Future Paris Apple Store

July 13, 2004

Apple has wanted to locate along the Champs Elysées for at least 18 months, but the location definitely presents some challenges for any American company who wants to make a big splash.

This grand avenue is not for the timid retailer--you're thrown in with local French retailers, along with international companies, all competing for attention from Parisiens and tourists. The stores include Gap, The Disney Store, Cartier, Virgin Megastore, Louis Vuitton, Mont Blanc, McDonald's and showrooms for Toyota, Peugeot and Mercedes car makers.

I also visited the Regent Street (London) retail store construction site...read my full report.

Unlike quiet Regent Street in London, the Champs Elysées in Paris has seen parades for heroes and on national holidays. It is, perhaps, the most beautiful boulevard in the world, in a city clearly laid out by someone with grand ideas. The views from so many angles are spectacular, and the size of everything dwarfs anything you've seen in photos or movies.

At the bottom of the Champs Elysées is the Tuileries gardens, beyond which is the famous Louvre art museum. At the top of the avenue is the Arc de Triomphe, a massive and deceptively tall structure around which vehicles circle at high speeds. In between, the street is 150-feet wide, and the stone sidewalks are a stately 70-feet wide, marked by sidewalk restaurants and giant, shady chestnut trees.

As you march up the Champs Elysées from Place de la Concorde, you watch the park-like surroundings disappear, and turn to stately buildings that house some discretely-designed stores and hotels. But within a block, the buildings turn distinctly retail, including familiar European and American names.

Now, it is into this mix of small local retailers and big-time companies that Apple is desperate to install what would be its fourth international retail store. The question, of course, is exactly where?

My visit to the Champs Elysées revealed it will certainly be a challenge to find the absolutely perfect spot, as Apple always wants to do. There are limitations not only on available spaces, but also on the width and height of the buildings along the street.

First, I found only one empty space on the entire length of the Champs Elysées, along with two spaces undergoing complete reconstruction. The stores appear to be a mix of older, local stores that would have to be convinced to move, or newer up-scale stores that have already invested heavily to locate along the street.

Paris has been a "must have" location almost from the start of Apple's retail plans. But it's all about the location. Finding it and signing it are the critical first step, but patience is paramount. Apple has consistently demonstrated its willingness to wait, and that's just what is happening now with Paris.

Ironically, that single empty space is the former Paris Tourism Office at #127, close to the Arc de Triomphe and just down from the Publicis Cinemas. It's a ground-floor, 66-foot wide space, with an unknown square-footage. The upper floors house the Lancel handbag company. It would qualify for location and width, but apparently not for height.

[In Sept. 2004 I learned that Air France will vacate their office at #119 with, just west of the tourism office. The space is over 60 feet wide, but like other spaces along the street, it appears limited to a single story.]

Second, the design and construction of the buildings could limit the width, size and height of a store that Apple could install in an existing building. The buildings, dating from the 1800s, are up to six stores high, but with non-standard floor heights--the ground floor is usually slightly taller (15'), while the second floor is somewhat shorter (10'). The spaces are generally rather narrow, averaging around 18 feet wide along most of the avenue, with few spaces as large as 45-feet, and only a handful over 60-feet wide.

No doubt Apple wants to install a multi-story retail store in Paris. But with the non-standard ground and second-floor spaces of the buildings, it might be difficult. The store would end up with a shorter second-floor retail space with less head room, and fewer options for architectural features. A complete renovation of the first two floors would give them two floors of equal height, which is certainly a possibility.

Several stores, including The Disney Store have installed basement retail spaces, and that's certainly an option for Apple to increase the size of its future store.

But even a two-story retail store doesn't provide enough space, especially given the narrow width of the stores. That means Apple would have to renovate an entire building, or construct an entirely new building. It's been done before...

In 1999 Gap installed a brand-new, 28,000 square-foot, 4-story store in the first lower block of the Champs Elysées (#40) that is the model of what Apple's store might eventually look like. In fact, some of the features appear to have been the model for Apple's first international store in Tokyo.

