Cult Apple store lurks in suburban California mall

* Low-key Apple store becomes unlikely pilgrimage site

* Malls on both coasts vie for title of original store

GLENDALE, Calif., Dec. 10 (Reuters Life!) - Before there was an Apple, AAPL.O store under a giant futuristic cube near New York's Central Park or beneath a sleek glass cylinder in Shanghai, there was "store 001" on the second floor of a 70s-era suburban California shopping mall.

It may be unassuming and, yes, a bit uncool, but it’s not forgotten, not by Christmas shoppers who flock these days to the Glendale Galleria mall and especially not by Appleheads at the core of the cult brand.

Doors actually opened on May 19, 2001, the same day as another Apple store in Virginia’s Tysons Corner, a shopping mecca outside Washington D.C.. But the one in a brown-brick mall in the Los Angeles suburb of Glendale is listed as store 001 in Apple rankings.

On a recent Sunday afternoon, many Apple shoppers were surprised to learn of the store’s status.

“You’re kidding,” said Mike Morales, 24. “Glendale was first?” asked Margaret Lambert, eyebrows raised high, who described herself as fortysomething. “Here?” asked Robbie Nock, 26. “It’s a horrible mall.”

But that’s not how Apple sees it. Several major Los Angeles freeways run nearby, bringing in traffic from a wide area. Shoppers hail from all income brackets, ethnic groups, and levels of tech prowess.


Hard-core Apple fans don’t care about the humdrum surroundings. Abel Keshishian, 23, likes to stop by every couple of months and says he thinks about the store being first every time he steps over the threshold.

Staff couldn’t talk officially to a visiting reporter, but they did say they do nothing to encourage the store’s cult status. Nevertheless, every few weeks, die-hard fans stop by and take pictures or engage them in conversation about the store’s pedigree.

Some visitors return home and brag online about purchasing gear at the Glendale branch, part of a vigorous game of one-upmanship about the number and quality of the Apple stores they have visited.

Perhaps the most talked-about is the new store in Shanghai. To reach it customers traverse a circular plaza, enter a dramatic glass cylinder, and descend a spiral staircase to the sleek sales area underneath.

By contrast, to find the Glendale store, customers navigate past a crowded food court, ascend a run-of-the-mill escalator, and search out the familiar silver Apple among neighbors like a discount men’s suit shop and a teen-fashion retailer.

But because of its history, Apple retail employees like to work there. Many transfer in from other stores, and some customers say they seem more knowledgeable compared to staff at other branches.

At the end of the day, it might not be such a big deal where the stores land. For all the hoopla, they represent just 15 percent of Apple’s total sales.

Reporting by Sarah McBride; Editing by Mary Milliken and Patricia Reaney