In an unprecedented move, Apple has created and posted a video of new store opening preparations for the Omotesando (Tokyo) retail store, which holds its grand opening on Saturday. The YouTube video shows the exterior of the store swathed in decorative plastic, the interior before display products were set in place, and a time-lapse of the plastic removal. The 53-second video also reveals a brand-new spiral staircase design that presents a completely different aesthetic and structure. It features wide stainless steel stringers supporting partial steel treads, upon which the glass treads are placed. Previous glass staircases have used glass or steel rods to support the structure, a complex and expensive engineering feat. The video is part of A-team video and photo coverage of the store that has been underway since last week. Passersby have reported seeing sit-down employee video interviews inside the store, as well as video and photography of the store from all angles. When Apple’s video and photo crews descend on a high-profile store grand opening, they prepare materials that are used almost exclusively within the company. The store’s “hero” photo is posted on the store’s Web page, and occasionally a short video about the retail stores is shown during product announcement keynotes. But Apple has never posted a pre-opening video of a new store, and especially never reveals views of a store that’s not fully prepared. The new Tokyo store is significant—it’s the first one to open in Japan since Sapporo in June 2006. It’s arrival coincides with increasing revenues generated by the country over the last two years, a reversal of a long trend of tepid sales. video/photos

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The latest edition of Apple’s retail store window display features the “Air” products, with a paper, tree-like structure that shows different shapes and colors from different viewpoints. The mid-2014 window is being deployed at nearly all 254 U.S. stores—about 53 stores no front windows or lack space for displays.  The display consists of long strips of heavy paper printed on one side with either application screen shots (left window) or photos of Mac products in action. The strips are linked at the bottom and then suspended by thin wires so they loop outward towards the top, much like the structure of a tree. The displays were reportedly very difficult to install. From straight ahead, the tree is nearly invisible, but from the left and right passersby can see the printed side of the strips. An iPad Air and MacBook Air sits on a slim stand at the bottom of each paper tree. On the window glass, lettering states, “Enlightened” on the left (iPad Air) and “Empowered” on the right (MBA). The display will probably remain in place until the annual Back-to-School window display appears in August. photos

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Workers began removing the decorative plastic covering from the front windows of the new Omotesando (Tokyo) Apple retail store at 8 p.m. Monday night. By midnight, nearly one-half of the plastic had been removed, exposing the interior of the store and the back-lit Apple logo. Several hours later, the store was fully revealed. The Apple logo is suspended from the ceiling in the middle of the shallow store, directly over a spiral glass staircase leading to the basement level retail space. The store represents the third in the series of V3.0-design stores, after the Stanford 2 (N. Calif.) and Pioneer Place 2 (Ore.) stores. more photos

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Connecticut’s Department of Labor investigators have fined three contractors it found working on the Westfarms Apple store remodel without worker’s compensation insurance for their five employees. The action came after the investigators posted a “stop work” order at the site on Tuesday after confirming a tipster’s claim the companies were not carrying insurance. At the site, DOL personnel posted a “stop work” order, halting construction until the companies provided proof of insurance. The the next day, the DOL said it learned the legal posting had been covered over with plywood and that work was continuing at the store. At that point, the DOL issued $1,000 fines to each of the three out-of-state construction firms involved in the remodel: Dickinson Cameron, Blue Water Glass and Excel Construction. Dickinson is a long-time Apple contractor that has worked on scores of mall-based Apple stores since 2007, and Blue Water also has done previous Apple store work. A DOL officials said the agency was checking other Apple stores in the states to determine if there are other construction projects, and if the contractors have the required insurance. They also said DOL officials are speaking to Apple representatives to resolve the situation. State law mandates that local officials require proof of insurance coverage before issuing a building permit, but it’s not clear if that occurred in this case. The Westfarms location was the 13th store to open in the chain, and before remodeling began it still featured the classic black metal storefront with two white, back-lit Apple logos. The remodel is part of an on-going project to update and expand the size of stores that opened in the first years of the chain. Update: On June 6th the state’s Workers Compensation Commission employer database showed that Dickinson Cameron was insured by Travelers Casualty and Surety Company.

