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Apple’s new ‘town square’ format arrives at Westfield UTC store

SAN DIEGO, CA November 16th, 2017 | This is the front entrance during the opening of the new Apple S
SAN DIEGO, CA November 16th, 2017 | Apple hosts grand reopening of UTC location.

Apple celebrated the grand reopening of its Westfield UTC store Thursday, showing off a renewed enthusiasm for brick-and-mortar with a new store format the company likes to think of as a “town square.”

The storefront, now situated around the corner from Nordstrom, is bigger and brighter than the technology giant’s previous space. And, more importantly, it’s emblematic of the iPhone-maker’s commitment to what industry insiders like to call experiential retail.

For Apple, that translates to an environment where shoppers of all ages should want to see, touch, play and stay.

The UTC location is the first of Apple’s five San Diego County stores to get the town-square treatment. Aside from the relocated store’s larger footprint, the two most conspicuous elements are, in Apple parlance, “The Forum” and “The Avenue.”

The Forum, which Apple likes to think of as a “vibrant gathering place,” takes the physical place of its old UTC store’s Genius Bar and commands visitors’ attention with an eye-catching, 6K video wall.

Here the company hosts what are now called “Today at Apple” educational seminars, teaching everything from basic product skills to coding for kids. The video wall, essentially a supersized high-definition television measuring 25 feet by 14 feet, cycles through various images and art displays when not in use during sessions.

Meanwhile, down The Avenue, Apple Store visitors are encouraged to leisurely stroll by themed window-display-like sections, and touch or try everything from smart home devices to noise-canceling headphones. The company’s so-called creative pros — there are four at the UTC location who specialize in music, art, photography or gaming — are always nearby to help guide customers through the seasonal displays.

Absent at the UTC store, however, is the aforementioned Genius Bar. Apple has eliminated the bar in favor of its “Geniuses” holding their fix-it sessions at various tables around the store.

While the changes are evident to customers who’ve visited the Westfield UTC store in the past, the company’s design overhaul is more pronounced at its remodeled flagship venues. The newly opened Chicago store, for instance, is located alongside the city’s Riverwalk and includes 32-foot glass windows and an outdoor plaza.

Apple is doubling down on offline retail at a time when e-commerce, primarily Amazon, is killing off the competition. Executives, including retail lead Angela Ahrendts, have discussed the store strategy as a means to create a deeper connection with customers than is allowed through online transactions. The efforts also appear designed to help Apple maintain its position as the most profitable retailer per square foot. The company’s 497 stores averaged sales of $5,159 per square over the past 12 months, according to eMarketer.

Thus far, Apple has converted more than 50 of its U.S. stores to the new format, but the company is not disclosing when it will redo its other San Diego locations.

Apple’s reopening at UTC coincides with a number of store and restaurant also debuting at the Westfield shopping center on Thursday. The mall is in the midst of peeling back the curtain on a $600-million phase of development.

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jennifer.vangrove@sduniontribune.com (619) 293-1840 Twitter: @jbruin