No problem there. Apple is as notoriously secretive about its retail operations as it is about its products. Curious about the size of the store? Apple won't release square footage. Wonder how many customers come through here each day? Apple won't say. How many staffers are there? No comment. Asked "Do you like working here?" one young clerk looks at the press handler for guidance, then answers: "I can't answer that."
After a mid-afternoon lull, the store comes alive. Of the 40 stools, only a few are unoccupied. Sarah Westbook, owner of Palo Alto's Piccadilly Pets, is at a horseshoe-shaped desk in the back where classes sometimes are given, working with an Apple specialist on setting up her new online -- and top secret -- business.
"I come in a couple times a week," she says, as a clerk fetches a cup of water for her 9-year-old Weimaraner, Luna, the Apple fandog at her side. "I love the people who work here, and they love my dog."
As the daylight fades, the neon WAXING and MASSAGE signs from across University Avenue reflect in the Apple Store windows, mixed in with Santa Claus chatting away on a super-sized iPad window display.
Kathleen Schwartz waits for an appointment to have her broken MacBook looked at ("it's getting wiggly," she says) while daughters Ellen, 9, and Elisabeth, 7, play a "Dora the Explorer" video game in the children's pod, both dressed up like fairies ("Every day for them," says Mom, "is fairy day.")
Near the front, silver-haired regular Rosemary Halley playfully grabs the arm of her young and handsome specialist, Venkatesan, while they talk about whether her "hunt-and-peck" typing style would work on the iPad she's lusting after. "He's the best," exclaims Halley, who would not give her age but admits "I stopped counting my birthdays quite a while ago." She says the staff "never hard-sells me on anything. The products sell themselves."
Dr. Ginny Fong is not quite so sold. "I'm so frustrated after spending three hours here," Fong says as she leaves the store empty-handed. She says neither Apple nor her carrier Sprint could figure out a problem with her new iPhone, with each company blaming the other.
Fong, though, seems to be in the minority as the sun goes down on another exciting day in Apple land. Middle-schooler James Pedersen works on an essay, a squatter on a huge MacBook Pro in the back ("When they catch me," he says, "they take away my chair to try and make me leave."). Geetha and Vijay Kancharia of Santa Clara, Calif., wait while specialist Chico Patel closes the 25 apps that had been quietly running and eating up their iPhone's battery life. And the entire staff stops to applaud and hug a departing employee as she makes her way out of the store on her last day.
And while Freedman returns as instructed, hoping to swap that white iPhone for a black one, and eight-year-old Holden Johnson takes a workshop on recording his own music using GarageBand ("I want to learn whatever the teacher teaches us," he says), darkness settles over Palo Alto, and the Apple Store comes aglow like a cathedral lit up with a million candles.
From one end of the shop to the other, all but a few of the 50 customers seem enraptured, sitting or standing silently, their heads bowed in reverence toward the iPads and iPhones they hold in their fingers like rosary beads.
APPLE STORES BY THE NUMBERS:
--Total number worldwide: 360
--Total number of employees: Approximately 36,000
--September quarterly retail revenue of all stores: $3.6 billion
--Average revenue per store in that quarter: $10.7 million
--Number of visitors to all Apple stores over time: more than 1 billion
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