Elm City sows seeds for Apple store

As the ratio between Mac users and PC users has neared a one-to-one balance, New Haven officials have undertaken efforts to bring an Apple Store downtown — as a service to city developers as much as to Apple enthusiasts. But is this idea a seed that will ever sprout? Basak Otus reports.

Last Monday, as Richard Yao chomped on a juicy green apple, regular office work was a distant concern. Instead, the economic development officer of New Haven was supervising the assembly of a video clip to be broadcast on YouTube.

Just 10 days earlier, Yao had invited city residents to discuss the possibility of having an Apple retail store in New Haven and to enjoy an appletini at ArtSpace on 50 Orange St. The result was remarkable: 66 people agreed to sign the petition for a retail store downtown, while more than 100 showed up to the gathering. Currently, Yao’s team is finishing the event reports and assembling a video clip featuring interviews and scenes from the event. The goal is to make New Haven’s voice heard by the Apple headquarters in Cupertino, Calif.

“We are going to put a CD together and mail it to the three big guys,” Yao said, referring to Apple’s co-founder and chief executive officer, Steve Jobs; senior vice president of retail operations, Ron Johnson; and Eastern seaboard retail manager, Megan Alexander.

“There are around 60,000 college students enrolled in the three schools in the region, Yale, Southern Connecticut University and New Haven University — an important target market for Apple,” Yao explained.

Meanwhile, MacBooks are becoming a common sight on Yale’s campus as more and more students say they prefer them to PCs. Philip Long, the chief information officer and director of Yale’s Information Technology Services, said in an e-mail message that 41 percent of the registered Yale network users work with Macintosh computers, while 48 percent use computers that run on Windows. Although the Student Technology Center is certified for Apple repair, Long said he thinks having an Apple store downtown positively influence both city and student life.

“An Apple store would obviously offer much more that we can do,” Long said.

There is, in fact, much more than selling computers to an Apple retail store. Yao could hardly restrain his enthusiasm as he spoke about the unique services an Apple store can offer: the opportunity to test-drive the latest Apple products, technical support and repairs at the Genius Bar, one-on-one training on how to use Macs, and, most important, saving a one-hour trip to Farmington to get a needed iPhone extension cord.

Indeed, Garentina Kraja ’11 said she could have benefited from having an Apple store close by last year, when her new MacBook exhibited continual glitches.

“I had to take two trips to Stamford within a short period of time to get my Mac fixed,” Kraja said. “I could not mail it because I was facing deadlines for a paper, and yet I ended up spending several hours on the train and at the Apple store.”

Having just purchased an iPod Touch online, another student, Esen Sefik ’09, said she also feels the absence of an Apple store in New Haven.

“Online shopping is convenient and safe, but it took 10 days for my iPod to arrive in New Haven,” Sefik said. “And because this is my first Apple ever, I am sure that I will need help learning how to get around with it.”

Students are not the only ones who want to see the Apple logo downtown, according to Sheri Kaplan, director of operations at the Shubert Theater. She said that although she found Apple’s design and technology attractive, she would like to have more hands-on experience at an Apple store before feeling comfortable enough to purchase an iPhone.

“I grew up in a ‘Don’t touch the screen’ culture, and it takes some time to learn how to use an iPhone,” Kaplan said.

Like Yao, Kaplan said she believes an Apple retail store in New Haven would have a substantial target market.

“People visiting Yale-New Haven Hospital, Yale University or downtown retails and restaurants would be likely to stop by the store,” Kaplan said.

Yao, however, admits a drawback.

“Businesses like Apple are concerned with the regional market — that is, what happens 45 miles around New Haven,” Yao explained. “The average household income in New Haven is around $5,000 less than that in Farmington, Danbury or Stamford.”

Developers of the new “360 State St.” complex, which will be replacing the old Shartenberg department store that once stood in the lot between State, Chapel, Orange and Court streets, have informed Apple about business opportunities, but have not heard back yet. Meanwhile, Yao had sent a few senior managers from Apple invitations to join the event at ArtSpace, but he, too, received no response.

The construction at 360 State St. is expected to be complete in two years, but whether the complex will include an Apple store remains unknown. The decision will belong to the big guys in California.

One of them, at least, will have New Haven ties. Coincidentally, the dean of the Yale School of Management, Joel Podolny, announced Wednesday he would leave the University to join Apple as a vice president.

As Podolny heads to Cupertino next year, perhaps Apple will want to send something back to New Haven in return.

Comments