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Exclusive: Apple to test expanded retail store format in Westchester Mall

Apple Computer's retail segment is facing a rather enviable problem these days — as the company's appeal continues to rise so does the traffic at its retail store locations, making some of its earlier stores unfit for today's crowds.

The Cupertino, Calif-based company now operates over 100 stores worldwide and plans to roll-out at least another 20 by the end of the calendar year. In effect, Apple is launching one new retail store almost every 10 days.

But some of the earlier Apple stores are struggling to keep up with the company's new found success, due largely in part to the iPod. On most weekends, Apple stores located in highly trafficked shopping malls are barely able to accommodate the foot traffic of the purchase-happy patrons.

"Frankly, after a couple of hours on a busy weekend, our store starts to smell because of the masses of bodies flocking in and out," one Apple employee said. "Some of the stores are just too crowded on the weekends."

For these reasons, and then some, rumor has it that Apple is looking to expand several of its early retail stores, in addition to remodeling others. In many malls across the US, Apple is looking to upgrade the size of its store locations or secure a lease for an adjacent store in order to expand into adjacent areas.

The company currently categorizes its existing stores into five distinct footprints: mini-small, mini-large, 30-foot, 45-foot, and flagship. The 30 and 45-foot designations pertain to the approximate width of the storefronts, while flagships are the largest of stores and minis, well, the smallest. However, in about a month Apple will launch a completely new Apple store footprint at the Westchester Mall in White Plains, New York.

For nearly three years, the Westchester Mall — arguably one of the highest class shopping centers in the US — has housed an Apple retail store. But the ordinary 30-foot second-floor location, Apple Store #37 (or R061), often ranks amongst the top 10 US-based Apple store locations in terms of volume sales; it will soon give way to a store double its size.

Estimated to be at least 60-feet wide, the new Westchester location will open directly adjacent to the existing Apple retail location, occupying the former retail spots of both The Body Shop and KB Toys. Once it's open for business, the existing location will be passed off to another retailer.

The new Westchester Apple store may be a bit more than just a space expansion. Sources believe the vast location — the largest to hit a mall or shopping center — will act as a test store for an entirely new design layout. While we don't have all the details yet, sources say some of the highlights will include an Apple Studio with Creative Bar and a much expanded Genius Bar.

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The current (left) and expanded Apple retail stores.

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Like its Genius Bar service, Apple is experiencing great success with its in-store Studios, which offer hands-on training for "anything Apple." The Studios hold small, progressive classes that are taught by Apple experts for a fee. During open Studio hours, customers can also swing by for help with their individual Mac projects. In fact, the company likes the idea of these Studios so much that it plans to spend millions to bring them to a significant number of its existing stores.

In most cases, the more-personal Studios will replace the less intimate Theaters, which are prominent in a significant number of earlier Apple stores. Already, workers can be seen tackling the task at the company's North Michigan Ave flagship location in Chicago. One-third of the store's second floor and its entire theater area are said to be under renovations.

According to sources, similar Theater to Studio renovations are destined for "several dozen" Apple stores.

ifoAppleStore's Gary Allen helped contribute to this report.