PALO ALTO -- It's only 262 steps southwest along University Avenue -- past the Tibetan amulets, the crepe joint and the 4.49-percent home-equity line offered at Union Bank -- to stroll from the old Apple (AAPL) Store to the new one, opening Saturday morning with trademark Apple fanfare.

But for the Cupertino tech giant that dreams up its retail outlets with the same gimlet eye for detail that it brings to its computers, smartphones and tablets, this move is no simple stroll down the street.

"Just like Apple, which is constantly innovating, Apple retail is doing the same thing, and our new store is a reflection of that," Steve Cano, Apple's vice president of stores worldwide, said the other day during an interview at the now-shuttered old store.

As the guy who was store leader when Apple first opened its doors on Palo Alto's main drag 11 years ago, Cano's got some emotional skin in the game. He said former CEO Steve Jobs, who lived nearby and who died last October, "was here the day we opened, so this store has always been very special."

"And," said Cano, "that's why we're so excited about opening up a spectacular new store on such a classic street."


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Located a block and a half away, at the intersection of Florence Street (did somebody say Renaissance?), the new store -- one of 394 Apple now operating in 13 countries -- is nothing short of breathtaking. With its soaring glass-enclosed atrium ceiling, dubbed the Great Hall and one of only three in the country, its side and back walls clad in shimmering Tennessee marble, and its girth pumped up to accommodate even more traffic than the 2,000 visitors on average who'd visit the old store each day, the jewel box at 340 University will make the old Apple store seem a bit mundane by comparison.

Cano is particularly passionate about the new, expanded Genius Bar at the back of the store -- what Cano calls "the soul of our store."

"We spend a lot of time on the way we communicate, connect and engage with our customers," said Cano, a friendly rail of a guy who lives and breathes Apple retail, gushing as much about the stores as Jobs once talked about the iMac and iPhone. "And a lot of that interaction happens at the tables and at the Genius Bar."

So when customers said "they wanted to go deeper into the products and become more connected with Apple," Cano said the new store's designers created the largest "360 design" Genius Bar of any of the Bay Area's 16 stores.

The new design enables users and employees to sit side by side on stools around the bar instead of facing each other across a wooden divide.

There will be plenty of Geniuses on hand to help users bellying up to the bar, as the store staff has swelled over time to 150, a big jump from the 22 employees when Cano opened the old store in 2001. Which just shows how Saturday's move is really a story about two shops on the same street, and how far Apple has come in the years between their grand openings.

"That's a great example of the growth Apple stores have experienced," he said. "The original Genius Bar had five chairs and was stuck in a back corner. We'd give away bottled water to try to get people to come over. I used to sit around wondering what I could have the Geniuses do while they were sitting there."

That's no longer a problem. In fact, it was the service of the Geniuses and their colleagues that won over loyal fans like San Carlos real estate agent Kathryn Bedbury. She's such a fan of the University store leader Baha Cinar that she's sent thank-you pizzas and cupcakes and gift cards to his staff "because I'm just so appreciative of their service."

"The way these young kids calm everyone down during a product launch, for example, is just a phenomenal thing," Bedbury said. "I thought, what an operation they must run behind the scenes to train a staff like that. If our entire world ran like an Apple Store, what a remarkable place it would be.

"I can't wait for the new store to open and see what they've got," she said. "I'd follow them anywhere."

How about 262 steps down University Avenue?

"Anywhere."

Contact Patrick May at 408-920-5689. Follow him at Twitter.com/patmaymerc.

Inside the Apple store
Apple opens its new store Saturday morning in Palo Alto, just a block and a half from the one it first opened 11 years ago on University Avenue. With soaring cathedral ceilings, marble-clad walls, and a beefed-up Genius Bar, the new store is destined to become a retail icon in Silicon Valley. Here are some highlights:
The first Apple store of its kind in California, with a glass fa ade and arched ceiling above the 25-foot-high "Great Hall" design found only at the Upper West Side store in New York and one in Texas.
Largest "360" Genius Bar in California, stretched out to 25 feet and designed to have customers and staff members sit side-by-side around the communal table.
A "Briefing Room" in the back of the store, the first of its kind in the Bay Area and created as a quiet place for business customers to work closely with Apple employees.
180 "touch points" for customers to get hands-on time with Apple products, more than twice the number at the old store.
More than twice as much service area, where customers can get set-up guidance, as well as training and help from the Genius Bar brain trust.
Materials include Tennessee marble for the side and rear walls, stainless steel from Japan, maple tables, and glass made in Germany; floor stone is Pietra Serena from Italy.
The new store, at 340 University Ave. at Florence Street, is one of 16 in the Bay Area and 394 around the world in 13 countries.
The old store, which opened at 451 University 11 years ago and averaged 2,000 visitors a day, closed for good at 10 p.m. Friday night.
The new store will have 150 employees, led by the same man who ran the old store, Bahadir Cinar.
Source: Apple