But it's actually AT&T's new flagship store, set to open
Friday on Michigan Avenue at Ohio Street .
The location marks AT&T's
first foray into the trendy realm of experiential retail, where
boring bricks-and-mortar shopping is spruced up with interactive
interfaces and social media integration. The store's glossy white
finishes, reclaimed teak wood accents and orange seating are a
world away from a typical phone store's carpet-and-Formica
Despite the Apple comparisons, "we firmly believe there's no
other store like this in the industry, period," says Kent Mathy,
president of AT&T's north and central regions. "User experience
is the highlight here, rather than the standard approach where the
product is highlighted."
An 18-foot video wall greets customers with interactive content
and product information. The main floor space is carved into
so-called Lifestyle Boutiques that each highlight different
I was intrigued by the Get Fit area, filled with the latest
heart rate monitors, WiFi scales and screens from which you can
download various health-related apps. There's also a Chicagoland
section where shoppers can buy Bulls- or Cubs-themed accessories
and download tourist-friendly apps to navigate everything from the
CTA to the Art Institute. Another corner lets users turn smartphone
photos into old-school Polaroid-style prints.
Even if you wander in off the street and brazenly yank out a
Verizon phone, Mr. Mathy insists, you will be embraced by
non-sales-obsessed staff and encouraged to play, download and
Polaroid-print for free. "All the possibilities here work with all
smartphones, regardless of service, and we welcome everyone," he
Nearby, an area designed to emulate a high-end boutique boasts
upscale tablet and phone accessories by designers including Oria
Kiely and James Marshall. (Mr. Marshall, a Chicago street artist
better known as Dalek, developed the popular "Space Monkey" cartoon
The other side of the store features museum-style exhibits that
offer sneak peeks of future products in addition to showcasing
In one corner, a silver Nissan Leaf electric hatchback shows off
a not-yet-for-sale phone docking station that automatically
disables texting. Behind it, a huge screen plays AT&T "It Can
Wait" commercials that campaign against texting while driving.
A few steps over, shoppers can record and create their own
music, check out JamBox speakers that double as speaker-phones, or
figure out how to set up an Xbox as a TV.
A kitchen-table vignette, detailed down to a bowl of oranges and
coffeemaker, highlights the numerous automation methods by which
AT&T can wirelessly secure your home…or keep tabs on
your teenager via door sensors that send instant notifications.
The one thing that 's missing is the check-out counter. All
transactions are completed by roaming sale associates clutching
AT&T isn't the only competitor developing its own "store of
the future" to try to capture Apple's success. Microsoft Corp.,
which announced its own retail ambitions three years ago, now
operates about 30 very beautiful (and very Apple-esque) stores in
the U.S. and Canada, including one in west suburban Oakbrook
Center. Apple itself has more than 350 stores.
But AT&T isn't plotting national expansion -- at least not
"Right now this is the first and only store of its kind," Mr.
Mathy says. "We have no preconceived notion of adding future stores