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CUPERTINO, CA-Apple Computer Inc. will open the first six of its new “mini stores” Saturday at retail centers in Northern California, Washington and New Jersey in a strategy designed to provide the company with more flexibility in choosing locations and hence a means of getting its goods in front of more customers faster. The new stores, which at 750 sf will be about half the size of Apple’s smallest units to date, will open in Palo Alto, San Jose and Santa Rosa, CA; Bridgewater and Rockaway, NJ; and Tukwila, WA.

“The strategy behind the new stores is to get our products and our brand in front of more customers,” says Apple spokesman Fletcher Cook, who explains that, “The size of the mini stores allows us to be more flexible by giving us more options to bring stores to more locations.” The new format is also designed to “drive traffic not just to these stores but also to some of our larger stores where we have theaters and can put on presentations.”

The mini stores Apple is opening this weekend are in a variety of retail centers, some enclosed and some open air, according to Cook. He says the company isn’t married to one specific mall or shopping center format but instead is focusing on “popular shopping areas as a way of reaching more customers in more markets.”

With the opening of the six new mini stores and a larger store that will also open this weekend in Newark, DE, Apple will have 93 retail locations. Company official say it will have 100 retail outlets by the end of this calendar year, a figure that Cook says may include two more of the mini stores in addition to the six that are opening this weekend. Apple will carry a full line of products at the smaller stores, and customers who wants a product that isn’t in the store can press a button to activate the company’s new voice-over Internet system, which will enable them to check with other nearby stores to see if they have the item.

The new format will enable Apple to expand less expensively on a per-store basis in comparison to its larger stores, which can run up to 8,000 sf for one of the “high profile” locations. Leases on the high profile stores range from 10 to 15 years with total commitments per location over the lease terms ranging from $25 million to $50 million, according to the company’s latest annual report, filed in December. Apple uses four designations to describe its four different store formats–mini stores, high profile, standard and large, which vary widely in size. For all of its retail stores combined, Apple leased a total of 538,000 sf of space in the United States at the end of the last fiscal year, with leases typically for terms of 5 to 15 years with multi-year renewal options.

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