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Employees of Apple’s retail stores in Australia have reached agreement with the company on a four-year contract that covers pay, benefits and working conditions, but retail observers say Apple’s offer was barely over the retail industry’s current averages, and includes just two percent annual raises. The contract was approved by 90 percent of the company’s 2,372 retail store employees who voted at the country’s 21 stores. The agreement was certified today by the federal government’s Fair Work Commission (FWC), the national agency that performs wage reviews and sets minimum wage standards. Under the agreement, there are three levels of employee pay, and pay rates for both full-time and “casual” employees. When the agreement becomes effective this November 1st, starting pay for full-time Level 1 employees will be $20.95 per hour (all rates in U.S. dollars), and Level 2 will start at $25.26. Casual employees will receive 25 percent more per hour to offset fewer benefits. Level 3 employees are management, and will receive a base annual pay of $72,779. The Level 1 base pay represents a 25 percent premium over the current $16.69 Australian minimum wage. However, the annual pay increases are less than the FWC’s 2.6 percent increase in the 2013 minimum wage. details

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Just weeks into the official start as her term as Apple’s new Sr. VP Retail/On-Line Stores, Angela Ahrendts is impressing veteran employees as both warm and genuine, and focused on the goals of expanding retail in China, improving mobile commerce and revamping the retail stores’ customer experience. As told by 9to5mac.com, Ahrendts has been touring Apple stores in the San Francisco region to gain inside knowledge, and has been shuffling some of the executive team to better focus on the future. Employees who have met Ahrendts say she’s “honest,” “passionate” and “so Apple.” But insiders also report that she has specific goals for moving forward—improving telephone service, Personal Setup and the iPhone trade-in program. The article also makes some comparisons between Ahrendts and her predecessor John Browett, who was fired after less than a year. Read the entire 9to5mac article for additional insights.

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Apple’s future presence on New York City’s Upper East Side has been confirmed by city building permits issued last week that list the names of Apple’s usual architect and structural engineer. The permits are dated May 15th and cover soil testing underneath the structure at 940 Madison Avenue, and demolition of the building’s interior, costing $20,000 and $60,000 respectively. The future Upper East Side store was first confirmed by IFO on May 6th. The initial permits were granted in the name of Apple’s long-time architectural firm Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, and engineering firm Eckersley O’Callaghan, which specializes in glass structures. Both firms have been responsible for some of the industry’s most high-profile retail spaces around the world, including Apple’s Fifth Avenue (NYC) location. Permits for the future store’s major construction, heating/air conditioning, and signage have not yet been issued. Download (pdf) the permit documents.

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Continuing the season of retail store expansion, Apple will soon begin construction within a space adjacent to the Houston Galleria (Houston) store to add 50 percent more space and double the storefront width. The store opened in September 2002, and was among the early locations that were sized at 6,000 square feet. Stores were later constructed with about half that space, attempting to fit more easily into mall locations. But over the past two years, both smaller and larger stores have been receiving expansions to boost visitor capacity. In this case, tipsters say the existing store will close soon, and move to a temporary location. Meanwhile, the vacant former French Connection store will be converted to Apple retail space, adding about 2,900 square-feet to the existing 6,000 square-foot space. The storefront will expand from 30-feet to 60-feet. According to construction timelines, the expanded store will open by year’s end. expansion plan

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The latest Apple store construction discovery is in Connecticut, a state that’s been granted a new store every two to three years since the chain began in 2001. According to a tipster, construction is underway inside the Westfield Trumbull shopping mall, a 1.1 million square-foot regional mall north of Bridgeport. The location is almost in the center of a 30-mile triangle formed by the existing New Haven, Danbury and Stamford Apple stores. It would be the sixth store in the state. No specific space was identified by the tipster, but based on construction schedules, the store could open before year’s end. map

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Goodbye Victoria’s Secret, goodbye Made in Oregon, and hello expanded Apple store. According to insiders, the Washington Square (Ore.) store that opened in November 2003 will move from its narrow 30-foot storefront, across the hallway and into a combined space that will double its square-footage. The 70-foot wide space will be created from the former Brookstone and Made in Oregon stores, and totals 9,946 square-feet. The expansion is part of an on-going project to remodel and expand about 20 Apple stores each year, all from the early years of the chain. The mall is about 20 minutes southwest of city center Portland, where the future Pioneer Place 2 store that will open very soon. The construction timeline for the expansion space isn’t known, so there’s no projected date for when the existing store will move. expansion plan

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For five months it’s been common knowledge around the Manhattan Village (S. Calif.) shopping mall that the Apple store will move into an huge expansion space, but the company has yet to officially announce the move to its store employees. Security guards, other mall stores employees and even customers seem to know what’s happening and have been talking about the move. Either way, the store that opened in July 2005 will eventually leave its 3,985 square-foot space and move a larger space labeled “Available” on the mall’s lease plan. For now, the construction barricade isn’t painted Apple’s traditional black, but that move could come later. If Apple occupies the entire empty space, it would cover 7,000 square-feet and could open by year’s end. Update: Additional sources confirm the store is moving, but into a different space that housed Pottery Barn, closer to the mall’s central courtyard. move plan

