Grand Opening - Apple Computer's San Francisco Store - Feb. 28, 2004



last Webcam image

SF Store Info

Production detail

The Event

Just like the Walnut Creek event, the early morning sun bore down on the crowd directly, and was then reflected off the stainless steel front to provide a second, hotter spill of sunshine on the crowd. At the head of the line, it was sunny, almost hot, and increasingly tense as the 10 a.m. grand opening time approached.

But, let me give you some background on what led up to this remarkable grand opening that attracted several thousand people from a very strong, Bay Area Macintosh region.

Besides Apple's own force of security personnel (always polite), the company deployed 11 private security guards to marshall the crowd, which eventually stretched up Stockton, onto O'Farrell, down to Powell St., back down Powell to Ellis, and then east on Ellis back to Stockton St., and curving onto Market St. Two SF police officers initially assisted with blocking off one lane of traffic to re-route pedestrians. A third officer jointed shortly after, and then two bicycle officers arrived to keep the very busy traffic and pedestrians safe from each other. As usual, the crowd control operation was well though-out, and kept ordinary pedestrians and traffic moving.

Apple held a ribbon-cutting for the store--the first I know of--and invited special guests: current mayor Gavin Newsom, former mayor Willie Brown, and Apple CEO Steve Jobs. Interestingly, all arrived separately and in a different manner: Newsom came up Market St. on foot holding a latté in his hand and gabbing with other pedestrians who approached him. Brown stepped out of a DeSoto Cab that stopped in front of the store. Steve Jobs arrived driving a Mercedes S500 with his wife.

Newsom walked down to the Ellis St. employee entrance, talked to a few Apple employees, and was then approached by Sr. V-P for Retail Ron Johnson, who chatted with him briefly (photo below right), even asking, "Are you a Mac or a PC user?" Newsom ducked the question by shrugging, "I'm just a techno guy." [Actually, Newsom uses a Mac at home and a PC at work.] Johnson invited Newsom inside the store for a tour, and two minutes later former mayor Brown arrived wearing a trademark hat. He talked with several Apple employees outside the side door of the store, and then went in. Steve Jobs arrived last--and a few minutes past the 10 a.m. scheduled grand opening time--with his wife Laurene Powell in a Mercedes S500.

The area around the new store is one of redevelopment after worse economic and social times. Brown spearheaded an effort to revitalize the area around Union Square during his administration, and so was asked to cut the ribbon for the store. Of course, there's still debate on whether the grim has been washed away, and the gleam is showing through. But, San Francisco is a big city, and improvements move slowly. For prospective Apple store visitors, all this means nothing, really, but it's interesting background on the timing and location of the store.

Out in front, the overnighters were in a roped-off area, standing where instructed. A huge crush of TV, print and on-line reporters moved to the front of the store, creating a crowd that attracted lots of other persons bent on visiting the store--before the others who had waited in line for many hours. As before, Apple security was hip to their plans, and moved the trespassing crowd back and to the sides.

This area of Market St. is a high-traffic shopping district on any normal weekend, with persons coming and going to the nearby stores, or walking to nearby Union Square. The sidwalk in front of the store was a constant stream of these passersby, stopping to gawk or ask questions, and then asked to move along by security guards so sidewalk wasn't blocked. Across the street, scores of persons were craning their necks to see what the fuss was all about, and many were taking photos of the event.

At about 10:10 a.m. Megan Maxwell, the store manager, came out to address the various crowd components--overnighters, passersby, the press and others (she's the former Palo Alto manager). "We are so excited to be part of the San Francisco community," she said. "And we can't wait to welcome you into our store, to be part of our community. It's a great place to learn and to shop, and we can't wait." She promised the crowd it would be, "just a couple more minutes," and then returned inside briefly for the ribbon cutting. With the press at the ready, Willie Brown asked the store staff for a count-down, "As loud as you can--five, four, three, two, one..." The staff responded with a count-down, and Brown cut the red ribbon on the count of "One" as Jobs and Newsom held opposite ends of the ribbon.

With that, the security guards allowed those first-in-line to come up to the front door. As rehearsed, the Apple staff had lined the main entrance and the glass stairway. The group ran in and then up the stairs, giving high-fives to the staff. The energy was high, led by Newsom, Brown and Jobs (photo left) standing just to the left of the stairway, all clapping and watching the spectacle.

