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Is Apple the Best Retailer in America?

Is Apple the best retailer in America?

Fortune says yes.

"Sorry Steve, Here's Why Apple Stores Won't Work," BusinessWeek wrote with great certainty in 2001. "It's desperation time in Cupertino, Calif.," opined TheStreet.com. "I give [Apple] two years before they're turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake," predicted retail consultant David Goldstein.

Yet five years later, at 4:15 A.M., a light flickered on. Onlookers were bathed in the milky-white glow of the Apple logo, suspended in a freestanding cube of glass at the corner of Fifth Avenue and Central Park South in Manhattan. Dazzling in clarity and 32 feet on a side, the structure was likened variously to a temple, the Louvre Pyramid, Apple's G4 "Cube" computer, a giant button, and even - in the words of NBC's Brian Williams - Steve Jobs' Model T. But it was, everyone could agree, manifestly a store.

"People haven't been willing to invest this much time and money or engineering in a store before," says the Apple CEO, his feet propped on Apple's boardroom table in Cupertino. "It's not important if the customer knows that. They just feel it. They feel something's a little different."

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