The Apple of many an eye opening in Philly tonight

Posted: July 30, 2010

As of tonight, Apple worshippers in the city no longer have to journey very far to get their latest technology fix.

Philadelphia's first Apple Store, on Walnut Street near 16th, opens its doors to the iPad- and 4G iPhone-salivating public at 5 p.m.

Jan Fernback, a Temple University professor of broadcasting, telecommunications and mass media, said she understands the cultlike following of the big white Apple logo.

"For a consumer, going to the Apple store can be a useful experience, but in terms of the cult-iness aspect, it's the temple at which you can worship and be with other Apple-like devotees," said Fernback, who focuses on technology and culture.

Larry Steinberg, of the Center City retail-real-estate agency Michael Salove Co. - which brokered the deal for Apple's 299th store in the country - said it would bring more traffic to the high-end retail stores along Walnut Street.

"Apple generates huge amounts of retail sales, much better than any other store," he said.

The stretch has seen its share of vacancies during the economic downturn, and was hit last week by Chef Georges Perrier's decision to close his famed Le Bec-Fin on the 1500 block of Walnut next year.

Although he wouldn't disclose the lease price, Steinberg said Apple paid top dollar per square foot.

That helps to prove Fernback's argument that Apple's attempt to paint itself as opposite the mainstream, corporate image of competitor Microsoft, isn't exactly genuine.

"It's ironic," Fernback said. "The fact that PCs do dominate the computer marketplace lends to that notion that [Apple] 'fights the dark forces of Microsoft.' But the control Apple exerts over its devices is actually anti-individualist and anti-creativity."

Fernback said that songs on iTunes often can't be downloaded to other MP3 players because of Apple's heavy digital-rights management and the iPad can only download e-Books from mainstream publishers.

So while having a Mac instead of a PC is "a much cooler notion," Fernback said, "in actuality it does restrict individuality. Just like with Facebook, you have to be willing to give up some of your freedoms to participate in the cool trend."

Whatever the knocks against the company, local Apple fans remain devoted.

"I've been telling all my friends that one is opening in Philly on Friday [today] so they don't have to go all the way to Cherry Hill to buy [a product] or get it fixed," said Allison Carafa, who frequents a coffee shop on South Street with her 3G iPhone and 13-inch MacBook Pro.

For Carafa, 25, the devices, both bought within the last year, are more like appendages.

"I don't know what I would do without them," she said.

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