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Apple retail chain to open doors in April

Gateway-style Mac stores coming

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Apple's much-rumoured High Street retail operation is inching towards a launch, with three stores set to open their doors in California next April.

The first store can be found at the corner of University and Kipling in Palo Alto, the San Jose Mercury News revealed on Friday. The second will be located in Glendale, though the location of store three isn't known, according to the newspaper.

The source is pretty solid: Palo Alto's senior town planner, Amy French, said Apple had applied for permission to modify the property at the Palo Alto location to create a 6500sq ft bricks'n'mortar version of the online AppleStore. French said Apple was aiming for an April opening, presumably from the company's application.

Apple's interest in Gateway-style retail outlets has been hinted at since June 1999, particularly after Gateway said that its stores generate as much margin as its online sales.

Apple has strong connections with CompUSA and Sears, both major US retailers, and this could explain why it's taken the Mac maker so long to formulate its retail strategy: how to build its own chain without souring relations?

As Sears and CompUSA focus mostly on the company's consumer products, there is room for a more professional-oriented chain. Then again, Apple could argue that its stores are more about brand-building than revenue generation, and so may be able to persuade its partners that it will compete with them fairly. Either way, it's already competing with them, through the online AppleStore.

In September, Gateway boss Jeffrey Weitzen complained that Apple had been trying to poach his retail staff. "Apple is serious [about opening its own stores] because they've been trying to hire our people," he told the Wall Street Journal.

And Apple has plenty of senior retail expertise in place already. Apple has signed up Allen Moyer, formerly of Sony US; Ron Johnson, merchandising director at Target; and in recent months George Blankenship, a real-estate executive from The Gap. The Gap's CEO, 'Mickey' Drexler, sits on Apple's board. ®

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