Grand Opening - Regent Street Store - 2004
Apple's store info Web page
Stormy's Trip blog site
Inside Mac Radio interview
Oxford Circus Webcam
Regent Street at Conduit St.
If you attended the Regent Street grand opening, e-mail me your experiences and impressions of the store!
Saturday, Nov. 20 - UK
The new day didn't generate any additional heat from the sun, but the level of street activity hasn't diminished, either. Well past 3 a.m. people were passing by the store on their way home from clubs, restaurants and events, usually in some form of intoxication. But the Apple queue is a patient group, and has been dealing with all questions politely. Fortunately the city's bus and taxi system is up to the task of whisking most troublemakers off to home before trouble escalates.
At 3:05 a.m. there were 296 people in line, wrapping around two faces of the Regent House building, and then off into the darkness of a back street. The first 30-40 people in line aren't sleeping, and are still huddled around the corner of Regent and Princes Street exchanging stories of their favorite Macintosh or applications. The queue beyond that core group is in various stages of sleepfulness--more and more people are asleep as the line become longer.
Some time during the night a group of people on Princes Street displayed their contempt for Windows PCs by setting fire to a mouse, and chronicled it in a video.
Someone in the line gave Stormy (#1) a soccer scarf, and there was widespread trading of coffee and hot chocolate among those in line. At one point the Starbucks around the corner ran out of milk--sending the staff into a tizzy. Apparently they hadn't anticipated the crush of people from the grand opening. The same type of buy-out occurred at a sporting goods store down on Piccadilly: there was a run on camping chairs that probably had the staff scratching their heads.
On Princes Street there was a group huddled in three tents lashed together. Another group fashioned a makeshift hibachi from a cardboard box and aluminum foil pan, and was actually cooking sausages on it. From the looks of it, the fuel was a PC magazine, so it's clear the final product was tasty.
Around 5 a.m. a group of five women appeared at a run around the corner of Princes and Hanover Streets, yelling, "Where did she go?" Several persons in line pointed out a woman who had just joined the queue, and ran up to the person and demanded the bag. They were near to manhandling her when the woman produced the bag, and the incident de-escalated. In another case in the middle of the night, two men arrived intoxicated and full of merriment. However, they soon decided to take over the #1 and #2 positions in line, and no amount of persuasion by the security force could get them to cooperate. They finally moved--but only back along the Princes Street sidewalk! Constables arrived to deal with the men, but it's not known if that included an arrest.
Apparently other line-cutters were more devious: one couple had been in line, then called their 5-6 friends, who arrived very late to join the line. Another man quietly moved up his position in line, explaining that "one position" wasn't such a big deal. But the explanation of the day went to the young lady who arrived at 9:25 a.m. and explained to a security guard on the back side of the building that her master's thesis was on the iBook she was holding, that the laptop had crashed, and she was desperate for the Genius Bar staff to retrieve it. Apparently sounding believeable, the security guard said it was OK to cut into the queue, but those in line protested. It's not clear if she ever got into the line somewhere else. Yet another person reported they were #376 in line at one point, but several hours later were somehow in the mid-400s.
Someone in line claimed to have listed his position in line on eBay, but there is no listing, and it's unlikely that he could complete a sale in time. However, a Regent Street grand opening T-shirt is for sale on eBay now, with one bid as of yet, and a "Buy Now" price of £200 ($360). How is this possible? The seller obtained it during the press event on Thursday.
While my tally of international involvement is necessarily incomplete, I've confirmed attendance at the grand opening by residents of the UK, Finland, Germany, Scotland, Italy and the United States (people who came specifically for the grand opening).
At 7 a.m. the line totaled 457 people under cloudy skies and temperatures that are barely 40 F. By 8:30 a.m. regular street activity on Regent Street picked up to its normal level--jammed! The weekends are only slightly more jammed than a weekday. Maneuvering the sidewalk anywhere near the intersection of Regent and Oxford Streets puts you shoulder-to-shoulder with a tight, crowded, moving mass of people. Sr. V-P Retail Ron Johnson appeared on Princes Street to walk the crowd, briefly talk to those in the waiting line, and thank them for coming out.
The waiting line was rejiggered behind bicycle barricades, to keep everyone closer to the building, allowing pedestrians to move freely close to the street. However, it also made it more difficult for line crashers to enter. Apparently that happened along the north side of the building, where at least one Mac enthusiast said those waiting were perhaps a little too trusting and unwatchful of others arriving and taking up adjacent space. The solution, more barricades all the way to the end of the line, wasn't devised until nearly opening time. The arrival of six police officers, in addition to 40 private security guards, also helped to better manage the crowd.