Now, about the $249 gift bags (no sales tax). Apple originally said 200 would be available, and later I heard there would be 250. I didn't determine how Apple would sell the bags until about 35 minutes before the grand opening. The method--the first ones to the check-out counter could buy one per person. That created a predicament among those who entered the store first---dash upstairs at part of the excitement and then dash downstairs to the check-out counter, or skip the excitement completely and go for the gold. There were a few dicey moments in the crush of perhaps 75-80 persons at the ground floor rear check-out counter... there was some pushing, lots of shoving, but also lots of people advising, "Easy...everyone here is getting a bag." It was a bit disorganized, created an unnecessary crunch of people, and took away from the grand opening moment. Apple--please organize the next gift bag purchase better.

Oh--what was in the gift bags? They contained an Airport Extreme Base Station, .Mac account, Bluetooth adapter, wireless keyboard and mouse, a copy of Keynote and iLife '04, and an elaborately-boxed 10%-off gift card. Total value: $674.90. A lucky one-in-six buyers also received an iPod mini--but not me.

The glass stairway is fantastic and, like the other similar stairways in the Apple chain, defies logic--how does glass really stand up to all those people tramping on it? The stairway is lit from beneath by tiny high-intensity bulbs that accentuate its already blue-green tint. Be careful when you climb the stairs--it can be a truly dizzing experience, especially if you're in the middle of the stairs and not holding a handrail.

The theater is very wide, but is only three rows deep. It features a rear-projection screen and the now-standard Pixar-style, laminated-wood seats with red cushions.

The skylight provides a very open, bright and airy feel to the second floor--you'd never realize there are no windows unless you specifically thought about it.

Besides the three big celebrities, I also spotted Apple designer Jonathan Ive outside the store before the grand opening, discussing the architecture with several of Apple's store designers. Ive apparently didn't realize he couldn't enter at the front of the store. He was videotaped using his cellular phone to call for assistance in getting in--in that distinctive Ive voice! Apple's Sr. V-P for Hardware, John Rubenstein, was also at the store, but stayed in the background.

When I left the store at about 11:15 a.m., naturally all the Lucky Bags had been sold. The line to get into the store was just about where it was when the store first opened-- all the way around the block, and back to the intersection of Ellis and Market St. or about 850 persons in line. The prize for store visitors this time was a black T-shirt with white lettering, inside a white-and-lime green box, similar to the T-shirt handed out at the Ginza (Tokyo) store grand opening last November. Among those handing out T-shirts to the people leaving shortly after the opening--Ron Johnson's children.

MacNewsNetwork is saying "over 1500 people" were in line, but I counted 896 at 9 a.m., and the line had no more than 200 additional persons at the end of the line (easily visible from the front of the store!). Apple's official line count was 1,200 persons in line, which is certainly possible. Here's the list of crowd counts that I took.

Reporters from all the local TV and print media were there, including Reuters and the New York Times (catch the Thursday edition). The Reuters story quoted first-in-line Ulan McKnight spending $100,000 on Apple gear since he purchased his first product 20 years ago. Ulan...tell me it isn't so!

MacWorld has a story that includes some quotes from Mayors Newsom and Brown, the former joking that if the same-sex marriage issue goes south, he might return to the Apple store to work behind the counter.

OS X FAQ has some photos showing the gift bag hand-out, the ribbon-cutting, and the special guests.

Macworld Contributing Editor Dan Frakes takes an interesting look at the Apple store grand opening community, and about passersby he encountered who "just didn't get it." Frakes also noted that the eBay auction of lucky bags started shortly after noon on Saturday (just type "apple lucky bag" into the eBay home page search box). The first three lucky bag sales went for $400, $400 and $420, about $150 for the seller and a 30% discount for the buyer, not including the potential value of the 10%-off card.

Read Leander Kahney's story on the event on Wired.com's Web site, and view his photos.

All Apple stores have a printed calendar of events, but the SF store's version is very fancy and stylish-- a four-panel, 4-color double fold-out, with background scenes of the store area, and the upcoming March calendar. Other stores with black-and-white events calendars should be jealous.

The New York Times article appeared on the Thursday following the grand opening (subscription).

Apple reported that 6,000 persons came through the store on its first day.

Thanks to Ulan, Steve, Devin, Haydn, Thomas, Chris, Monte, the entire Apple store and corporate team, and everyone else in line who made the overnight experience and grand opening so enjoyable and historic!


