In a sea of navy Apple T-shirts, employees of the company’s new riverfront store kept spirits high for the hundreds of customers lined up to check out Magnificent Mile’s new tech haven.
With loud applause, employees and eager customers counted down: 10 minutes! 30 seconds! 5, 4, 3, 2, 1!
When the doors opened at 5 p.m. on the dot, the first wave of customers were welcomed by Apple CEO Tim Cook and Senior Vice President of Retail Angela Ahrendts.
Paul Zhu, 18, stood in line for 27 hours to be the new store’s first customer. Stopping for selfies with Cook and Ahrendts, Zhu hurried into a building he said “feels like home.”
Zhu moved to Chicago from Chengdu, China just two months ago, and has been an Apple user for more than seven years. Zhu said he often visited the Apple Store in Chengdu, and was eager to get in line at 2 a.m. to see the new Chicago store.
“Apple feels like family,” Zhu said.
Shortly after the doors opened, Gov. Bruce Rauner arrived to check it out. “This is a great thing for the state,” he said.
As patrons poured in, most of the store’s 250 employees lined the marble staircase inside, cheering and clapping.
In matching black hats sporting the Apple logo, John and Sherry Speciale were excited to photograph the new store on their iPhones after waiting in line for three hours. “Apple has been a part of our lives for 20 years,” said John Speciale. “This is great for the city, it’s great for the Riverwalk, and it’s a tremendous influence for this area.”
The couple traveled to Cupertino, Calif., in 2015 to purchase their Apple swag, and to visit the company’s headquarters and the home of former CEO Steve Jobs. Sherry Speciale teared up as she said how happy she was to be in the same room as Apple executives.
“There’s nobody in retail that gets this type of support from their customers,” said John Speciale. “It’s a two-way street with what they give back to their customers.”
The couple, who still has their Sunflower model computer from 2001 and an original iPod, said they own at least 12 Apple devices and have purchased even more for their parents, children and grandchildren.
At the grand opening that drew hundreds, some customers were given black boxes containing Apple T-shirts. An Apple stage blared upbeat music to the crowds gathered on Pioneer Plaza. And an Apple spokesperson said that while no shows are scheduled for the opening, Chicagoans can expect surprise performances throughout the weekend.