(photo by Barry Pate via flickr)
The Grand Opening
The very first friend I made at the Sydney Apple store was someone I called "Peter," a man who came up to me Tuesday night in front of the store as I got my first glimpse of the interior. He's a big bear of a guy, about 45, with an unkempt beard and bushy gray hair. He's one of Sydney's homeless, and he began spewing more facts and figures about the Apple store than I could write down.The cost, the number of employees, the size, the building history (did this guy attend the press even). He also told me how he used to sleep overnight in the vestibule of the old bank where the Apple store is now. It was a great spot, he told me. Later, he became #20 in line.
Then there was Rochelle, first in line, holding a place for her partner Shawn. Originally Shawn intended to stay #1 in line, aided by supportive Rochelle. But Shawn wanted her to experience the fun too, and actually was going to cede his place in line. After some discussion, they decided they would both experience being first into the store. But they flown up from Melbourne with their two toddler daughters--what to do? The solution, obviously, was to add the girls to the front of the line, and that's what they did.
There were so many other people who were helpful and friendly during this adventure, making the final two hours of a 31-hour wait for the grand opening a very easy time.
The clouds began to roll in again, but it seemed as if the temperature didn't drop much. It was still mild and dry, the most important element for the final hours when you're dog-tired.
At 2:45 p.m. I counted 190 persons in line, now actually extending a bit south on York Street from King St. Two men on York cleared out a 3-foot by 4-foot area and began creating a matchstick illustration of an original Mac computer, inside the outline of an Apple. It was masterful and drew a big crowd.
Apple's film crew was across the street on the fourth level of a building, in front with some time-lapse gear, and roaming the crowd for reaction interviews. A clean-up crew from the building appeared with plastic bags, and everyone began gathering whatever trash they had and tossing it in.
Sydney police had arrived mid-day, but had been only in the background. Now, as the crowd in front of us grew larger and more persistent along the bicycle fencing in front of us, they were posted near the door. Across the street, people stood and took photos of the store.
At about 4 p.m. a police officer came down and politely said they'd be scrunching up the line, so we'd have to put away our chairs and other gear. Now, we were on our feet for the final hour. Dusk was approaching and it was getting darker with each minute.
Inside, the employees had assembled on the ground floor for final instructions. Passersby in front of the store began to linger, but police asked them to "move along" to keep the space free. The press began to form up on the left side of the store so they could have clear views of the in-coming line. Photographers and video crews zipped around the front of the line for last minute shows, there were a few last-minute interviews.
At 4:30 p.m. the doors came open and Apple's security team moved out to create a corridor north along the sidewalk. Pedestrians moved back, and the Apple employees came out at a run to give high-fives to the waiting line. All 125 came by, too. They disappeared out of view onto King St., but we could still hear their yelling around the corner. As soon as they had left, pedestrians again filled in the sidewalk, some walking, some trying to stand and look despite police requests to move on.
About 10 minutes later we heard that same yelling--the employees were coming back from their tour of the entire block. There was more clapping and yelling, and the staff went back inside to line up for the entrance.
Down the street there was a large clock face over a post office, and now it began the count-down to 5 p.m. Ron Johnson faced the film crew on the right side of the store and did some type of stand-up. The security team worked to clear out the front of the store, while office workers across the street appeared in the windows of upper floors.
At the exact stroke of 5:00 p.m., as marked by the time from a cellular phone, the store manager appeared, welcomed us and motioned us inside. Rochelle and Shawn walked in with their children, and we all followed to receive out T-shirt boxes and move into the first level. There was yelling, there was clapping and there was music.
Most of the crowd milled about for a few moments, and then headed to the right side of the store to see the stairs--and they certainly are the highlight of any visit inside the store (outside, it's the façade that's king).
First, there are two portals to the glass staircases--left and right in the store. There is "surprise and delight" no matter which one you pick. On the ground floor, if you go left, you'll find that you're looking at the bottom side of the ascending staircase from ground to upper floor. No, you can't go anywhere from here, but you dont' care--it's such an incredible mesmerizing view that you're glad to have found this little nook. Watch people moving on the stairs--you can see through the stair treads and actually see people, but also you see the shadows of their feet and bodies as they climb or descend. And the stainless steel walls create a reflection of everything you see on both side. And the lighting well, I said it was mesmerizing.
