Hundreds wait at Verizon stores for BlackBerry Storm

NEW YORK Fri Nov 21, 2008 2:34pm EST

1 of 4. Customers line up outside of a Verizon Wireless store to purchase the new Blackberry Storm phone in New York, November 21, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Hundreds of people lined up at some Verizon Wireless stores on Friday to buy the BlackBerry Storm, the first touch-screen phone from Research In Motion that aims to compete with Apple's iPhone.

More than 200 people had waited at a Verizon store in mid-town Manhattan early in the morning, many of whom were turned away after it ran out of the new phones less than an hour after opening at 8 a.m. The angry customers caused a ruckus and police came to restore order.

Verizon said hundreds of others were in lines outside its stores up and down the U.S. east coast, but added that it had "plenty of phones" and would keep getting more shipments. It declined to give specifics on inventory levels.

Anthony Lewis, who was at a Verizon store near New York's Bryant Park, at first tried to get the Storm at electronics stores nearby. But he was disappointed, despite putting his name on a list ahead of the Friday debut.

"I had two pre-orders at Best Buy and Circuit City. Now I'm here and I'm hearing it's sold out," said Lewis, 28, of Brooklyn, New York. "I guess 8 a.m. in the morning is too late."

A Verizon employee at the store told customers that if they ordered the phone online or in the store, they would get the gadget in five to seven days.

Vodafone Group Plc, part owner of Verizon Wireless, a venture of Verizon Communications Inc and Vodafone, had said on Thursday that it was struggling to meet demand for the Storm, which it launched on November 14.

Vodafone, which is giving away the phone to UK customers who sign a contract, had said it had thousands of pre-orders.

STORM OR BRIGHT SPOT?

After briefly rising as much as 5 percent Verizon shares were up 40 cents, or 1.5 percent, at $26.90 in afternoon trade on New York Stock Exchange where rival AT&T Inc shares were down 3 percent at $23.76. Both stocks have been volatile in recent months due to the weakening economic situation.

But analysts said the Storm launch was likely the cause of the share moves on Friday.

"We've heard nothing but good things about it. It's a small bright spot in a really bleak world.," said Charter Equity Research analyst Ed Snyder referring to the Storm. He said that he had even "heard from some competitors who thought it was pretty impressive."

Verizon Wireless is making a big bet on the Storm for the crucial holiday season. The No. 2 U.S. mobile service heavily promoted four different phones last holiday season, but its focus this year is on the first touch-screen BlackBerry.

Both the Storm and iPhone cost $200 for customers who agree to a two-year service contract and both come with a built-in camera, and music and video players.

Verizon said it was getting reports of queues elsewhere in the country, with more than 100 people lining up outside a store in Bridgewater, New Jersey and another on L Street in Washington, DC. Spokeswoman Brenda Raney said it was too soon to say if stores were selling out.

"If a store has already run out, it's evidence of pent up demand," she said. "We don't normally have people line up."

However excitement over the launch stilled paled in comparison to iPhone debuts, when ardent fans camped out days in advance to ensure that they got their hands on the first devices. AT&T Inc is the exclusive U.S. carrier for the iPhone.

In San Francisco, smaller lines of about 20 were seen at Verizon stores at 8 AM. At one of them, an employee estimated that the store had sold about 100 phones since 7 o'clock.

Standing on line in San Francisco's financial district, Fred Vassard, a systems administrator, said he owns both versions of iPhone, but was dissatisfied with its phone capabilities. He wants Storm for both work and personal use.

"It's a touch-screen so it has more real estate, the reviews were so-so, so I'm hoping I can find some positives in it. But the phone part will work better," he said.

After rising almost 7 percent at one point in the session Research in Motion's U.S. shares were up 80 cents or almost 2 percent at $42.32 on Nasdaq.

(Reporting by Franklin Paul, Michael Erman, Brendan McDermid and Sinead Carew in New York, and by Gabriel Madway in San Francisco; editing by Leslie Gevirtz)

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