At 9:25 a.m. I counted 1,033 people in line, east on Princes, south on Hanover, then jogging onto the east side of wide St. George's St., snaking over to the west side of that street, and then onto the center divider of the street. Even as I left, more people were arriving, so the total line at 10 a.m. could have been over 1,100 people.
The final half hour was announced with a group yell of, "Just 30 minutes left!" Lots of reporters came to the front of the line to interview Stormy and others. Once enterprising coffee shop salesman appeared with a tray full of sample drinks, and was besieged by photographers more than coffee drinkers. "Apple thinks different and so do we!" he proclaimed, along with some other slogans. Hey, at this point, we had all the adrenaline we needed.
Just before the store opened, a person came to the head of the line asking if we would buy him a Lucky Bag. The offer: he'd fork over £300 and two T-shirts he expected to obtain by getting in line. We'd buy the Lucky Bag for £249, and then pocket the £51 and the T-shirt. That's about $92 for the deal--although you could theoretically sell the T-shirts on eBay for an additional profit. He was having trouble finding takers, both from people who had their own Lucky Bag purchase plans, and from those not willing to stand in line to buy the bag right after we entered the store..
At 9:50 a.m. the entire 138 members of the staff, wearing their black store T-shirts, appeared from behind us, after having come out of the store and working the entire waiting line--even those people waiting on Hanover Square behind the building. The staff gave high-fives, the crowd whooped and cheered, and it began the process of pumping up the grand opening energy.
The crush of passing pedestrians and press created a huge tangle in front of the store. But the Apple security team--as usual--was more than up to the task. Everything was accounted for and handled. From our position in the waiting line, about 10 yards north of the right-side store entrance, we could only see raised cameras focused on the store interior. We could hear the store staff yelling and chanting, "Regent Street, Regent Street...". Store manager John O'Grady came out and told the crowd, "We are so proud to be part of the history of Regent Street. We would like to wellcome to the Apple Store, London."
I understand that O'Grady then went back behind the red ribbon across the doorway, where there was a ribbon cutting by himself and Ron Johnson-but we couldn't see any of the action. Then, without the rhetorical--and seemingly traditional--question, "Are you ready?" asked by the manager, a security guard waved in Stormy as #1, followed by Thomas and Devin. As they neared the entrance, members of the press... well, pressed forward to record the event.
And there began a roar from inside the store from the staff, who was assembled on either side of the ground floor, and up the glass staircase.
It wasn't obvious until the actual entry that Steve Jobs was not present, nor was any non-Apple celebrity. A MacWorld UK had a store employee saying Jobs was unable to attend. However, Apple's Retail segment staff was there from California, along with contractors responsible for the design and construction of the store. A MacWorld magazine story claims the Lord Mayor of London, Michael Berry Savory, was present (but they also claimed that some Lucky Bags contained a Powerbook--not true).
As we entered, we were quickly handed the commemorative T-shirt box by several children, this time sealed with a gold-colored label. We then headed further inside the store and up the stairs, where the store staff was assembled in rows.
By the way, it wasn't until later that I noticed that the back T-shirt with white lettering said "London" and not "Regent Street." The box sticker color, which is different for each grand opening, was gold this time.
The noise from the staff as we jogged up the stairs was tremendous, and equaled the grand opening of the Ginza (Tokyo) store--a record-setting event by any measure. There were high-fives and handshakes the entire height of the stairs, while U2's "Vertigo" played on the store's sound system.
The clapping, yelling and hooting continued as more people came into the store, but died out as security stopped the flow of people. The purchase of Lucky Bags this time was completely administered and funneled into queues for each of the rear check-out locations--much more orderly and space conscious than at San Francisco or Osaka.
Those entering the store were necessarily split--ordinary visitors went to the second floor, while Lucky Bag purchasers stayed on the ground floor. The product displays were crowded upstairs, but almost no one was downstairs looking at the merchandise tables and counters.
When people left the store, new visitors were allowed in, re-initiating the clapping and yelling from the staff, who for the most part remained on the stairs. The energy level remained high for the entire 90 minutes I was in the store.
As people purchased their Lucky Bags on the ground floor, they gravitated to the second-floor theater, where an informal trading session began after an investigation of a bag's contents. The Lucky Bags contained the usual items, including iPod speakers. I saw several persons making direct exchanges for equal-valued items, but didn't see any cash being exchanged for other products of different values.
