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Back at the Apple Store: My first return visit since the pandemic began

Published Jul 1st, 2021 9:59PM EDT
Apple Store locations
Image: John Greim/Newscom/The Mega Agency

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For the first time in more than a year, since the start of you-know-what, I walked into the Apple Store location near my apartment Thursday afternoon. And I have to say: The shopping experience I encountered was impressive. And frankly, because of the normalcy, a little surprising.

Before diving into some of the details of what you’ll encounter at US Apple Store locations now, a little backstory is in order. Since the COVID-19 situation wasn’t uniform and hit parts of the country differently, here’s a little about the pandemic experience where I live. I’m in the city of Memphis, and my county at this stage of the coronavirus pandemic has recorded a little more than 99,000 COVID cases. More than 97,000 of those have been classified as inactive or recovered. More importantly, my county’s current 7-day rolling average of new COVID-19 cases stands at just 26. We’re back to normal life, in other words. Or as normal as things can be right now.

Apple Store locations, back to normal (sort of)

We locked down here last year, same as everywhere else. But things came in waves and stages. The one Apple Store here in my county opened and closed a few times in 2020. At one point, it was operating according to Apple’s pilot “Express” store concept.

That Express model turns an Apple Store into something that kind of looks like one of those Western movie town storefront facades. A giant partition in the entryway of the store completely blocked anyone from being able to go deeper inside. The partition had shelf-like spaces where Apple products could be displayed. Sort of condensing the store onto one wall, temporarily, that was then scooted toward the front door.

My local store has since scrapped that and gone back to the traditional, wide-open normal shopping experience.

All US Apple Store locations have actually been open for a few months now. But not all of them had returned at that point to their pre-pandemic status quo. Meaning, some still operated with limited hours, for example.

apple store
An view from outside the Apple Store, near Memphis, Tennessee. Image source: Andy Meek

Masks optional

The store here near me, however, looks like it did circa Winter 2019. Multiple customers were hovering over every table inside, studying the iPads, iPhones and more displayed on them. Masked, tablet-wielding employees were roaming throughout, some engaged in helping customers.

I’m here, at this Apple Store location, because I need (okay, want) a new iPad. When you first walk up, there’s a sign outside letting you know that masks are optional. A hand sanitizer station stands near the front door.

As soon as I walked in, a masked security guard assessed me. What did I need? A new iPad, okay. Stand over there, and wait for this employee to finish, so she can come help you. After a few minutes, the masked Apple employee hits me with more questions. Did I need to know specs and what my choices are? Did I already have an idea what I wanted? You can go browse those tablets there. Or you can stand in line over here and tell someone which model you want. And check out from there.

But for the masks visible throughout — mostly on employees — you’d be forgiven for not realizing there’s still a pandemic on the rampage outside. One that doesn’t care whether you need a new iPad, nor about whatever other piece of normalcy you want to reclaim. Still, though, it’s nice to do mundane things like this again.

I’m not the biggest fan of being told where to stand and answering tons of questions when I’m trying to by something. But, hey, at least I can give Apple gobs of money again in-person, right?

Andy Meek Trending News Editor

Andy Meek is a reporter based in Memphis who has covered media, entertainment, and culture for over 20 years. His work has appeared in outlets including The Guardian, Forbes, and The Financial Times, and he’s written for BGR since 2015. Andy's coverage includes technology and entertainment, and he has a particular interest in all things streaming.

Over the years, he’s interviewed legendary figures in entertainment and tech that range from Stan Lee to John McAfee, Peter Thiel, and Reed Hastings.