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Apple Opening First Two Stores

CUPERTINO, CALIF. — Apple CEO Steve Jobs put an end to the year-long debate over whether the computer maker would open its own stores by stating it would open two stores this weekend with 23 more to follow this year.

Despite a growing mountain of evidence, Apple had continuously denied reports that it was interested in becoming a retailer. Mac specialty shop owners have been particularly wary and vocal about Apple’s intentions fearing that they could be priced out of the market.

Apple has only announced a few of the other locations: New York City, Chicago, Littleton, Colo., and San Francisco.

Michael Flink, vice president for Levin Consulting, Beechwood, Ohio, did not see the move into retail as a negative or that the 25 stores as having a major impact on Apple’s bottom line. Flink was certain Apple would discover that operating a store is not a simple task.

“This is probably a good test move for Apple and not enough of an expense to kill Apple. However, Gateway has learned that running a retail operation and generating floor traffic isn’t easy,” he said.

The first two stores will open later this week in McLean, Va., and Glendale, Calif. Each store will carry about 500 SKUs, including 300 software titles. The exact square footage of the stores was not available. The stores will be divided into several sections with each dedicated to a different type of consumer.

The “home” and “professional” areas will have the full line of Apple computers for each of these markets. The “solutions” area features vignettes displaying digital imaging, video editing and creating music CDs. The “genius bar” gives customers an opportunity to quiz local experts on Mac-related topics. The bar is continuously manned and has a hotline to Apple’s headquarters in case the expert needs help answering a specific question. Each store has a theater where customers watch product demonstrations.

The Apple shops will carry inventory so consumers can leave with their purchases. This differs from the Gateway Country Store approach, which uses the stores as demonstration vehicles and ships the purchased products to the consumer’s home.