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Apple closes its ‘mothership’ Infinite Loop retail store for good

By Ryan Macasero, The Mercury News
Published: January 22, 2024, 7:31am

CUPERTINO, California — From the outside, Apple’s Infinite Loop store resembles any other Apple store, with its floor-to-ceiling windows, open floor plan, wooden tables and bright white walls.

But for diehard Apple fans and longtime employees, the Company Store at the tech titan’s former headquarters has been a mecca of sorts: a testing ground for products and retail strategies decades before the iPhone became ubiquitous in Silicon Valley and around the world.

So word of its Saturday closure has hit especially hard.

“The Infinite Loop store has always really held a special place in the hearts of the Apple community. And I think it’s because of the history of the campus,” said Michael Steeber, a technology writer-turned-developer.

The Infinite Loop campus served as Apple’s headquarters from the mid-1990s until the company opened Apple Park a couple miles to the east in the spring of 2017.

“When you think about the Infinite Loop, not just the store, but the campus, that’s where the original iPod was created, and that’s where the original iPhone and iPad were also made. So a lot of people. … They make a point to visit that store, right? And they come out to see it because they know what the history is behind the location,” Steeber said.

For Virgil Apilado, a longtime quality assurance software engineer at Apple who recently retired, the store’s shuttering brings back 20 years of memories.

“I was shocked to learn about the store’s closure,” Apilado said. Back in 2000, when Apilado joined Apple, “it was the only store that sold Apple products in the Silicon Valley.”

At first, the company store was only open to employees. Apilado said he and his colleagues would often buy gear and other products not available elsewhere to give to family and friends. “I remember buying T-shirts, mugs, caps, bags and other memorabilia from the store,” said Apilado, who settled in Santa Clara, not far from Infinite Loop, after moving to the U.S. from the Philippines.

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Word quietly began to spread in late December that Apple would close the store’s doors for the final time at 6 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 20. In early January, a sign at the door of the Infinite Loop Apple store directed customers to the bigger Apple Park Visitor Center store.

Today, there are at least 529 Apple stores around the world, with over half of them in the United States.

Apple representatives did not respond to multiple requests for comment on its retail store closure. However, an employee told this news organization that current staff would be moved to other nearby stores.

Silicon Valley tech analyst Tim Bajarin said he would often stop by the store when he was on campus.

“For decades, Infinite Loop was the main place we would go to for meetings and special events, especially media type things,” he said. They would stop by to buy official Apple merchandise or gadgets and accessories.

Apple would also test new design and retail strategies in the store, Bajarin said, as employees were often the company’s “closest market.”

But it drew fans from around the world, too.

In recent years, even with the mushrooming of Apple stores across the country, Apple enthusiasts would often make the trek to Cupertino to appreciate the history of the location, said Steeber.

“In 2015, at that time, Apple was debuting its new design language for its retail stores. The Infinite Loop store was the first location in North America with its new store design,” Steeber said.

Steeber has visited hundreds of Apple stores and developed an app where users can take virtual tours of its retail stores at different points in history. He said he was sad and surprised to learn about the store’s closing, but understood Apple’s decision.

There is still not much to see in what many Apple diehard fans and employees call, “the mothership.” And that’s been part of the insiders’ appeal.

This is a pronounced contrast from the more touristy Apple Park Visitor Center, which houses a 10,000 square-foot Apple store, and offers regular activities and workshops to the public.

Yet even those mourning the closure of its former flagship store understand Apple has never been a company stuck in its past.

In the same way the iPhone updates and evolves, so must its stores, Steeber said.

“And I don’t think Apple’s ever really ever … been the type of company to dwell in the past,” he said. “I think that if you think about it from Apple’s perspective, they’re always trying to push the customer experience, right?”

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