During a recent presentation at his alma mater, Apple’s first retail chief explained that the stores were originally conceived as places where communities would form, and that only one of every 100 store visitors actually makes a product purchase. Former Sr. VP Retail Ron Johnson told a Stanford University audience in May that store high-speed Internet connections—nearly unheard of at the time—were intended to attract visitors, allowing them to check their email or surf the Web. Johnson spoke as part of Stanford’s Graduate School of Business “From the Top” series that spotlights company executives. Johnson was an undergraduate at Stanford, and also attended Harvard Business School (HBS). Johnson recalled his close relationship with Steve Jobs, and the main lesson he learned from him—‟You have to be willing to start again.” He recounted the previously-told story (but in more detail) of how the original Apple store design was re-done at almost the last minute in 2001, because Jobs’ trusted Johnson’s evaluation that it didn’t match up with the company’s “digital hub” philosophy. video

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The visuals teams at the Apple retail stores are installing new back-lit wall graphics to promote the capabilities of the iPad and iPhone, but the graphics have also changed the mood of the stores with their photographic style. Previous wall graphics were stylized close-ups of products with lots of bright colors and white space that spilled over into the stores. The new graphics were photographed like magazine ads, showing the iPad/iPhone being used in actual situations, complete with their surrounding people and places. Their colors, tone and brightness is much richer and darker than the previous graphics, a noticeable difference that’s been the subject of Tweets and other on-line postings by store employees and visitors. The photos are partially based on the latest series of videos that promote the iPad and its real-world capabilities, including videos that profile music composer Esa-Pekka Salonen and world traveler Chérie King. photos

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A job listing for a future Apple retail store in Marlborough (Mass.) was posted 10 days ago, but only now has a tipster pointed out the exact location, the Solomon Pond Mall. The Simon-operated mall is adjacent to I-290 about 30 miles west of Boston, a site the company claims is the second-largest metro trade area in the state. The mall’s leasing plan was updated five days ago, and shows Apple occupying a T-shaped space covering 7,400 square-feet, to the right of the Clark’s store on the lower level. The future store will expand coverage west of metro Boston, and will be the 11th store in the state. Based on hiring schedules, the store could open by year’s end. mall plan

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While blogs in the United States speculate on the expansion of Apple stores in China under new Sr. VP Angela Ahrendts, construction workers have been toiling away on stores planned literally years ago, including second and third locations in the country’s ninth-largest city, Chongqing. According to several sources and photos of the sites, stores will eventually open at the Paradise Walk and MixC shopping malls, located north and south of city-center respectively. The store are in addition to the Guotai Plaza store recently confirmed. According to sources, the MixC location has been underway for several months without incident, and job listings have been posted. However, the Paradise Walk location has been delayed by design changes and other issues. The project first came to life in 2011 by Woods Bagot architects. It was originally designed with three levels, each with 20-foot ceilings. However, half-way through the construction phase Apple wanted a more spectacular storefront, and requested a slight change–remove the floor slab between the ground-floor and first-floor to create one spacious level. That design is now under construction, with a 40-foot tall lower level and a 20-foot upper level, surrounding by light-colored stone walls. Based on construction and employee hiring schedules, both stores could open in the first half of 2015. photos

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Just two weeks after a job listing announced that the city of Manchester (NH) would host a future Apple store, the precise location of the store has been confirmed: the Mall of New Hampshire. Store enthusiasts say that Apple recruiters have been in the city to hire staffers for the new store. And just two days ago the mall’s leasing plan was updated to show Apple occupying a space near the center of the mall, across from the Sunglass Hut. The T-shaped space occupies about 6,800 square-feet. The future store will be about 25 miles north of the state’s other two existing stores, Pheasant Lane and Rockingham Park. Based on recruiting schedules, the store could open by late 2014 or early 2015. mall plan

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The Barton Creek (Tex.) Apple store celebrated its 10th anniversary today, with the help of the CapMac Users Group, who dropped by with a chocolate cake for the employees. The store opened in 2004, was remodeled once, and then moved to a larger space in February 2013 to better accommodate visitors. The store is one of two in central Texas surrounding Austin. In the early days of the Macintosh, there were hundreds of users groups in the United States providing technical support and fellowship for a legion of new computer owners. That era is over, but there are still many groups of loyal Mac users and Apple enthusiasts around the country, including CapMac. The group’s Web site says the original store had “an amazing vibe,” which grew even stronger after the new store opened. As for the anniversary, CapMac says, “Next time you’re in Apple Barton Creek, wish Dani and her amazing team a happy birthday—they deserve to celebrate.”

Today CapMac User Group member Qusay Hussein (l.) presented a birthday cake to happy store team leader Chris Olives to celebrate the store’s 10th anniversary.

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In the rush to double the number of retail stores in China, it appears Apple will re-use one of its most iconic architectural designs, the glass cylinder store entrance of the Pudong (Shanghai) store. Construction photos and an architectural rendering confirm that the future Chongqing store will be located beneath Guotai Plaza, a new urban lifestyle and entertainment center. Like Pudong, the plaza features high-rise office buildings plazas, water features and green space, combined with retail spaces. Early renderings of the space showed two circular features at both ends of the plaza. However, in a later rendering, one of the features is covered with a cylinder of glass topped by a white Apple logo, identical to the Pudong Apple store design. Presumably, the cylinder is the entrance to the full store underground. Current photos of the plaza show a very tall gray barricade circling unseen construction work at the same location as shown in the rendering. Photos of the underground space show the early stages of construction. Insiders say the entrance project is being managed by Frener Reifer, a German company that specializes in façade and unique structure construction. Apple has used the company before, including for the Stanford 2 (N. Calif.) and Third Street Promenade (N. Calif) retail stores, the first to use the new V3.0 store design. Based on construction progress, the store could open in early 2015. photos

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It took 10 years, but residents of Virginia Beach (Virg.) can now look forward to visiting their own Apple retail store, possibly by year’s end. Confirmation has been received that the company will open a 6,249 square-foot store in the Lynnhaven Mall, just to the right of the Sephora store. Tipsters first pointed to the mall in 2004 as a possible Apple store location, but there was no reported activity until last month. The store will take pressure off the existing MacArthur (Norfolk) location 20 minutes away, which sometimes forced Apple users to drive an hour and 45 minutes to Short Pump Town Center in Richmond. The store will occupy space F15, according to the mall’s leasing plan that was updated 10 days ago. The space features a rather narrow 30-foot storefront, but is an unusual 108-foot deep. In fact, the mall plan shows the store intruding about 20 feet into space normally occupied by the mall offices. Based on employee recruiting schedules, the store could open by year’s end, or early 2015. read more…

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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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