There are plenty of goofballs — like me — who stand outside Apple stores all night waiting for the company’s latest, thinnest, must-have offering.
There was nobody like Gary Allen, who died Sunday from brain cancer at 67.
Allen didn’t care so much about Apple’s new products (though he bought many of them.) He cared about the stores, the sleek and often innovative ways Apple presented itself to the world — the winding staircases, the floor-to-ceiling glass, the exposed brick.
Allen, a retired EMS dispatcher, traveled around the world — obsessively and expensively — to be among the first in line at the company’s new stores. He attended more than 140 openings, collecting all sorts of trivia. He could even tell you where Apple store tables are made (Utah; he stopped by the factory once to say thanks).
The history of Apple’s global conquest is stamped in Allen’s passport.
I met Allen four years ago when he drove from his home in Berkeley, Calif., to Tysons Corner Mall in Virginia. It was an unconventional cross-country destination but understandable given the occasion: The 10th anniversary of Apple’s first store.
By then he had turned his passion for Apple stores, which now number 450, into a widely read blog about Apple’s retail operation called ifo Apple Store. It was followed closely by tech bloggers, Wall Street analysts and Apple store employees, who greeted him at the Tysons Corner store with awe. I wrote:
Dressed in their standard blue T-shirts, about a dozen employees clapped and hollered as he walked past iPads and iPhones to the center of the store. Allen beamed, then addressed the staff, who listened with rapt attention as he told them about his trips to Apple stores around the world. On behalf of other obsessive Apple fans, Allen said, “We appreciate all the hard work that we see and don’t see.”
As the employees dispersed to start their day, one came out of the back with a piece of cake for him. Another introduced him to an employee who has been there since Day One. Allen couldn’t stop smiling.
“I had not dreamed that I would be standing here and speaking to the staff in the number one store,” he said. “Amazing.”
Allen loved lines, the earlier the better.
He especially loved the people he’d meet there. They would get each other food, hold spots for bathroom breaks, offer up portable chargers. “He made all kinds of friends all over the world,” his brother, Jim Allen, told me in relaying the news of Gary’s death. “I think that’s the part of it he most enjoyed.” Each store was a window into a city’s culture and style. And the way Apple designs its stores was just an extension of how the company designs its products.
In Madrid, Allen noticed:
In March, Allen announced his blog was ending, saying so many others were following the stores now. “Who am I to keep up with them?” he wrote. “So, I’m going to focus on my family and friends, drop the demands of writing and get back to what it was before—just fun.”
The real reason he gave it up, his brother said, was the brain cancer diagnosis. He didn’t want people to worry or fuss over him. The site is down, likely for good. Allen leaves behind another brother, Bob Allen, his wife Nancy, son Devin, and an incredible free spirit.
“I never thought it was weird,” Jim said. “I would tell people about it, and they would say, ‘That seems kind of unusual.’ But you had to know Gary. He loved this stuff. And it gave him an opportunity and a reason to see the world.”
Beijing, London, Paris, Rome, Istanbul, Madrid…
He’ll be waiting with a spare charger.