March 15, 2010

Fans expected to flock to Apple store's opening

NOEL K

— By . GALLAGHER

Staff Writer

The first Apple store in Maine opens this Saturday, and if history is any guide, Apple fanatics will be lining up at the door in droves.

Most Apple store openings draw big crowds, with some people even camping out in advance. The South Portland store opens at 9:30 a.m., and the first 1,000 visitors get a free Apple T-shirt.

''This is suhweeeet for us Mainers,'' according to a posting on an Apple chat board this week. ''Now if only Portland wasn't a 3-hour drive... Oh well, I'll probably be there anyway on Saturday.''

An Apple store also is guaranteed to eat into the business of authorized Apple resellers and service providers in the area.

Best Buy, which has a Maine Mall store and reached an agreement with Apple last year to sell computers and iPods, is one such reseller. Don Moody, the owner of Gorham Micro in Saco, is another.

Moody said he is braced for the inevitable impact on sales, but thinks there is room for many Apple-related stores.

''They are definitely major competition, but in the long run, I see the Apple store as being good for the area and good for our store,'' Moody said Thursday.

Moody has been told to expect a hit in sales. Based on what has happened elsewhere when an Apple store has opened nearby, he said, independents see a drop in sales of about 70 percent, with that business coming back in 12 to 16 months.

''Our store typically does a lot of service,'' Moody said. ''(Apple store employees) are intended to be salespeople and to do quick fixes. They don't have the hour or so to do data recovery. I'm not trying to slam them, but they just don't have the time to do that.''

Moody is hoping to draw more business by providing service ''house calls.''

Since getting into Macs in 2000, Moody has built up a loyal customer base, he said, and anticipates that they will continue to shop -- particularly for service -- at Gorham Micro.

Apple fans say having a store nearby means they don't have to resort to the Internet and can get face-to-face help.

''I have to buy everything online now,'' said Brittany Bugaj, a graphic artist from South Portland. ''Now I don't have to wait.''

The store will have the standard elements of Apple stores everywhere, a spokeswoman said. In addition to free weekly workshops on a range of topics, the store has a ''Genius Bar,'' where customers can schedule appointments for free tech support, and One to One, a $99 service that gives customers weekly individual training sessions.

The store will also have youth programs, from free workshops to field trips for classrooms.

Apple operates more than 200 stores; the one in Salem, N.H., previously was the closest one to Maine.

Engineer Kevin Callahan said he's looking forward to the opening.

''I've tried shopping at independent resellers here and in California, and they cannot stock everything that an Apple store can stock,'' said Callahan, who telecommutes from his Appleton home to San Jose, Calif.-based LiveWorld, which builds and manages social networking sites.

It'll save him some travel, too, he said: ''We actually planned a trip down to Cambridge to the Apple store there'' to have his wife's computer looked at.

The Apple store is the first of several shops scheduled to open at the Maine Mall during the next few weeks, mall spokesman Keith Stone said. Forever 21 is scheduled to open Sept. 20, and H&M and Coldwater Creek stores are aiming to open sometime in the first half of October.

Staff Writer Noel K. Gallagher can be contacted at 791-6387 or at:

ngallagher@pressherald.com

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