Apple fans lined up outside the ist mall in downtown Nanjing at 11 pm Friday, January 15. They came from around China, some from as far Beijing and Chengdu, 1,600 km away (1,000 mi). The occasion? Nanjing’s second Apple store was opening the next day.
To a casual Apple fan like me still rocking an iPhone 3GS, it didn’t seem like much. Apple has over 472 stores in the world, including 32 in China, and Nanjing already has one in Wonder City mall, but some fans are super obsessed with new store openings. Lloyd Yu, from Beijing, has seen two dozen grand openings. “Apple has changed the world. It has changed everyone’s lifestyle,” he said.
Standing behind me in line were two women, Ma Yuehan and Zhu Yu, both locals. “There are many people [here],” Ma said. “Everyone is happy and I can meet new people.”
“We have a feeling of togetherness waiting in line,” Zhu added.
By the time we got to the front of the line, where attendees walked inside and got wristbands, they had left. They just wanted to stand in line with everyone.
A number of people, like Wang Yinan, a 16-year-old boy from Shanghai, were members of a WeChat group “iFans” that jointly attends grand openings. Almost everyone staying overnight knew a lot of the others from around the country.
Yu, who owns a travel company aimed at foreigners and has two master’s degrees, was quite popular. “We meet each other at new store openings. So this new store represents our friendship,” he said. “Nanjing is in the center of the country, so it is a suitable place for us to come here together.”
Close to one hundred people chose to stay overnight in the mall lobby. Most were decked out in Apple products and quick to strike up a conversation about Apple. In a group of six university students, four of them wore Apple Watches. One of them told me about how Apple TV would have problems entering China due to censorship.
Others told me about their favorite Apple store. The Apple store at West Lake in Hangzhou was mentioned by a few as one of the most beautiful. Like most, it has a clear glass facade with a bright Apple logo in the middle and bright white light emanating from within. The West Lake store also has a thin second-floor.
Ricol Li, a 25-year-old man, was at that opening, which was so crowded that the government suspended subway service to the stop, and said, “I became a super fan last year in Hangzhou.”
The next day, the store was surrounded by common people and fans alike. Many locals who hadn’t spent the night at the mall arrived to wait in line in front of the store for the 10 am grand opening. Apple employees, wearing red shirts, watched from inside and periodically waved at the gathering mass. Before 10 am, they ran outside, streaming along the gates and slapping high fives with fans.
At 10, the doors opened, and security guards and special police carefully guarded how many people were allowed in at once. Apple staff smiled and waved and jumped joyously. They handed t-shirts to everyone who went in. Fans took out their cameras, taking pictures inside, and admiring the beautiful spiral staircase.
After I had seen all the store and allowed an Apple employee to take a picture of me holding my t-shirt, I walked out and went to Caffe Bene in the lobby. Apple remained crowded for about an hour longer and then it began dying down somewhat. A young man from the night before was loitering outside Caffe Bene, looking inside.
Finally he walked in and asked a white foreigner sitting across from me if the stranger would sign the box his Apple t-shirt was in. “No, I’m not an Apple sales person, I was just doing security today,” he explained.
Apple fans in China will have another chance to celebrate on January 28, when a new store opens in Guangzhou. All together, at least eight more stores will be opened by the end of the year, after five more were opened in the last three months of 2015. (Celebratory opening days are not limited to China.)
Now I can see why Apple CEO Tim Cook “believe[s] that China represents an unprecedented opportunity over the long term … and most importantly the growth of the middle class over the next several years will be huge.”