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by Joe Wilcox

Ten years ago today, I stepped into the world of Apple retail. Company CEO Steve Jobs hosted a group of journalists to see the first Apple Store, which opened at Tysons Corner Center in McLean, Va., on May 19, 2001. It was a strange gathering if for no other reason than timing. Recession gripped the country, Apple had reported several consecutive quarterly losses and Gateway was in process of shuttering 40 stores (and would eventually close them all). Apple Store didn’t fit.

Apple Store Understated

There were plenty of skeptics about Apple’s retail experiment, given circumstances. However, Jobs made a pitch not about sales but about increasing brand awareness and nudging Mac market share above 5 percent (from well below 2 percent globally). In its early conception, Apple Store was about five things:

1. Exposing more people to the Apple brand and products.

2. Inviting new users to the Mac experience — the Mac community

3. Providing a place where Apple could showcase the benefits of the Mac lifestyle.

4. Through the Genius Bar, giving customers a place to come to for technical assistance.

5. Honing Apple manufacturing and distribution, which would later benefit products like iPod and iPad.

Journalists met Jobs and his PR entourage in a hotel across the street attached to Tysons Galleria, also known as Tysons II, on May 15, 2001. Tysons Corner is an uptown mall located in one of the country’s wealthiest counties as measured in per capita income. Galleria stores are the Fifth Avenue of McLean, Va. — they’re upscale in a whole other class. I was surprised at the time that Apple didn’t locate in the posher mall, which seemed to click more with the Mac demographic. But Tysons I had more foot traffic. When Apple Store opened, Tysons Corner Center averaged about 57,000 customers a day — or more than 21 million shoppers a year.

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