The sky was still dark when Apple enthusiasts began to arrive for the technology giant's first Alaska store opening Saturday morning at the Anchorage 5th Avenue mall downtown.
Friends Ben Kerosky and John Proffitt said they parked their cars about 5 a.m. and were let into the mall an hour later to take their places at the head of the line. Just behind them was Dominic Torres, who'd worked and slept overnight inside Crazy 8, a children's clothing store next door.
Torres said some last-minute work prevented him from getting there first. "I'm not jaded or anything," he said.
They waited about five hours for a chance to ogle the Apple Store's shiny merchandise laid out on wooden tables and hanging from racks on the sides of the store. The goods included new iPads, iPhones, laptops -- even a meat thermometer phone attachment called an iGrill.
Prior to the store's opening, Apple customers could buy the company's products at other local outlets -- AT&T, Best Buy, the Alaska MacStore and MacHaus among them -- but the Apple-owned store was different, Proffitt said.
"I think people like that; they like to be able to talk to the company they're buying from," he said.
As the 10 a.m. opening approached, a line of potential customers about 100 yards long stretched past five storefronts and a set of elevators. A group of Apple employees clad in jeans and blue shirts ran past, clapping and high-fiving those in line.
The 80 or so employees on hand then counted down to the official opening, cheering as a stream of people shook hands with store managers, grabbed free T-shirts and walked inside.
When the doors opened, some passed by the new gadgets and headed straight to the "Genius Bar" at the back of the store, where Apple experts -- yes, with business cards that list "genius" as their job titles -- provided hands-on technical help.
Erik Anderson sat on a stool at the bar: A button on his iPhone 4 was sticking and it made a rattling noise when he shook it.
Anderson said he bought the phone less than a month ago at an Apple Store in Washington state. "It's nice to have someone fix it here instead of shipping it out and waiting four to six weeks and you're without a phone that whole time," he said.
"If I, personally, had this happen to me within a month, I'd be a little upset too, so I'm just going to go ahead and replace this with a new one today," said Ryan Gallman, a card-carrying genius. Gallman reached into a drawer behind him, pulling out a new phone still in a sealed box.
While Gallman set up Anderson's new phone, Chris "Kizzy" Fields was celebrating the repair of his own phone, which had been displaying fuzzy pictures.
"Look at that, they fixed it!" Fields said, his arms in the air, turning to shout to the rest of the store. Employees howled and people clapped. A few minutes later there was more applause when someone bought a laptop.
The mall's marketing director, Maegan Kaser-Lee, said Apple counted about 1,000 people at the new store by about 11 a.m. A security guard said about 200 people were allowed in at a time.
Lynn Erwyn watched as her 7-year-old son, Trent Mendenhall, played with digital pictures on a desktop computer in the store's kids' section. Mendenhall had made it clear that he wanted to be at the store opening, Erwyn said.
"You can never get him to be on time for anything. Today, we were up, dressed, in the car, all that," Erwyn said. "He said, 'There'll be no lazing around.' "
"This is a great opening," Mendenhall said. "It's my first."
Reach Casey Grove at email@example.com or 257-4589.
By CASEY GROVE