Important PSA: The Genius Bar is dead.
Well, technically it was sentenced to death in May, when Apple opened a new location in San Francisco’s Union Square that eliminated the mainstay appointment bar that had become a symbol of frustration for the company’s retail customers. At that opening, Apple introduced its Genius Grove — a more open space featuring leather benches surrounded by ficuses where customers are invited to sit and wait while technical experts service their gadgets. Company senior vice president of retail and online stores Angela Ahrendts offered The New York Times a very Apple explanation for the update: “The next generation just wants to flow.”
And flow the Groves will, moving next into Williamsburg, a neighborhood where man buns go to thrive. Apple will open its first Brooklyn store there this Saturday on an exceptionally gentrified patch of Bedford Avenue that is home to an HSBC Bank, an Equinox, and a newly christened Whole Foods. On Thursday morning, a crowd of journalists gathered for a preview of the new store, sitting atop low wooden cubes before a giant 6K screen that read “Apple Williamsburg” in the company’s signature Myriad font.
Wearing a WWDC-esque button-up shirt–and–jeans outfit, Apple’s New York market director, Jason Barlia, opened the event with a tale that politely hinted at the history of Williamsburg — once an impoverished, drug-ridden neighborhood and artist’s enclave.
“It takes a lot of time and effort when we’re selecting these types of locations,” he said. “This one is particularly close to me because my dad grew up in the neighborhood in the ’50s and ’60s. And I grew up listening to him talk about his childhood stories [about] swimming in the pool just across the street, outside this window on my left. He’s so connected to the neighborhood that he still comes every year to visit the local [Italian] feast, just a couple blocks away, every July. When he goes, I’m lucky enough to get a bag of zeppoles when he comes back home.”
Just six years ago, the opening of a new Duane Reade caused Williamsburg residents to protest. Starting in the the early aughts, the neighborhood — once an affordable home for working-class Puerto Rican, Jewish, and Eastern European immigrants — struggled to maintain its identity as chains moved into its storefronts and high-rise condos lined its waterfront. In recent years, however, stores including J.Crew, Urban Outfitters, and, now, the crown jewel of retail excess — Apple — moved in without incident.
Before the audience’s minds could linger on how exactly Williamsburg transformed into a place to buy $300-plus smartphones, Barlia began highlighting the store’s architectural details, using euphemisms that have been scientifically proved to stir Jane Jacobs in her grave. “Here in Williamsburg, we love the idea of a classic warehouse,” he said, explaining that, because the spirit of the building’s original facade was “slightly diminished,” Apple tore it down, rebuilding it from the ground up. This made way for some notable features that “fit into the neighborhood,” namely polished concrete floors, an acoustic timber ceiling, steel-rod lighting fixtures, and, of course, exposed brick.
We, the captive audience, are then informed that — ta-dah! — we happen to be sitting in one of Apple’s famed “Forums,” a retail store concept introduced alongside the Groves this past May. These areas, Barlia told us, will be a place for entrepreneurs, developers, small and medium-sized businesses, DJ Khaled, and the community to gather. This so-called Forum, it turns out, is actually just a wall-less auditorium with uncomfortable backless seating. There is no reason to call it a “forum.” But hey, bees gotta buzz, Brooklyn neighborhood’s gotta coldly push out lower-income occupants, and Apple’s gotta come up with useless branding schemes.
After Barlia wrapped his speech, we were invited to poke around the store and meet the 120-member staff — who, by the way, can speak 26 different languages. One of those, I soon learn is my native tongue of 20-something millennial.
“Wanna see something cool?” an employee with a full red beard asked me as I approached a long thin display table of iPhones. I nodded and he waved his hand over a portion of the table, which — via motion sensor — opened up to reveal a charging station. “Wow, that is cool,” I replied.
“So, if you need a Genius Bar appointment or something, we can just help you out right here,” he said. “We don’t have a Genius Bar anymore.”