The interior of the store is, of course, beautiful. All the standard features are present: wood Genius Bar, glass staircase, bright lights, stone floors, second floor glass bridge and white ceiling. The difference for this store is the mezzanine open space, and the interior of the front wall--it's massive-looking stone that reflects back on the building's original appearance. Only if you look inward do you notice you're not in the early 1900s. Apple's typical stainless steel appears only after you pass by the stonework--an apparent acknowledgement to the space's historic nature.
Visitors could also obtain a better view of the unique lighting over the stairway: it consists of a series of slanted metal panels concealing lights that shine bluish. The panels are arranged so that you only see the lighting only from the front of the store, and then only indirectly and in a glowing manner.
Perhaps the event can be summed up by the encounter between Sr. V-P Retail Ron Johnson and George Blankenship, V-P for Real Estate about 20 minutes after the store opened: standing on the second-floor skybridge, Blankenship beamed down at Johnson on the stairs and, over the loud music and hub-bub of the crowd, raised his hands with two thumbs way up. Johnson returned the gesture with both hands raised in the air, also beaming. It had been a very exciting grand opening.
When I left the store at 11:25 a.m., the waiting line reached back to St. George's Street, indicating about 900 people in line. The front of the store was still congested with passersby asking what was going on--the same question they had been asking us for the past two days! The weather was still cold and overcast, but about an hour later the rain started falling.
Strangely, that water leak in the pavement in front of the store was never repaired before the opening, even after being reported by a member of the Regent Street "Red Jacket" patrol. The streets were dry after Thursday night, everywhere except in front of the Apple store, where pedestrians were continuously splashed by water gathered in the gutter, as trucks and buses passed by. The splash-up also created a rather nasty coating of dirt on the store's front windows and metal trim--and it was never cleaned off.
At about 2:30 p.m. I passed by the store and about 100 people were in line under light rain. The private security force was dismantling the interconnected bicycle fence, and appeared to be cutting back on on-duty personnel. Within about 20 minutes, there was no longer a queue, although the barricades were still up in front of the store, and police were still present just to keep the super-crowded sidewalk moving.
Epilogue--A hard-working crew of workers from Midland Water arrived Sunday morning to fix the broken water pipe in the street, ending three days of buses and trucks splashing muddy water on the sidewalk, and coating the storefront with a brown crust of dried up mud. Good timing!
Apple's photos of the store include one of a classroom, apparently somewhere inside the building. An information card available at the store describes the Apple Studio Series classes, "in our specially-equipped Studio Training Centre." More information on the "Studio" section of the store can be found on this Web page.
The Lucky Bag included: Airport Express, JBL OnTour speakers, ProCare, 10% off coupon good only at Regent Street store, Britannica software, "Inside London" DVD, Apple wireless keyboard and mouse, D-link Bluetooth adapter, iSight camera, iLife and Keynote. I understand that the speakers were a variable--different brand were included in the nylon bags, which were the same square-shaped bags sold at Shinsaibashi (Osaka).
According to a story by Chicago Tribune technology writer Andy Ihnatko, there were 11,000 visitors to the Regent Street Apple store on grand opening day.
Friday, Nov. 19 - UK
By midnight the rain has stopped and the outlook has now turned to partly cloudy and very cold--near zero. The streets around the Apple store continue to be busy with taxis, although pedestrians have generally cleared away.
Thomas, Devin and Shippy spent the night in front of the store, explaining to curious passersby why they were there, and their excitement over the grand opening. A TV reporter appeared at 2 a.m. to conduct an interview. As the sunrise approached, one passerby offered the group some MJ for 90p, but his offer was declined. Meanwhile, a small water main leak in the pavement in front of the store created splashing water from buses, which pass every two minutes at speeds of almost 25 mph. Fortunately the tent and sleeping bag the group erected was just beyond the splash zone! By the way, the temperature hit 36 F. during the night.
Sidewalk and bus activity picked up around 5 am., and a radio reporter arrived to interview the group live. The southern sky turned progressively brighter blue, and by 8 a.m. the tops of surrounding buildings were illuminated by the sun, including the color tile mosaics on the second level of the Apple store. The gold reflections were visible from a block up the street. There are some low scattered clouds, but it appears that sunlight will eventually bath the Apple store façade.
Back at 7 a.m.--construction workers from the adjacent Ted Baker clothing store began arriving, and were amused that Stormy was sleeping inside a sleeping and under a tarp right next to their entrance. They were so sufficiently amused that one of them began banging very loudly on the plywood with some hard object, attempting to wake him up. The attempt failed. Stormy moved not an inch. After two more such "gunshot" episodes, a worker came out with a 2'x3' piece of wallboard, on which he had scrawled, "Please Spare Change! No Job - No Money." He placed the sign next to Stormy's sleeping bag, and everyone had a good laugh.