Indulge me this story: Incredibly, just 10 minutes before the grand opening I returned to my #4 spot in line to find a 60-ish woman and a 15 year-old boy suddenly in line in front of me and my son. I didn't recognize either of them, and almost figured that my sleeplessness had dulled my memory of them through the night. But it nagged at me. I then asked the grandmotherly-looking woman, "I don't mean to be rude, but what time did you get here?" The boy said they arrived at 7:30 a.m. today. I shook my head and politely explained that everyone around them arrived on Friday. They seemed surprised, and the youth told me he had been directed to the end of the line by a security guard, and this is where they ended up. I explained that this was, instead, the front of the line. Well, what the heck! They looked harmless, I was in a "grand opening" mood, what would I do anyway? But then I was reminded by a colleague of the gift bags--these two interlopers would potentially squeeze out a bag purchase by two other persons somewhere down the line, who had arrived much earlier. How could I not take action to protect my fellow Apple enthusiasts? But to confirm the pair's motivation, I asked the kid, "Are you going to buy a gift bag?" He at first seemed puzzled, but then said, "Yes," he was purchasing. At that point, their fate was sealed. I explained that their presence wouldn't be fair to everyone who had waited 10-16 hours to get into the store. pointed down towards Ellis and Stockton St., and explained to him where the end of the line really was. He didn't seem entirely convinced. Slowly, but without argument, they left.... I was later informed that Apple's security already knew about the pair's intrusion, and had no intention of letting them into the building with the first-in-liners.

Curiosity-- Apple employees were handing out their business cards during the grand opening, and it showed an address of "18 Ellis Street"---which is the side employee door of the store. The store has always been known as "One Stockton Street" to city residents, was initially listed that way on Apple's "Jobs" Web site, and is also listed that way on Apple's Web page for the store. Maybe the Postal Service letter carrier isn't supposed to come in the front door, but rather deliver mail to the side door?

Saturday morning, Feb. 28th

At midnight, the waiting line turned the corner off Stockton St. and onto O'Farrell, and totaled about 120 persons. Someone brought a 2-person tent, others were wrapped in down sleeping bags, and many have laptops. The store's Airport system reached only about 40 feet north of the store, so one enterprising team of Mac addicts near the end of the line solved the reception problem in an interesting way: a close-by laptop user had Wi-Fi reception, and so set up a wired Ethernet network that ran back along the line, allow more persons to use Apple's Internet connection through his connection.

But the technology wasn't all new--I was approached by a man carrying an odd-looking device with a green screen. Believe it or not, it was an Apple Newton device, equipped with a Wi-Fi card that allowed it to connect with the Apple store's Airport network and the Internet. The Web browser was a little funky, but it handled text-based sites just fine. Considering that the Newton officially "died" in 1998, it was a wonder it connected via Wi-Fi, let alone could browse the Web. I took some photos of the man and his Newton in front of the store, and later e-mailed them to him as a souvenir.

The right-turn lane of Stockton St. in front of the store was continously blocked off by a DPR Construction company pick-up truck, cones and one of those orange traffic control lights trailers. Workers were using a platform-lift to work on the front of the building most of the night. I was able to park my car in front of the store and supply AC power--until the fuse blew on the inverter! Another early-arriver, Steve, also had his vehicle parked in front, and was using it for laptop power--until he couldn't start his car! Occasionally we had to jockey the cars so the construction crew could move the lift back-and-forth.

Night work on the front included washing and polishing the front stainless steel and back-lit Apple logo--for at least the third time since I arrived. Up until about 10 p.m. they were also working to move very large and heavy slabs of stone siding into the BART stairway. However, activity on that project stopped at about 1 a.m., workers closed down the security grating and tied black plastic to the back of it. There was been no major activity inside the store since about 10 p.m.

I've posted the first video update on the overnight event (link at left).

I had power figured out--I had an inverter that I would plug into my car, and then run extension cords out to power strips. Well, it worked for about 4 hours ,and then the fuse flew on the inverter plug. I later learned that running out all that cable and attaching the power strips just added to the current, which heated up the fuse, which blew. Next time, it's gonna be full-size Honda generator! Because of this glitch, everyone was pretty much powerless after about 3 a.m. I had a single-plug inverter for my laptop, and was able to keep the Webcam going until I had to move the car at about 6 a.m., and to do other laptop work.

Oh, it's 4:30 a.m. in front of the Apple store, and it's quiet. Most of the regular passersby have evaporated, the street sweeper has come and gone, and the coldest part of the night has set in. The line count is officially--surprisingly--148, leaving plenty of space for those who want to purchase a gift bag. The workers have finished a 3-hour project with the back-lit logo that seemed to involve the space between the logo and the surrounding stainless steel. They're now preparing to spray-wash the sidewalk in front of the store and scub it down.

