Ryan Chartrand

Apple Computers Inc. has its eyes set on bringing a corporate retail store to downtown San Luis Obispo with aspirations to open in time for the holidays.

What was once Men’s Express located at 877 Higuera St., on the corner of Morro Street, could soon become the future home of an Apple retail store.

The surging computer giant has opened more than 155 corporate stores since 2001 and says that it has been looking at downtown San Luis Obispo for many years and is very eager to open shop as soon as possible.

“We very much handpick our sites and we feel San Luis Obispo is perfect and ready for an Apple store,” said Apple Representative and Design Manager Benjamin Fay. “We are very enthusiastic about it.”

On July 24, designs for the Apple Store were presented to the San Luis Obispo Cultural Heritage Committee (CHC) to ensure that they would meet the city’s architectural guidelines of the Downtown Historic District. The designs call for a change of the existing fa‡ade that would strip away the marble colonnade at the entrance of the old Men’s Express, remove the brick bulkhead to incorporate larger windows and replace the windows facing Morro Street with opaque “frosted” windows.

Though the design changes were met with much scrutiny by the CHC, a motion was made to forward the plans, with the addition of several architectural recommendations, to the Architectural Review Commission for a final vote that could possibly give Apple the green light to set up shop downtown.

However, as Apple and the city work out design issues for the proposed store, the current Apple retailers in San Luis Obispo question why the iPod juggernaut feels the need to open another retailer in the area, and why Apple has in large part left them out of the loop.

“When I first heard the news that Apple was going to open a corporate store downtown, I thought it was a joke,” said Preston Sirois, computer division manager of El Corral Bookstore.

For Sirois, whose department in the Cal Poly bookstore deals strictly in Apple hardware, and Shane Williams, owner of the Mac Superstore located on South Higuera Street, Apple’s decision to open a corporate retail chain downtown has come as a surprise.

Furthermore, Apple had given neither Sirois nor Williams any prior notification or justification for the decision to open downtown, especially since San Luis Obispo is a considerably small city and already has two Apple retailers.

“When I found out (Apple) was talking with the city, I was shocked because I couldn’t understand why they would want to come here and not some place much larger like Santa Barbara,” Sirois said.

For Williams, who began selling iMac computers eight years ago out of a small office, the news is puzzling.

Having earned revenues in excess of $6 million last year, Williams said the decision by Apple to open downtown may have been due to his increasing yearly revenues.

“It’s like (Apple) took a look at how well we have been doing here and decided, ‘Thanks, we’ll take it from here,”‘ Williams said.

Located a mile south of the proposed store location, Williams said that the Apple retailer would definitely take a portion of his customer base away.

“Apple knows they can be competitive in ways that we aren’t allowed to, like replacing broken iPods and iMacs at the store,” Williams said. “They will definitely appeal to customers looking for convenience in the downtown area.”

However, both Sirois and Williams said that they can stay profitable even if Apple goes ahead with the projected store by providing the same quality customer service that they have in years past.

Apple was not available for comment, but the economic development manager for San Luis Obispo, Claire Clark, said that the retail store would generate considerable tax revenues for the city while providing “positive economic vitality” for the downtown area without hurting the existing Apple retailers.

What ever the rationale for Apple may be, on Aug. 9, the Architectural Review Commission will meet at 7 p.m. to decide on the fa‡ade changes and possibly the fate of the proposed corporate Apple store in downtown San Luis Obispo.

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