The waiting line is growing slowly, but I anticipate by this evening there will be many more in line, willing to spend just a single night on the near-freezing streets, and even more people willing to come "very early" to the grand opening.
The sun continues to shine--somewhere! Because of the orientation of Regent Street and the height of the surrounding buildings, we only received about 60 minutes of sun around 8 a.m. So it's back to cold--at mid-day it was 41 F., with a forecast of 32 F. overnight.
At noon, there are about 12 people in line, but much further up the sidewalk--Apple security asked that we move the line beyond the front window, and then the construction crew at the adjacent Ted Baker store asked to move beyond their store so they could take down the construction barricade. The crush of pedestrians continues, as does the non-stop line of red, double-decker buses along Regent Street. Many people are coming up to the front doors and giving them a push-and-pull, only to learn the store is closed (there are two entrances, but only one sign on an easel announcing the grand opening).
It was about this time that the Ted Baker workforce began taking down the plywood construction barricade from in front of their store, revealing the final façade. During the take-down, workers carried the plywood to a rubbish truck parked around the corner on Princes Street. In the process, a protruding screw in one of the panels ripped Thomas' tent.
Ah, we joked that the executives at Ted Baker's headquarters office must be feeling good. "Nigel! Excellent news! There's a line of people lined up for the grand opening of our store on the 27th!" We all chuckled what would happen when Nigel learned his expectations of customer loyalty were set a tad too high.
Meanwhile, another group of people is touring the store, although it's not clear who they are (related to architecture and design?).
About 3 p.m. CNN arrived to interview those waiting in line, which now numbers about 20. The Ted Baker storefront work continues, so we're unable to move back any closer to the store. Pedestrian traffic in front of the Apple store continues to be heavy, and many people are stopping to ask questions. MacWorld-UK has posted a story on the grand opening queue.
The "Joy of Tech" cartoon highlights the Regent Street grand opening--the drool factor!
Approaching the 5 p.m. hour, the sidewalk traffic grew, and congestion built in front of the Apple store, as many passersby stopped to gawk at four or five Mac users with their laptops fired up, using the store's AirPort network. The Ted Baker store construction team managed to rip Thomas' tent with a passing board, and still haven't finished up work on the store front, which seems to be composed mainly of bronze. The wind is steady on Princes Street, making the 43 F. temperature feel like 33 F.
Check my first video of the store (links in left column). The line count at 7 p.m. was 113, but it's constantly growing.
At 10:40 p.m. the queue was 203, and extended completely down Princes Street and about 50 feet around the corner. Those wanting a Lucky Bag and arriving after 1 a.m. may not feel so lucky. Any arrivals at 5 a.m. are going to be disappointed.
Those waiting on Princes Street have a slight westward wind, but seem to be completely prepared--there are heavy-duty sleeping bags, down coasts, blankets and tents along the sidewalk. The first 25-30 in the waiting line at the corner have huddled into a campfire configuration--except there are no warming flames.
According to a weather Web site, it's 37 F. at 11:24 p.m. Perhaps that explains how and why someone plopped down at the right main entrance to the store, not realizing that the head of the queue was located 60 feet further north at the corner with Princes Street. When a store security guard attempted to explain the queue to the man through the door, he said he wasn't moving. When two security guards appeared outside to continue the conversation, the man berated their queue organizational efforts, and claimed he was first for the "other" entrance. Believing that their plans were sound, the security force didn't budge and the man finally relented--at least he disappeared around the corner and headed down the block.
A car of young men passed by and stopped in the traffic. One passenger motioned a Mac enthusiast over for a talk, and then advised, "Why don't you buy at MacWarehouse...it's cheaper!" Just then the driver gunned the engine as traffic cleared, and the passenger's head was thrown back at the car lept forward. No doubt he now has a pain in the neck.
Thursday, Nov. 18 - UK
Tailwinds of 104 mph helped shorten the flight from San Francisco to London by one hour, but my enthusiasm for an early arrival was immediately dampened--literally--by rain! I made a quick train trip into London, checked into my hotel and then donned Gortex to walk the three blocks to the Regent Street store--it is, without a doubt, the most spectacular store in the chain. The scene is made even more mystical by the presence of twinkling holiday lights strung above Regent Street.
When I arrived about 3 p.m, Stormy from Texas had already arrived and set up camp for the waiting line. I also met up with two other San Francisco area Apple enthusiasts who flew in for the grand opening.
This is the first Apple flagship store besides The Grove (LA) not to be on a corner. Despite that seeming disadvantage, the store projects a huge brand and architectural presence out onto the Regent Street sidewalk, where there is a constant flow of pedestrians, buses and taxis.
