There was a time when landing one of Apple’s brick-and-mortar retail stores would be seen as an automatic win and a big coup for a city, a neighborhood — the sort of retail version of alchemy. Ordinary land, an ordinary facility, would immediately turn into gold as the iFaithful stream through the doors and the dollars start flowing.
But simple things don’t always stay that way, times change, and now even Apple at times finds itself dealing with the NIMBY backlash you used to see associated with a retailer like, dare we say it, Walmart. This is not to suggest, of course, that there’s been some kind of massive shift in the attitude toward Apple stores, which remain among the most lucrative per square foot in the retail industry. But — well, let’s just look at the pushback currently under way in Stockholm.
A newly elected city council in Sweden’s capital city is promising to block Apple’s plans for what would be its first retail store there. The council previously in power had given Apple a go-ahead for its plans, which call for putting a store at the edge of a public park called Kungstradgarden. AppleInsider has some of the backstory: “If built the store would replace a TGI Fridays, but take up more space, and residents have complained that it would not only block Kungstradgarden’s north entrance but commercialize a public area often used for concerts and other events.
“Apple has promised to hold its own park events, including performances, but this doesn’t appear to have stopped a flood of negative public comments.”
Apple and the city have actually been going back and forth on plans for the store for two years. Apple reportedly agreed to dial back the scope of the store, though as a reminder the company sees its stores these days as more like complexes, as public gathering spaces that also tend to encompass gathering spots outside the store to turn them into community hubs. Nevertheless, leaders in Stockholm collected more than 1,700 comments from the public about the store, and they were reportedly almost universally negative.
This all comes against the backdrop of Apple’s repositioning of its stores as “town squares,” as the company likes to call them, under retail chief Angela Ahrendts. It’s an ambitious bit of branding, for sure, but as AppleInsider notes, it also leaves the company open to criticism of insincerity about the community part given its emphasis on, well, selling expensive devices.
Pushback against the plans for Stockholm, meanwhile, also comes after Apple this summer backed down from plans for a pagoda-esque store it had proposed for Melbourne, Australia. Again from AppleInsider, the store had been “accused of clashing with surrounding buildings and resembling a Pizza Hut.” Apple adjusted, and “the redesigned architecture is more subdued.”
None of this is to suggest some kind of broad criticism of the company’s approach to physical retail. Apple’s retail plans have gotten significantly more ambitious in recent years, so it will be interesting to see how the company continues to respond to communities like Stockholm and others that feel bolder about pushing back against the iPhone maker about their preference for what they consider more appropriately designed and located facilities.