Grand tour of the Apple retail palaces of Europe: Amsterdam

April 23, 2014: 4:15 AM ET

Dutch royalty once shopped in the century-old fashion house where Apple now sells iPads.

Photo: Apple

Photo: Apple

Shopping at Hirsch & Co.

Shopping at Hirsch & Co. in its heyday

FORTUNE -- Queen Emma of The Netherlands, who in 1879 married a man once described as "the greatest debauchee of the age," used to buy her gowns in the building that now houses Apple's (AAPL) retail presence in Amsterdam. So did her daughter, Queen Wilhelmina. And so did Wilhelmina's daughter, Queen Juliana.

In its heyday, the building Leo Hirsch erected on the Leidseplein to bring high Parisian fashion to backwater Holland was "a temple of infinite bliss," according to a contemporary press release, "a cathedral of earthly almost heavenly pleasures."

The space was used for art openings

The space was being used for art openings

The great wars of the 20th century were not kind to Hirsch & Co. The Nazis took over the building, killed its Jewish managers, and carted off the clothes. But it was the jeans-and-T-shirt fashions of 60s that finally did the company in. A bank and then a law firm moved into the old Hirsch building. The marble columns were torn out. By the time Apple negotiated its lease, the space was being used for art openings.

Today, the building is once more a vibrant retail space and something of a destination in busy Amsterdam -- especially with students who like to park their bikes in front of its giant convex window and grab some free Wi-Fi.

"It's the best Internet cafe in Amersterdam," says Apple staffer Arun Gangadien, who took me on a tour and showed me the public WCs -- a nice customer-relations touch.

The atrium.

The atrium. Click to enlarge.

It's a huge store -- Apple's biggest in Europe, according to the company. It occupies two high-ceilinged floors, separated by a Steve Jobs-patented glass spiral staircase and softly lit by a two-story atrium.

I counted 67 display tables, not including the 30-stool Genius Bar on the second level that is reputed to be the longest in the world. In the atrium space alone there are nine tables filled with iPad minis set aside for public access to the Internet.

I did three separate traffic counts: at noon (5.3 per minute), 3 p.m. (10 per minute) and 6 p.m. (6 per minute), which is not bad for the day after Easter Monday. It's almost as good as the Paris Opéra store on its busiest day (11 per minute on a Saturday).

In a snapshot count at 3 p.m., the iPhone tables on the street level were drawing the most interest (14 visitors), followed by iPads (5), Macs (4), iPods (3) and the Internet tables (3).

The world's longest Genius Bar

The world's longest Genius Bar

The real action was upstairs, where between the Genius Bar and the tables set aside for configuration, startup, training, workshops and accessories I counted 69 customers.

A marketing manager named Ryan caught up with me in the afternoon to show off some of the features I would otherwise have missed. Because the space had been stripped of all the pre-war Hirsch & Co. details -- including a grand staircase and the original three-story atrium -- Apple had to reconstruct it all from scratch using historic photographs as reference.

The marble columns were reproduced in plaster. The brass and wrought-iron railings were hand-made by the same French company that did the balcony at Paris Opéra. Heating and cooling ducts are hidden in spaces in the ceiling whose width had to be carefully calibrated (too wide and they'd draw attention to themselves; too narrow, and they would hiss.)

He, like all the green-shirted Apple staffers I met (Tuesday was Earth Day), was justly proud of how Apple has brought the old royal fashion house back to life with good taste and some class.

I couldn't help thinking: This is the kind of thing that happens when a company is sitting on $124 billion in tax-sheltered cash that can only be spent outside the U.S.

Opening day, March 3, 2012

Opening day, March 3, 2012. Photo: Picasdre, Wikicommons

Opening day, March 2012

Photo: Apple

See also: Berlin and Paris.

  • Amazon builds Kindle for the Web, eyes Android tablet?

    This morning Amazon released a new Kindle Web interface, but their plans don't stop there if recent rumors are true.

    It makes perfect sense.  You can read your Kindle books on your iPad, your Kindle, your Android device and your PC or Mac with a dedicated app.  Why not just make a Kindle reader for your browser?  That will be a pretty important feature if Google's ChromeOS, which doesn't let users MORE

    - Sep 28, 2010 11:42 AM ET
    Posted in: , , , , ,
  • Google: Nexus One store closing soon

    Google receives its last shipment of Nexus Ones

    Google announced today that they would soon be closing the Nexus One store and would cease selling Nexus Ones to the public.  Google (GOOG) would make additional Nexus One devices available to developers through its Android developer program.

    Support will still be offered to Nexus One customers:

    Customer support will still be available for current Nexus One customers. And Nexus One will continue to be sold MORE

    - Jul 16, 2010 5:17 PM ET
  • 'Google Music' to compete with Apple iTunes?

    While it isn't too flashy, the newly-discovered logo likely shows what Google will call its music service.

    Recently discovered and posted to TechCrunch, a new 'Google Music' logo seems to indicate that Google's entry into digital music sales will have a pretty straight-forward name.

    Google demonstrated its over-the-air music service at Google I/O last month by impressively having an engineer purchase a song through an Android Market web page and having it MORE

    - Jun 4, 2010 10:41 AM ET
  • Google to close Nexus One store

    Google announced that it would soon change the focus of its Nexus One store, moving from selling to showcasing.

    On its Official Google Blog, Andy Rubin, Vice President of Engineering in charge of Android,  acknowledged that the Nexus One store had seen lackluster sales and notified users that it would soon shift its focus from sales to showcasing new Google phones.  Even with the strong publicity and plenty of Adsense ads, MORE

    - May 14, 2010 1:53 PM ET
    Posted in: , , ,
  • New NYC Apple store draws crowd of 1,600

    Rumors -- later proved false -- that Apple's (AAPL) newest retail outlet in Manhattan was going to open at 6 a.m. and give free MacBooks to the first people in line drew a huge crowd on Friday. Early arrivals braved snow flurries and freezing temperatures for up to 14 hours.

    By the time the store finally opened, as scheduled, at 6 p.m., the crowd had swelled to more than 1,600, as MORE

    - Dec 10, 2007 12:08 PM ET
Current Issue
  • Give the gift of Fortune
  • Get the Fortune app
  • Subscribe
Powered by VIP.