If you had chosen to browse the ground floor filled with display computers and go to the right portal, you brought to the foot of the stairs leading from ground floor to the upper level. This view is equally amazing, as you watch people sort of rise-up within the stainless steel box. The reflections are there again on the sides, but now you have another feature--the view of the upper stairway, and its shadows and glimpses of people on yet another glass staircase.
At the top of this first stairway, you look back and see one staircase going down, and the upper one matching it. This is your third really distinctive, amazing view.
Now it's time to cross over the second level, browsing iPods, accessories and other small products along the way. You come to the right portal on the second level, and you're in for yet another amazing view. This stairway ascends to the third level just like the other stairway. However, this time the upper part of your view is pure white light from a back-lit ceiling. Back-lit, in fact, just like the color and quality of that Apple logo out front. You look through the treads to see the people moving below on the stairway, watch the reflections from the stainless steel, and marvel overhead at the lighting. It's quite a climb.
Next, you arrive at the top level, turn and look back down. Again, white light overhead, people floating up and down on the stairs, reflections, and glimpses of people below. Now, you move right out onto the upper level where the Genius Bar and training area is located.
Lastly, while at the top level, you move to the second little nook for another amazing view. Walk back across the top level, past the chain's longest Genius Bar, and into what looks like the ground-floor stairway viewport. In this case, you're looking over a railing to the descending stairway. Again, another unique view with reflecting stainless steel panels and that milky white ceiling.
Okay, let's move on to the interior view itself. The floor, furniture, wall and promotional graphics are all straight from Apple's catalog. The kids table is familiar, the product information cards are the same, even the ceiling system is the same.
What's really different, especially at night, is the view from the balconey railing on one of the upper floors. When you look out, you first see through the glass to the outside world. Tonight, it was nothing but a sea of people, all looking in. Next, you notice the reflections off the glass of the interior. And then you notice reflections of reflections, coming off the glass safety panels that line the balconey.
You really notice the reflection of that Apple logo, also the chain's largest. It's image bounces back and forth a few times, creating copies of itself along the way. All of this gives the huge glass façade a "universe" type look, as if all the points of light were stars.
The view from the upper floors upward and down to the ground floor is pretty impressive, too. It's sweeping and compelling. There were lots of people lining the railing tonight, just to get the thrill of looking out at that view.
And for those who just had to know, yes, there is a ShopperTrak system installed at the store. You can see the holes for the devices in the stainless steel trim above the main stairs, and above the two side entry points near the cashwrap positions on the ground floor.
Thanks to so many people for their friendliness and hospitality during my 31-hour wait in line. The locals took care of us, those from other places entertained us, passersby helped pass the time quickly. A special salute to the Apple store employees, who were geniuinely amazed at the waiting line, and appreciative of our support. I think we all enjoyed every minute of it.
E-mail me with any stories or links to photos or videos and I'll post them on this page.
Update: I walked past the store on Friday evening, and counted 168 visible persons in the store on all floors. The layout of the store puts every occupant in plain view. Interesting, I visited the inside of the store on Saturday noon, and counted virtually the same number of people just on the ground floor. The store was busy!
Here are the official interior dimensions: On the ground floor, glass to building line is 12-1/2 feet, building to back stainless steel wall is 21 feet, and back wall to the rear wall of the hidden staircase is 12-1/2 feet. So the full depth of the store is 46 feet, but that includes the space taken up by the rear wall (4-5 feet).
The second and third levels are identical: 23-3/4 feet from the front of the balcony to the rear wall, and 12-1/2 feet from the rear wall to the rear stairway wall.
All the display floors are 115 feet wide. Using these figures, and including the stairway space for only the ground floor, and including the space taken up by the rear wall, the total retail display space for this store is 10,752. In comparison, my measured square-footage of the Boylston Street (Boston) store is 9,081. Apple says the Boston store is the largest in the United States. Regent Street still is the largest store in the chain, the company states. Apple uses the total square-footage of the building to determine its size, which includes Genius Bar repair rooms, offices and product storage, all not accessible to the public.
Thursday Morning - June 19th
Midnight passed with no ceremony, as just a handful of workers continue cleaning the interior of the store. At least half the 35 in line are trying to get some sleep, some in chairs, but others in sleeping bags, a tent or, in one case, on an air mattress.
About 1:30 a.m. Adrian (right) appears with a light-brown, soft fabric carrying case that looks familiar. Its rainbow Apple logo gives it away--it's a case for an original Macintosh computer, one of 300 or so Apple computers that he's collected. This particular model has been upgraded to 512 Kb of memory, creating a real powerhouse of computing. We all take photos of Adrian holding his Mac in front of the store's main entrance.