The "first 100" group is pretty tight and friendly. There seem to be more groups of people camping overnight--there was one group playing six-way cards, and another with a table of food and games. There seem to be few single campers, and more duos and larger groups.

We had to move our cars at 6 a.m., so the Webcam is no longer active, although you can view the last photo taken.

The line has steadily extended itself west on O'Farrell St., and then turned south on Powell St. adjacent to the cable car line. At about 8 a.m. there were 496 persons and two dogs in line. Construction activity stopped around 5 a.m., and by 7 a.m. there was clean-up activity inside the store.

I continue to receive more information about the gift bags, which at the Ginza store on New Year's Day contained at least an iSight, Keynote software, a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard and other items. I hear that most bags will contain seven items worth about $600, but a smaller number of bags will contain one additional item that will put the value up to $1,000. At least one person said Apple staffers strongly hinted that additional one item will be an iPod mini.

I noticed that Apple embossed the names of the two intersecting streets into the cement outside its store: Ellis on one corner and Stockton on the other. Most other streets around the area have the same treatment.

I confirmed iChatAV exchanges with Australia and Pennsylvania, and Web visitors from England and the Netherlands.

Activity inside the store began around 7 a.m., with the cleaning staff preparing the store, and Apple staffers moving around. The retail staff assembled on the second floor, and so were mostly invisible to the crowd, which was behind a rope-line close to the curb, making it more difficult to see inside.

Overall, the overnight experience was rather cold, but it was dry. I do have to point out that San Francisco is large city, with a larger-than-usual share of homeless people and ruffians. The waiting line was panhandled pretty consistently until about 2 a.m., at which the various drunks and strange people came by.

On the other hand, the waiting line was also briefly harassed twice by carloads of what must have been Windows users, who yelled out laughable insults to the waiting line. The second time the offending car was followed out of sight by a police patrol car.

Friday, Feb. 27th

At 6 a.m. workers were busy washing down the store's front stainless steel siding and back-lit Apple logo, and installing the stone siding inside the BART transit entrance. Apple has erected a plywood facing in front of the partially demolished building west of the retail store, giving it a much better appearance. Work is also being done on the Ellis St. side to the area where the stone siding and stainless steel meet.

Ulan and his protege arrived at 9 p.m. on Thursday evening, and spent the night huddled in sleeping bags, watching DVDs and surfing the Internet using the store's Airport connection. Ulan said workers toiled all night on the store's exterior, but they both managed to get some sleep despite the noise. Their arrival 37 hours before the grand opening to be first-in-line must set some type of record!

By 5 p.m. there were 12 persons in line for the grand opening. Originally the line formed on Stockton St. side next to the building, but later moved them beyond a rope line next to the street to allow more room for passersby. The weather is a bit on the cool side, but the sun actually poked through the clouds and warmed up the waiting line. Inside the store, Ron Johnson appeared during various parts of the employee rehearsal process. At one point the entire staff of 70 assembled on the glass stairway and practiced the "gauntlet" entry routine for the Saturday grand opening.

Work continues on the BART entrance, but it won't be finished until next Saturday at the earliest, and will probably be covered up by the grand opening.

MacNewsNetwork has posted links to photos and a video about the store.

At 6 p.m. the family and friends of the store employees toured and examined the new store. Many first appeared at the front door, and had to call their relative/friend on a cell phone to find out how to get in. They all entered the store through the Ellis St. entrance, and were then seen inside asking questions, trying out the computers and climbing the stairs. At about the same moment the monthly "Critical Mass" bike protest rode by on Market St., tying up traffic for several minutes. About 30 minutes later one of the bike riders came by the front of the store to show off his iPod-driven bicycle, complete with 800-watt speakers that pumped out lots of bass.

Apparently even the store staff doesn't know what's inside the "Lucky Bags" that will be sold tomorrow. However, there apparently will be 250 bags available (up from 200), and reportedly only one of the 7 products is from a third-party supplier.

By 8:30 p.m. there were 37 persons in line, and from my conversations with many of them, they're here because they're Mac enthusiasts---not the gift bags. I headed over to Metron for dinner with Hayden, my son and his friends. Back at the line, I understand we missed five pizzas that Ulan and Steve ordered up and passed along back to the waiting line crowd.

I handed out several business cards to passersby who saw the Webcam and wondered how they could watch it through the night. San Francisco is a favorite tourist destination, and I bumped into at least three families who were walking the town and happened upon the Apple store. They were still trying to adjust to the street experience of The City (panhandlers, homeless, street performers, etc.), and then were further startled by the Apple store waiting line. It took only a few words to set their mind at ease that it was a mellow group of Mac enthusiasts. They were fascinated by the entire event.

