Armed with iPhones and iPads, Apple enthusiasts from Berkeley and beyond stood in line at Fourth Street and Hearst Avenue on Saturday morning, anticipating the grand opening of .
The line wrapped around the corner, reaching Fifth Street. As the 10 a.m. store opening drew near, passersby gathered around the front of the store at 1823 Fourth St. to take pictures, causing those at the front of the line to worry people were cutting in line. "We've been here since 6 a.m.," a man said. "We should get some respect!"
What was the draw that made people line up at 6 a.m. on a Saturday? "I want a free t-shirt," said Miak Siew, a Berkeley resident. He said the first thousand people through the doors would receive one.
Through the glass storefront, a gaggle of blue-shirted Apple Store employees were visible, clapping and chanting. Chock-full of employees, it was questionable how many customers would fit inside the store.
"Are you ready for us?" an Apple Store employee yelled at 9:59 a.m. The crowd leaned forward, and security officer Henry J. Brown allowed fans to file through the doorway one-by-one, receiving white t-shirt boxes and high-fives from Apple employees. About 60 people were allowed in the store at one time.
Brown estimated that 350 people initially lined up for the grand opening celebration. He said the store had expected 200 people.
"I'm here for the t-shirt, for myself," said Bill Hewitt of Novato, CA, who also has a shirt commemorating the opening of an Apple Store in Chicago. "And I'll get in line again for a friend."
As some visitors walked out of the store carrying three and four t-shirt boxes, it became clear Hewitt wouldn't need to line-up twice. People who were still at the back of the line at 10:30 a.m. began to worry the store would run out of shirts before they reached the doors. But everyone crossed the threshold by 11 a.m., and there were still plenty of shirts to go around. Two Berkeley police officers walked away from the event with their own t-shirt boxes in hand.
Keegan Luttrell, a graduate student at Mills College, drove for three days to get to Berkeley before the store opening. "I actually am an employee of Apple in Knoxville, TN," said Luttrell. "My boyfriend works here — it's his first day of work today — so I'm like, I'm going to come! I drove like crazy and got here yesterday."
Luttrell said that the important part of Apple Store openings is the feeling of community Apple fans get from the experience.
Indeed, for some enthusiasts, the openings have become a sort of pastime. "We were at the grand opening of the Emeryville store, and we both got t-shirts," said Bob Jones with his son, Adam. "We want to continue the tradition."
George Kiskaddon, the owner of , next door to the Apple Store, stood at the corner of Fourth and Hearst and looked at the Apple crowd in awe on Saturday morning. "I don't understand it," he said of the line. "We just hope they come and shop with us after they go to the Apple Store."
Employees of other Fourth Street stores worked hard to make an impression on the potential customers by giving away their own free goodies. "Do you want a 20 percent off coupon for Books Inc.?" a woman asked people in line. "We're right up the street."
Free water, eye cream, cookies and rectangles of "squeeze" stress relief foam were among the free items passed out by vendors.
At least on Saturday, the new store seemed to have a positive affect on the amount of people browsing on Fourth Street, as shoppers with Apple tote bags wandered in and out of businesses along the street. By 11:30 a.m., few seats were left available at the cafés and restaurants.
"Besides the t-shirt, it's a big event for the community and Fourth Street," said Berkeley resident Diana Castillo, who felt the Apple Store would bring new shoppers to all of the Fourth Street businesses — especially students. "I think it's going to be great for Berkeley."