One source dropped by to claim that each glass panel cost A$330,000 each, making the façade total price around A$10.5 million. The source put the store cost over A$200 million, and claimed that a store "just like Sydney" will appear in Melbourne.
Yet another passerby claimed that the store's security system is video-based, and uses 360-degree video scanning to track every individual computer. If one of the tracked devices disappears from video, an alarm sounds.
About 1:30 a.m. all the lights in the store go out for about 10-15 seconds. When power is restored, the middle section of the giant, suspended Apple logo is dark. Apparently those fluorescent bulbs didn't come back on. Workers cycle the lights twice, but the section is still dark. Now what?
A passerby drops jelly beans from a bag, littering the front sidewalk with candy. Passing pedestrian squish the candy into the sidewalk, creating a mess. Someone appears and sweeps up the candy.
Minutes later, the security guards retrieve sections of bicycle fencing from around the corner and line the north half of the store, corralling us along the storefront, and keeping people from jumping into the line.
The period from 2 a.m. to 5 a.m. moved slowly, with most people either wandering off to find coffee to stay awake, or taking a nap in their chairs, sleeping bags or tents. This was the quietest period for traffic, but it didn't last long.
Around 5 a.m. the morning TV show reporters pulled in and started laying cable to transmit their segments back to the studio live. One reporter had been flown back from Singapore, apparently at Apple's expense, just to do a 90-second segment. He was supplied with demo models of the Macbook Air, iPod touch and iPod nano to put on the air. At least one other show went live, and a third taped for later broadcast.
By now there were a few more people in line--perhaps 55. It's difficult to coun the people because many are out getting food and drink. But the line still is growing very slowly.
Several people went to the adjacent McDonald's for breakfast, using the coupons handed out last night by the assistant manager instead of cash. Others found food elsewhere--one sandwich shop brought by baseball caps for the line participants to wear. About 20 minutes later, they brought by sandwiches, and if you were wearing the ballcap, you received a free one.
By 8:30 a.m. the day's newspapers hit the newstands, and we notice moderately-sized articles about the waiting line, complete with photos. The articles seemed to set off another round of press coverage, because all morning we had radio and TV station reporters coming by for new and additional stories, photographers of all sorts, along with Internet video teams. Considering that no one had been the focus of such press before, everyone in line took the attention in stride and never refused an interview--even when we were nearly exhausted.
At about the same time, pedestrian traffic from office workers has increased. The security team has moved the bicycle fencing to the curbline (to keep gawkers from being struck by the sideview mirrors of passing buses!), and has now put up stanchions to corral us. It makes it much easier to come and go in the long period before 5 p.m.
About 11:00 the sun popped out from behind the building along George Street, and it turned hot. Without clouds, and reflecting off the corridor of buildings, the entire line in front of the store pulled down their caps, help up magazines or put on sunglasses. It almost seemed like time for sunscreen and then the sun slid behind the western side of the tall buildings, and we were cool again. By 11:30 a.m. there were just under 100 in line.
The chocolate store across the street returned with more candy, a city-focused magazine came by to hand out samples and do video interviews, and a sports drink company's sample team worked the line. The sandwich shop returned in the afternoon to look for caps and hand out food. The friendly McDonald's team came by and gave out more coupons for sandwiches and parfaits.
Passersby told me that there used to be an unsightly fire hydrant located in front of the Apple store, but that it had bee moved. A bus stop and shelter was also placed directly in front of the store, and it has long-since disappeared. A silver-colored street light has not disappeared, except in Apple's official photograph of the store.
At 12:32 p.m., the giant back-lit Apple logo was switched on--all the lights are working after an overnight outage did something to the middle set of fluorescents.
By 12:45 p.m. there were 109 persons in line, extending up King Street about halfway (construction and shops broke the line about mid-block), and then onto York Street a short distance.
The afternoon was filled with passersby and constant street traffic roaring past. Many people stopped to ask us questions, usually beginning with, "Oh, I saw you in the newspaper (or on TV)!" Inside the store there was floor cleaning with a machine, more buffing, and employee meetings on the upper floors. At one point during the afternoon meeting, they must have mentioned the waiting line, because all the employees appeared, pointed down to us and began applauding and yelling loudly. We all stood up, turned around and happily waved back. We had mae our connection.
Adrian arrived in line and brought his original Macintosh computer. Although his place was around the corner, he was welcomed near the front to visit and put the iconic model on a camping chair, where it drew lots of attention from the crowd. Of course, many of those gawking weren't alive when the computer was introduced in 1984.