When approaching the store, you immediately notice the store has its own banner--a black flag with a white Apple logo, hung over the former front door of the building. The architect converted the doorway to a window, and it's flanked by "Hanover House" medallions on either side, commemorating the former use of the building. A small plaque on the façade further states, "On this site sat Hanover Chapel, 1832-1896." A second plaque commemorates the building's original architect and contractor.
By the time I arrived at 3 p.m., it was already starting to get dark. The store's exterior lighting is well-designed, and integrates with the interior lighting, which is bright and focused. Those four giant arches manage to catch the gaze of everyone walking by--the four white, back-lip Apple logos are also pretty eye-catching! Once you start staring through the windows, you're immediately taken with the expanse of the store: the ground floor is huge, even with the glass staircase in the middle. Above, you notice the second floor is mezzanine-style: the very front of the store is open to the second floor ceiling.
Overall, this historic building provided an excellent opportunity for Apple to show off its products and store design expertise--and they succeeded on all levels. Check my first photos for more details on the store and its architecture.
Inside the store at about 4 p.m., Apple staffers appeared to be hosting local business leaders. Earlier today, Sr. V-P Retail Ron Johnson gave a press presentation, which was reported on by MacWorld UK, MacUser UK and MacObserver. Among the details: 4,000+ applied for 138 job positions, and just two Americans were hired. The store has the largest sales floor of any Apple retail store. Architect Peter Bohlin has flown to London to experience the grand opening, and explained to the press about his design, "This is really about people more than things."
Outside, there was the usual crowd of passersby stopping to gawk at the store, and take photos either with a digital camera or a wireless phone. Several bus stops are right in front of the store, crowding even more people in front of the store.
By 8 p.m. the store was deserted except for selected Apple staffers and the cleaning crew, the latter wearing disposable light-blue booties over their work shoes as they used a mechanical floor washer on the ground floor.
An unexepected downpour and lightning storm at about the same time chased Shippy from in front of the store, even as pedestrian scurried to find shelter from the wind-whipped rainfall. Within two hours he returned, along with Thomas and Devin to begin the long vigil for the grand opening.
Wednesday, Nov. 17 - USA
I leave San Francisco airport at 6 p.m. this evening and will arrive in London at about noon on Thursday. I'll post photos of the new store as soon as possible--check the links to the left for the latest posts.
Update--I'm heading to the right airport now, and will re-connect with the Internet and e-mail by 8 a.m. Thursday (PST)! See you soon!
Monday, Nov. 15 - USA
I will leave San Francisco for London at 6:30 p.m. (PST) on Wednesday, and will arrive Thursday afternoon in the UK. After checking in at the hotel, I'll head to Apple store on Regent Street to take the first of my store photos and will post an update here.
Starting on Friday, I'll be posting reports here in my "diary," and photos and videos on the links to the left, including the grand opening event on Saturday morning.
I'll be checking a special e-mail address during the event, and will also be on iChatAV (see left column) if my fingers aren't frozen and my laptop batteries aren't exhausted! If you have questions, comments or information, contact me--I'll try to be available on-line as much as possible during the evenings U.S. time.
According to the latest weather forecast, it will be clear on Friday and early Saturday, and temperatures will be in the mid-40s during the day, and the lower 30s at night. There's a chance of rain going into late Saturday.
The MacRumors forum has been busy with talk about the grand opening, including speculation on how early to arrive to insure a Lucky Bag purchase. There have been only two previous Lucky Bag events (San Francisco and Shinsaibashi)--you could have arrived as late as 5 a.m. to be within the first 250 people at San Francisco, but would have needed to arrive by 12:30 a.m. at Shinsaibashi (Japan) to be within the first 250 people. Both events had good weather for the overnighter. So it's not clear how early you should arrive--I'd speculate the near freezing temperatures are going to discourage many from coming very early, but that you should arrive before at least 5 a.m., which is the big "crunch" time--it's the hour people believe is "early," and when most buses and trains start running.
The AirPort Wi-Fi wireless network is always active at Apple stores, and open for anyone who wants to use it. Bring your laptop if you want to surf or check your e-mail while you're in the waiting line.
Apple always provides security personnel for grand opening events, who assist with any problems that arise--although it's always Windows users who cause any trouble! Macintosh users are a rather "mellow" group, and I've never seen any real problems occur during a grand opening event.
When the store opens, Apple will let in only 200-300 people. Additional people are allowed entry only as the first people leave. So if you arrive as person #2,499, you'll receive a T-shirt, but you'll wait perhaps three hours to get inside the store!
Either way, feel free to contact me any time after my arrival for updated advice and information.