'Apple Cafe' from 1996 shows early work on branded retail presence

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Designers of an "Apple Cafe," what may have been the predecessor to the Apple Store, have revealed in an interview about what could have been, just prior to Steve Jobs's return to the company.

Images courtesy Landmark Entertainment Group.

The process began at some point in 1996, according to Landmark Entertainment Group founder Tony Christopher, when Apple was starting to look beyond the traditional computer retailer model and sales from department stores that existed at the time.

"They didn't know exactly what they wanted to do at first. I don't know if they had the idea for a cafe or that was something we came up with, " said Christopher to Co.Design in an interview focusing on the concept. "It was the world's first cybercafe. There wasn't a cybercafe at this time, and a lot of people who didn't have computers were looking for a way to go use them. Back in 1998, this was a radical idea!"

The designs for the cafe very much represent a future-view looking forward from roots in a neon-soaked late-'80s and early-'90s perspective. The sketches shown in the interview are reminiscent of an evolution of Apple's Performa advertising, and design language at the time.

"The interior design was very high tech, and we worked on it for about six months," said Christopher. "We understood that we were dealing with a computer, which was a future technology not a historic technology, and the Apple Cafe had to reflect that."

The "Apple Cafe" as envisioned had food service, paraphernalia retail, user support, and computer sales all rolled into a common gathering place.

"The whole thing went to Steve Jobs, and basically when he saw it, he liked it, but he put it on hold because he had this idea for an Apple Store," added Christopher. "It's interesting because this was not Apple as Apple is today. They were just a computer company. But they were interested in, again, making computers for everyone."

Five years after the possible birth of the concept, Apple's first retail store opened up at Tyson's Corner Mall, in McLean, Virginia on May 19, 2001, despite being numbered second, behind the Glendale Galleria store in California that opened a few hours later on the same day.

Apple's initial batch of stores are purely retail and support establishments, with small, if any, gathering spaces for presentations surviving remodels. More recent stores have central groves or wide-open spaces. None serve food, with only a few stocking any Apple paraphernalia such as pens or t-shirts anymore.