In case you don't realize the work that's involved in building a high-profile Apple store, one weary worker told us he'd put in 22 hours the previous day to get the store prepared, and had worked at least one 100-hour week in the last month.
Wednesday - June 18th
The press event wasn't until 10 a.m., but members of MacTalk.com.au forum were prepared--they jumped into line about 8 a.m. to begin the long wait for the Thursday evening grand opening. The group of seven hard core Apple enthusiasts includes a woman, an ex-pat American, a Noweigan student studying in Brisbane, and several Australians. It's certainly not the earliest that anyone has formed a waiting line, but at 33 hours, it's among the earliest.
As the reporters and photographers left the event, there were interviews all along the line, mixed with discussions with passersby about "Why?" The reporters covered the entire spectrum of television, newspapers, radio stations and Web sites.
The weather started off with bright sun and only a few clouds, but around noon the overcast rolled in, even though the temperature stayed in the 60s. Everyone has a camping chair and enough clothes to keep away the chill that is sure to set in during the night. About noon several Apple employees came out and handed out Apple-logo umbrellas, in case the rains really came down.
This is a very busy part of Sydney, a mix of office workers, delivery persons, shoppers and just people out walking. There were lots of people across George Street snapping photos of the store, pointing and talking about the store. Several Apple retail employees have come by to wave, say "Hi" and thank us for coming. Twice some employees inside waved, pointed to us and applauded, as a wave of saying "Thanks for coming!" We applauded back.
Otherwise it's a pleasant afternoon for those in line, with nothing but time to kill using iPhones (all hijacked around here) and laptops (two Macbook Airs). The traffic can be a little noisy, making interviews or conversations a little tough. Twice the fire department has roared by on George Street, responding to an incident.
The manager of the McDonald's restaurant just south of the Apple store came by to ask how many people we anticipate for the store. He wants to make sure he has enough employees and food.
As night fell, the weather remains dry and in the lower 60s--very nice compared to some past grand opening overnighters. The line reached 17 persons by 6:30 p.m., as buses roared by the store non-stop, carrying office workers home.
Employees of a local chocolate shop came by and offered us little mints--dark or milk chocolate?
I should note that Rochelle, the first person in line, was actually holding a place for her partner Shawn, who just arrived with their two young children after a flight from Melbourne. As Shawn was sitting in his seat, his young daughter remarked, "Mommy," and Shawn reminded her that Mommy was in Sydney. No, actually, Mommy was on Sky News that was showing on the airplanes TV entertainment system. Neat.
The assistant manager of McDonald's came by and handed out cards for a free breakfast at the restaurant tomorrow. Thanks!
By 9:30 p.m. there are 20 people in line, at least one tent, and lots of camping chairs. One very cordial homeless man has joined the queue--he knows more about Apple than most, saying that he reads lots of newspapers.
By 11:30 p.m. there is less pedestrian traffic, but taxis and buses are still going by. Some utility trucks, street sweepers and garbage pick-up trucks are beginning to appear.
Tuesday - June 17th
I arrived after a fitful flight of 14-1/2 hours--the flight was fine, but I was fitful. Leaving at 10:45 p.m., there is only "sleep" to think about, but three meals and five movies later, one hardly feels rested when arriving at Sydney at 6:15 a.m. two days later. The immigration process was easy and quick, and I by-passed any full customs inspection (they physically check bags and X-ray them here) by answering "No" to all the questions.
A taxi ride to the hotel revealed that the Vietnamese-born driver knew about the Apple store, and recalled it's Bondi blue covering--"I've driven by it every day for a couple of weeks." He also knew far more about American politics than more citizens of the U.S. My ride ended about the time he started talking about Sen. Obama.
After checking in at the hotel, a two-block walk offered my first view of the store--wow! First, it's set along George Street, and on a weekday morning it was busy with taxis, trucks and buses. The buildings on either side are a eclectic mix of modern skyscraper, three-story old French/British, and something in between. The 77 George Street building is tall, set back from the sidewalk about 20 feet, and has taken on a completely different look than before--the Apple store.
