New Stores Make Fast Mac Friends By Leander Kahney
Story location: http://www.wired.com/news/mac/0,2125,56123,00.html

02:00 AM Nov. 04, 2002 PT


About once a month, Tadd and Nancy Torborg of Orlando, Florida, load their two kids into the car and drive halfway across the eastern seaboard to attend the grand opening of a new Apple Store. In the last year, the family has graced a dozen openings of Apple's new stores. They'll drive up to five hours through the night. Then they'll wait in line for hours with hundreds of other Mac fans for the store to open.

That, in fact, is the point: They like hanging out in the queue with like-minded Macintosh users.

"The biggest reason for going is camaraderie with the other people who go," explained Tadd. "The group that Apple attracts is very appealing to me -- they are creative technophiles. It's fun talking to them. I have yet to go to a user group meeting that attracts as impressive a group of people as that found in a grand opening line."

Nancy estimated there are at least a couple dozen people who regularly attend Apple store openings on the East Coast. One of them recorded a video from a dozen visits on the stores' machines and posted them to his website.

Allen Olivio, Apple's director of retail marketing, who has overseen a number of grand openings, said he, too, regularly meets the same people over and over.

"Isn't it astounding?" he said. "My jaw dropped. It's a great testament to the Apple brand and the Apple Store experience."

Apple has been opening stores in upscale shopping malls at a rate of one or two a month for the last year. The company has opened 43 to date, and was set to open three more over the weekend. It plans to open 50 stores by Thanksgiving.

The grand openings attract huge crowds. Lines start forming outside the store in the wee hours, and often persist all day.

But unlike lines at, say, the DMV or post office, these aren't sullen affairs. People socialize. Many compete to see who has the oldest Apple T-shirt, or one from the farthest-flung Apple Store.

Wireless messaging with others in the queue is popular. A lot of people bring along AirPort-equipped laptops, and thanks to Rendezvous -- Apple's networking technology that automatically detects similarly equipped computers -- people can instant message each other all the way down the line.

"People try to out-geek each other, showing off their old T-shirts or tech toys," Nancy Torborg said.

At first, Nancy was skeptical of her husband's plan to drag the family to an Apple Store opening. "The first time I was highly suspicious," she said. "The idea of driving huge distances to go to a store opening sounded so silly. But people are so nice. It's been great. It's a hoot."

One day, one of the other employees showed her some "crazy guy's" Web page with photographs taken at a dozen opening events.

"This is just something we do on Saturdays," she said. "We're kind of hard core, but it's fun. It's like potato chips. We can't stop going."

The Torbergs' 15-year-old daughter Laura likens them to Deadheads, without the cool microbus.

"Why would anyone drive all night to get into a store? It's such a blast. It's a lot of fun. They're the most benign people on the planet," Laura said.

Vern Seward, a contributing editor for the Mac Observer, likened the store openings to the biannual Macworld trade show.

"Hands were shaken, backs were patted, laughs were exchanged in an electric-charged atmosphere that could have reminded some of being at a keynote at a Macworld," he wrote. "It was a blast to watch."

Whereas Macworld gives Mac fans the opportunity to gather in numbers only twice a year, the store openings provide the same companionship once a month.

At the first Apple Store opening at a suburban Washington, D.C., mall in May 2001, the line broke into a chant of "Apple, Apple," according to people who were there.

In August, Apple held special late-night sales events to promote the launch of Jaguar, an update to Mac OS X. There were lines thousands strong at Apple Stores across the country.

In Palo Alto, a queue of 2,000 to 3,000 people formed. The cops showed up to oversee crowd control, and the store didn't close until 2:30 a.m. when the crowds finally thinned out. Apple estimated 4,000 people visited the store that night.

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