By 11 p.m. there were 97 persons in line--including a motorcycle parked on the sidewalk! We've established some power links to our vehicles parked in the construction zone, and several persons are using iChatAV to connect with friends and strangers.

The winner of the "I Came The Furthest For the Grand Opening" Award goes to Matt, who arrived this afternoon from Scotland, and came right to his place in line, about #50. Matt is a veteran Macintosh watcher, having seen Steve Jobs keynote in Paris the last couple of years. He's also attended MacWorld Expos in New York and elsewhere.

We endured the usual set of questions from passersby, including, "Are they offering special deals?" Well, the first 50 times we tried to explain the gift bag Apple was offering for sale. Somehow, we never could find a way to succinctly explain the deal--so we stopped mentioning it at all. "No," we said, "we only get a T-shirt!" Indeed, for those first 120 or so folks, that was the reason they were here, not the gift bag.

Thursday, Feb. 26th

Indeed, the rainy and windy weather has moved east, and we're left with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the 50s. The sun should make more of an appearance on Friday and Saturday.

Apple held the press event for the grand opening this morning at 10 a.m., and issued a press release about the event. They've also posted a gallery of photos. The OS X FAQ Web site has posted audio of Ron Johnson's presentation during the press event.

The very first persons got in line for the grand opening at 9 p.m.! Ulan and his young protegé propped themselves up on camping chairs, and zipped themselves inside sleeping bags to keep warm as the temperatures dropped into the 40s (although it didn't rain). They report that construction continued all night, with welding torches at times lighting up the front of the store.

Wednesday, Feb. 25th

The Bay area is being lashed by a huge storm with wind gusts up to 60 mph. The good news is that it will clear off by Friday, and Saturday is forecast to be partly cloudy or even partly sunny.

Sunday, Feb. 22nd

Construction work continues today, and workers had to construct a plastic tent over the Stockton St. sidewalk area in order to protect the surface from on-and-off rain. The new front curbing has been laid, and workers were laying down the various layers of materials for the final front sidewalk.

The weather reports continue to be favorable for the Saturday grand opening--a huge storm is expected to move in on Wednesday, followed by increasingly better weather. Saturday is forecast to be "partly cloudy" with showers.

For the curious, I'm not expecting Steve Jobs to make an appearance. I have the impression that he always wants the grand openings to focus on the store and its employees, but if he's present the focus inevitably shifts to him. The press event is Thursday morning, and that's probably the first and last public appearance he'll make. I also expect store preparations will go right down to the wire on Saturday morning.

For overnighters, there is a 7-Eleven about 1-1/2 blocks away, a Long's Drugs and Rite-Aid within one block, a parking garage within 100 feet (open 5 a.m. to 2 a.m.), and several fast-food restaurants within two blocks. There are also several high-end restaurants in the area, some associated with the hotels scattered around nearby Union Square.

I have heard from one person who is flying in from Iowa to attend the grand opening, a follow-up on grand openings he's attended at SoHo, North Michigan Avenue and Mall of America.

Here's a video I prepared giving background on the Apple store.

Friday, Feb. 20th

I visited the store to find that the outside work is focused on the sidewalk: utility covers, a fire hydrant, the curbing, and the foundation layers for the sidewalk (gravel, sand, tar paper, etc.). At about 11 a.m. workers were just pushing the very first stone siding slab into place on the Stockton St. side. The stone material will also be erected on the Ellis St. side and on the interior of the BART entrance.

Monday, Feb. 17th

I passed by the site to see the construction crane has been removed from the Ellis St. side of the site, the scaffolding has been taken down, and the plywood pedestrian walkway is gone from the Stockton St. side. Both sides of the building are enclosed by a 7-foot chainlink fence covered with black mesh. Apple security guards are watching the building 24 hours-a-day. The front windows are covered, and the Apple logos are not lit at night.

Wired News reported that the security guards have removed some persons trying to take photos of the interior of the building (not me!). I noted that Apple has prepared 2,500 commemorative T-shirts for the grand opening, instead of the usual 1,000 T-shirts--they must be expecting a large crowd!

Monday, Feb. 9th

I visited the construction site today to find two Apple-employed security guards on both sides of the building, and construction workers wearing Apple-branded ID cards. Workers were taking down the scaffolding on both sides of the building, revealing more of the stainless steel siding on the upper half of the building, and the two backlit Apple logos. The lower half of the store is still uncovered--I understand it will eventually be covered in the usual medium-gray stone. [photos]