Because the building houses offices, it was never designed or intended to have a full retail store at its base. So when Apple signed the papers, they also signed on to come up with a way to shoehorn their traditional design into a very wide, yet very shallow space. The reason for shallow is because behind the store is the central core of the office building, where architects traditionally locate the elevator banks and utility risers. So Apple went in another direction--they used their now-traditional glass box design for the front, basically enclosing the space between the office building and the sidewalk, and converting it to interior store space. That technique added about 15 feet to the front of the building, and Apple used this for cashwrap space--on either side of the space under the glass there are two wooden-furniture counters, either with four iMacs.
The front of the store comes in several levels: originally the sidewalk sloped down away from the building. Now Apple has leveled it out, then stepped up where the glass meets the sidewalk. Inside, there are more level changes at the building line--two steps up with railings to reach the actual display space of the store.
The sidewalk also slopes downward from right to left at the front of the store. So the glass is flush with the sidewalk on the left side, but perhaps 12-14 inches above the sidewalk on a concrete ledge on the right side.
When I arrived at about 9:30 a.m., workers were inside and outside cleaning the glass façade, and the glass panels of the upper floor balconies. This was all visible--in front of black curtains that prevent any view of the interior. The curtains were erected just before the Bondi blue plastic covering was taken off the windows. I've learned that earlier photos of the store without the coverings taken by passersby were while Apple took their own photos of the store, which will later be posted on the Web and used for promotions. But as soon as the photos were taken, the curtains went back up.
Sr. VP Retail Ron Johnson earlier declined to tell a local newspaper reporter the square-footage of the store, saying some interior feature takes a bite out of the space. But so far, it's not clear what that feature could be unless it's the glass stairs hidden behind the stainless steel wall at the rear of the ground-floor space.
As the day wore on, the only activity continued to be on the windows, and later on a series of small lights set in the stone flooring, just inside the glass wall. Looks like workers are finalizing the installation and finish of the lights.
Foot traffic increased throughout the day, and by 3 p.m. it was a crush of people. Almost directly across the street from the store is the Strand Arcade, which dates to 1892 and allows pedestrians to walk directly from George Street over to the Pitt Street Mall, a pedestrian-only area with a full range of local and international shops both below ground, at street level and in six-story buildings.
I've seen Apple's top retail executives in the city, and Apple's retail security team is also on-site. So far there hasn't been any waiting line--but it may be close.
Update: By 9 p.m. the black curtains are down, so it's easy to tell the dimensions of the store. The glass adds 15 feet to the front of the high-rise building, and then the actual interior depth is 20 feet to the rear wall. Behind that wall is another 10 feet, which apparently is where the stairway is located.
As I left, workers were wheeling in dollies and scissor lifts for unknown work.
There is only a handful of cities that can be described as spectacular, and Sydney (Australia) is one of them.
The city's location adjacent to a large harbor, a distinctive bridge, its compact central business district and architectural stand-outs all contribute to the city's attraction to tourists from all points of the globe. The metro area comprises over 4 million residents, more than enough to support an Apple store on George Street downtown.
The new Sydney store will be among Apple's most spectacular, with three floors of retail space behind a wall of glass panels. Inside, stainless steel, stone floors and bright lights will highlight a glass staircase (at this point, it's unknown if it will be spiral or straight).
The store opens its door at 5 p.m. on Thursday, June 19th. The local weather seems to be improving during the week, although it is the start of the continent's winter. Forecasts say the rain will disappear by Wednesday the 18th, and day-time temperatures will be in the upper 60s.
The days are getting shorter, with the sun setting just before 5 p.m., and twilight arriving about 30 minutes later--it will still be light out when the store opens.
Interest in the store began in 2006 when Apple's plans were first revealed, and it has never wavered since. An early line is expected, and a huge opening day crowd will turn up.
Other Points of Interest
Sydney Harbor Bridge - One of the great icons of the city, great for just viewing, but also now a great climbing destination.
Sydney Opera House - Perhaps the most photographed building in the world? Again, great for just viewing and exploring, but interior tours available.
Royal Botanic Gardens - A quiet, elevated park above the Opera House and harbor and in the midst of the city. Has 1.2 million protected plants.
Sydney Tower - An 853-foot tower and observation deck downtown, with lots of things to explore
Bondi Beach - Famous beach, and also the namesake for Apple's original iMac color, "Bondi Blue"
Sydney Wildlife World - OK, it's commercial, but it's also interesting right along the harbor.
Oceanworld Manly - Also right along the harbor, with a focus on sealife and up-close tanks
Taronga Zoological Park - Not quite in Sydney, but accessible with a ferry ride along the harbor. Set on a hillside with a sweeping view back to Sydney, it features 2,600 animals set in a wooded, 75-acre setting.