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Apple has added a São Paul (Brazil) shopping mall to its list for new stores within the next year. It would be the second store in Brazil, which hosted it first store grand opening just last February. In fact, it would be only the second store on the continent, 13 years after the chain was born. According to a tipster, this week Apple signed a lease with the developer of Morumbi Shopping, a huge 503-store mall southwest of city center in one of the city’s most affluent districts. Construction could begin within weeks on an unknown space in the three-level mall, meaning the store could open in early 2015. map

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Apple is rolling out a major upgrade to the point-of-sale (POS) devices that retail store employees use to process purchases, including redesigned software, a move from the iPod touch to iPhone 5s, and a major switch in vendors for the hardware device. The new EasyPay devices will support the chip-and-pin (EMV) technology that major credit card companies will begin using in the U.S. next year to avoid fraud and security breaches, along with NFC features, enhanced barcode and mag-stripe reading, and a physical PIN entry pad. As first reported by 9to5Mac, select stores are using the new devices now, and a full roll-out will occur over the next few weeks. The current EasyPay models were introduced in late 2009, first appearing at the Carousel du Louvre (Paris) store grand opening. The device used an iPod touch integrated with an Infinite Peripherals Inc. Linea Pro 5 “sled” to provide magnetic-stripe and 1D/2D barcode reading. The new devices are made by VeriFone Systems Inc., a public company headquartered in San Jose (Calif.) and once owned by Hewlett-Packard. They are a major player in the transaction processing industry with $1.7 billion in 2013 sales, and a one-third global POS device market share. Interest in the company has increased in the wake of recent credit card security breaches, including at Target and the move to chip-and-pin credit cards. Apple will use the company’s Payware Mobile e315 model with an iPhone 5s, which is nearly as compact as the current Linea Pro device and only one ounce heavier. The device costs about $700 in single quantities. The stores will also use a companion Verfone frame that fits the iPad for POS duties. Signficantly, the VeriFone device supports NFC contactless transactions, a technology that many consumers have dreamed of having in a future iPhone model. Now, having NFC in an EasyPay raises the possibility that one day a customer with an iPhone could make a purchase at the Apple store by simply touching it to an EasyPay device. Download (pdf) the device’s specification sheet. photos

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After a long pause of major crime, burglars used a passenger car to smash the front door and security grating of the Fourth Street (N. Calif.) Apple store overnight, and steal several products from the display tables. The suspects escaped after the 2:52 a.m. incident and police believe the car had been stolen. Burned rubber marked the spot where the Pontiac sedan jumped the curb between two parking meters. It was left behind about 20 feet inside the store with skid marks on the stone floor behind it. Several wood tables were bumped out of the way, but appeared basically undamaged. The glass doors were broken, but the adjacent taller glass panels were undamaged. Starting in 2011 criminals across the country discovered they could smash the front door of Apple stores, enter and rip display products from their power and shoplifting connections before police could respond. In some cases the burglars were armed and confronted security guards. In one case the burglars left behind their vehicle’s license plate are were later arrested. In another, an armed security guard shot and killed an armed burglar. The U.S. incidents faded away in late 2012 after Apple installed security gratings at about 30 street-facing stores, including at Fourth Street. But the Berkeley store was hit in July 2012 by a door attack after the security grate installation, and the high-profile, stone-faced Kurfürstendamm (Berlin) retail store was targeted in December 2013, seven months after it opened. In the latter case burglars threaded a small car through one of the entrance doors into the store. In Berkeley, police believe there was a get-away vehicle waiting for the suspect(s) and are studying store surveillance tapes for clues. Ironically, the crime occurred days after two men pleaded guilty to armed robberies of the Berkeley and nearby Bay Street Apple stores in March 2013. Court documents state both men will be sentenced to prison in June. Update: The store re-opened within 10 days. read more…

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The green roof is planted, the plaza stone steps are in place and workers are removing furniture from their construction offices at the future Pioneer Place 2 (Portland, Ore.) Apple retail store. The latest photo of the site also shows how workers will access the roof plants and the amount of glass in the block-wide storefront. The store is based on the new all-glass, floating roof design first seen at the Stanford 2 (N. Calif.) retail store that opened last October. Since this photo was taken the stone steps on the near side of the store have been completed. The store could open this summer. Click on the photo for a large, annotated version. [photo by Cabel Sasser]

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