The original building was built around 1900, and Gap Inc. retained the original stone façade on the upper floors, while incorporating more modern, American-branded features on the lower level. The store front is 40-feet wide. The architect lowered the basement, constructed an interior concrete core, and installed modern interior elements, including a double-stairway, elevators, a wall of randomly-placed video screens, and a reading area.

The stairway is particularly interesting, as it uses dark granite treads, and glass risers, giving it some of the same feeling of Apple's all-glass stairways at its flagship stores. The handrails are mounted on glass panels, further enhancing the Apple-like effect.

And those elevators--they look very similar to the constantly-moving shuttles at Apple Ginza flagship store.

The Virgin Megastore up the street took a unique approach--the store entrance is at the center of the building, with retailers on either side that have shallow stores (front to back). Virgin occupies the interior part of the building, as well as the upper floors.

As you can imagine, demolishing an existing building and re-building anew, or completely renovating an existing store would be very expensive for Apple. But then, the company has showed it's willing to spend money for the right city, the right space and the right look--just look at its other flagships, which $5 million and up to build or renovate.

Just across from the huge Georges Pompidou Center on Rue du Renard is Apple Center IC, a ground-floor corner space that typifies the European Apple reseller--before they convert to the official design. The store has about 1,500 square feet of retail space laid out in seemingly typical fashion, with shelves of merchandise and a counter of Macintosh gear.

However, in this case the store operates a little differently. When you come into the store, there is a concierge desk, and you're directed to one of three counters staffed by sales personnel who will help you find or purchase what you need. However, if you just want to browse, you can do that, too.

The staff told me the store arrangement was only temporary, and they would soon be converting to the standard Apple design of wall graphics, lighting, wooden tables and other features.

Here's a run-down on Apple product prices, based on Euros:

Euro €
Apple U.S. List
G5 dual 1.8 GHz
G5 dual 2.0 GHz
G5 dual 2.5 GHz
iPod 15 Gb
iPod 20 Gb
iPod 40 Gb
Powerbook 15", 1.33 GHz combo
Powerbook 15", 1.33 GHz Superdrive
Powerbook 17", 1.5 GHz Superdrive
Powerbook 12", 1.33 GHz combo
Powerbook 12', 1.33 GHz Superdrive
iMac 15", 1.5 GHz
iMac 17", 1.25 GHz
iMac 20", 1.25 GHz
Cinema display, 17" (old)
Cinema display, 20" (old)
Cinema display, 23" (old)
iSight camera
Final Cut Pro Express
.Mac account

based on $1.23 per euro, as of 7-15-2004

As you can see, just as in London, Apple products are seemingly more expensive for French customers. But also like the London prices, currency exchange rates can make specific comparisons difficult. In any event, for French customers, Apple products are premium-priced. See photos of the store below.

Also check my random notes on the Paris trip, and the French version of the " ," which allows you to see a photo of addresses along the Champs Elysées--just enter "84 avenue des Champs Elysees" as the address, click to display the photo, and then navigate up and down the street with the arrows that accompany the photo.


the wide Champs Elysées


the sidewalk is shared by cafés and vendors


view of typical block


the retail spaces are narrow


view along the sidewalk


detail of the stone sidewalk


Gucci store at the start of the
retail district


example of a wider 27' space


Lacoste space is about 60' wide


another wide space


2nd floor is not quite full height


vacant Paris Tourism space #127 that
would be a perfect Apple store location


one of several auto showrooms


the corner building where Virgin
Megastore is located


Louis Vuitton store under construction,
with creative barricades


corner Disney store


basement stairway at Disney Store


Gap store


Gap store


Gap stairs to basement


detail of Gap's double stairway


reading area at Gap store


2nd floor stairway at Gap


double elevators at Gap store


sales floor and elevators at Gap store


Apple Center IC


main display area at Apple Center


product display at Apple Center


main product display area at
Apple Center


software display at Apple Center


another view of Apple Center IC