By Philip Elmer-DeWitt
May 20, 2014

FORTUNE — “I give them two years before they’re turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake,” David Goldstein, president of researcher Channel Marketing Corp., told Businessweek in the May 20, 2001, article famously titled “Sorry Steve, Here’s Why Apple Stores Won’t Work.”

Thirteen years later to the day, those Apple Stores don’t just work, they’ve become the world’s most profitable retail operations — by far — generating $5,626 per square foot, according to a 2011 RetailSails report. Tiffany & Co. came in a distant second with sales of $2,949 per square foot.

But as Needham’s Charlie Wolf reports, same-store sales fell 5% in the March quarter, a “lackluster performance” he attributes to the absence of new products:

“Notwithstanding the recent slowdown in the growth of store revenues, which has paralleled that of the parent company, the Apple Stores continue to play a pivotal role in building the Apple brand. Indeed, in our view they are the “face” of Apple, offering a buying experience superior to any other retail chain.”

The anniversary of the opening on May 19, 2001 of the first store in McLean, VA, and the arrival two weeks ago of Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts have focused attention once again on the company’s retail empire, now 424-stores strong.

On Monday, 9to5Mac’s Mark Gurman posted a detailed — if somewhat fawning — report on what Ahrendts plans to do as Apple’s third retail czar (after Target’s Ron Johnson and Dixon’s John Browett).

And on Tuesday, Asymco’s Horace Dediu published a set of charts that look at the store’s economics every which way, from average revenue per visitor to average visitors per employee per quarter.

But my favorite tribute to the 13th anniversary is the interactive graphic produced by the coupon site Retale. Click on the world map (attached above) to see the 464 stores pop open in sequence, like the little light bulbs Businessweek suggested would have been shut off long ago.

You May Like