, and headed to the end of the line.
By 9:30 a.m. about 20-25 members of the press had arrived and were interviewing the first 10 people in line. #1 Ray keep talking until virtually the last second before the front doors opened. Inside the store the employees had all assembled on the front steps and were shouting and chanting, and waving to the waiting line outside.
At about 9:40 the store manager came out the east side doors, welcomed the crowd, and then the employees started streaming out of the store and north on the sidewalk, shouting and giving the waiting line high-fives. They circled the line and then came back south to the head of the line, pumping up the enthusiasm for the tired crowd.
At 10 a.m. the store manager pressed a button and the front doors automatically opened. With the store employees shouting behind him, the manager led the countdown—Three! Two! One! At that moment, the manager waved #1 Ray forward, met him with a big smile and a handshake, and then turned him around to the press and curious passersby. Again, the manager shook hands, bowed and thanked Ray for coming to the grand opening. At that point Ray went inside to cheers and high-fives, followed by the rest of the waiting line.
Visitors picked up their white box with a special edition T-shirt inside: dark blue with the now-famous colorful mosaic logo on the front. As reported earlier, the inside of the box was also printed in the same mosaic design. Many people opened their T-shirt boxes immediately and put on the T-shirts. Later in the afternoon, sidewalk trash cans outside the store filled up with white boxes discarded by visitors who felt the T-shirt was the only souvenir.
As the store filled up, the visitors seemed genuinely interested in examining Apple’s products, not just walking around. As usual at big-city grand openings, the Genius Bar was an immediate success, with many people conferring with employees about questions or problems. Sr. V-P Retail John Browett was walking the store, dressed in shorts and white casual shirt. Sr. Director of International Retail Steve Cano also attended the event.
There were about 500-600 people in line when the store opened, and the line didn’t ever grow much beyond that. However, as the line went forward, it was immediately filled with new members of the line, so it also never fell below 500 or so until early afternoon. By 12:45 p.m. there were about 120 people in line, it was moving quickly, and T-shirts were still being handed out.
Another check of the store at 2:10 p.m. found 65 people in line, with T-shirts still being handed out. But by 4 p.m. the T-shirts had run out, along with the line. The security team had taken down all the stanchions and opened all four side doors for visitors.
Like other high-profile stores set in large buildings, each space in the building is devoted to types of products. The ground floor is product display, even including the Mac Pro, and a small area for product set-up. Upstairs is the Genius Bar, several areas for individual and group training, and the kids area. The Briefing Room is also on the second level, behind a set of glass doors. It has the usual wood meeting table and demonstration equipment. In the basement there is a much smaller space for accessories, software and third-party products.
The back-of-house space consumes a large section of the basement, and space on the ground and upper floors north (to the right) of the public space.
There are several impressive views within the store, including out the south windows onto Plaza Catalunya. From the ground floor the windows are very tall, letting in sunlight and allowing a full view outward. On the second level an exterior balustrade intrudes into the view to provide some interesting detail to the plaza view. The ground-floor windows are remarkable for another reason: their size required the best available technology from Apple’s suppliers. Information about similar glass panels from other stores puts the cost of each pane at about $65,000.
The view upward from the ground floor had every visitor raising their eyes, mostly to see people on the second level looking downward at them.
Perhaps the most interesting view is as you’re climbing the glass stairs. The stairs rise just a few steps, turn to the right and continue up parallel to the back wall. There is a final right turn at the second level before you see the display floor. Structurally, the stair treads are supported by the back stone wall and by a wall of huge glass panes.
As you climb, the stairs themselves initially attract your attention, but then your gaze is drawn to the right as the full view of the store becomes more impressive. The number of display tables and their symmetry is much more obvious from this unusual angle, making people linger on the stairs to study it.
A set of stone steps is directly underneath the glass staircase, leading directly to the basement display room. The view downward is unremarkable, although the daytime lighting is nice. The best view is upward, as other visitors climb the glass stairs.
And overall, from either end of both levels, there is simply a view of volume that is impressive, making visitors stop and gaze.
With a corner space along the street and all the windows, sunlight plays an important part for store’s daytime appearance. During the grand opening (summer morning), direct light splayed into the south-facing windows, casting onto the stone floor. Upstairs, the sun lights up the front space where the kids tables are location, and also the training tables along the south wall. The overhead lights on both levels seem almost superfluous during the day.
As visible from outside, the store’s materials are almost all traditional: gray stone steps and floors, wood tables, bead-blasted stainless steel and laminated glass. The unique material in this store is a light-cream colored stone for the interior walls, reportedly quarried not far from Barcelona, and intended to closely match the building’s exterior walls. The stone is not as closely shade-matched as Apple’s stone floors, and has many visible variations—or imperfections. Although the color and appearance are different for an Apple store, in this building and context it’s as “invisible” and non-conspicuous as the traditional materials.
The store has access for visitors with disabilities: You can avoid the front steps by walking down the left side of the store and using the wheelchair-sized platform elevator just inside the rear entrance. There is no signage at the front of the building directing visitors to the entrance. An interior elevator provides access to the basement and upper level.
All of the entrances are equipped with ShopperTrak, which logs the number of visitors to the store.
Despite its impressive nature, exploration of the store does reveal some features that raise the question, “Why?”
With such an impressive volume of space, it’s puzzling how much the six support columns on the ground floor intrude into the visitor traffic patterns. They are impressively huge, and seem to be located at just the wrong places. First, when you enter the store, the front two columns block a substantial amount of space at the top of the stone steps. Just as strangely, two sets of handrails on the steps end at the outside edge of each column, making passage at the top impossible.
Once you’re further inside the store, the display tables are located so closely to the support columns that there is barely a body-width available to pass. When one is approaching a column, especially the outside edge, you must first make sure no one is coming the other way—it’s definitely one person at-a-time for passage.
The front steps and glass stairway also have some odd features that were making visitors stumble during the grand opening. The most interesting one is located just above the top landing of the rear glass stairs.
Typically, the first tread up from a landing is elevated. In this case, the glass tread has every appearance of being a tread, not an extension of the landing space. But it is not elevated. Therefore, when many visitors turn around the corner from the landing, and extend their foot to the first step, they expect their foot will hit an elevated tread. When it does not, there is the typical, “Oops!” moment as their foot continues to the actual height of the step—lower than expected.
Fortunately, making this misstep on the way up is not so dangerous as on the way down. Nevertheless, it exists.
The stone steps have a similar feature: when entering the store, there are grooves cut in the leading edge of each step. However, there is also a groove cut in the first level, giving it the appearance of a step. Most visitors didn’t seem to have a problem with this design feature, going either up or down. Perhaps the upper glass stair missteps are caused because it hides behind a turn of the stairs.
And lastly, the south windows that allow sunlight into the basement retail space also provide a view to the outside of passersby, potentially immodestly. At the sidewalk level, pedestrians closely approach the window to look into the store space through the tall windows, and during the day are unaware the window extends to the basement level. Below, a customer who is examining accessories directly beneath the window might be startled by the view they have of the pedestrian.E-mail this story