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Beginning Thursday, the City Creek Center shopping mall will be the site of a battle royale of the retail kind.
Utah's first Microsoft Retail Store will open at the same downtown Salt Lake City complex where there is a rival Apple Store. The electronics boutiques will be just a half a block away from each other, vying for the same gadget-loving consumer.
A grand opening for the Microsoft location is scheduled to begin at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, with giveaways, music, food and free tickets (quantities are limited) for a concert by the rock group Train on Saturday.
"We're just looking forward to what the store can bring to people," said Jonathan Adashek, Microsoft's general manager of communications strategy. "People will experience it and keep coming back."
Except customers won't be coming back on Sundays. The City Creek store will be Microsoft's only retail outlet of 33 in the country that will be closed then, according to Adashek. All retail stores at City Creek, including the Apple Store, don't operate that day because the mall property was developed by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which teaches its members to refrain from shopping on the Sabbath.
Apple moved its downtown retail store from The Gateway mall to City Creek Center late last year.
The placement of the dueling electronics stores is just the latest wave of competition between Microsoft and Apple, a rivalry that started when both were startups in the early 1980s. By coincidence (or not), the new Microsoft Retail Store looks suspiciously like Apple's hugely popular retail outlets, with its clean, minimalist design and help desk that resembles the Apple Genius Bar.
During a preview of the store Wednesday, Adashek and Store Leader Michael Reagan showed members of the media around the new 3,500-square-foot space a day before the grand opening.
As customers enter the store, which is in the Regent Court on the east side of the mall (50 S. Main Street) on the ground level, they will see Microsoft's flagship product, the Surface computer tablet.
To the left is a row of mobile phones that run Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows Phone 8. To the right is a line of laptops, ultrabooks and tablets that run Microsoft's latest operating system for computers, Windows 8. The new OS includes features for touchscreens and can be used on desktops, laptops and tablets.
In the middle are rows of more laptops, including desktop computers from manufacturers such as Sony, Asus, Dell, Toshiba, HP and Lenovo. In the back of the store is one small section for software, ironic given that Microsoft began as a software development company. Programs that the store will sell include Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Office and Windows 8.
In another corner is the store's Xbox 360 video game section that sells dozens of games for the console, as well as accessories. Stations are also set up to play full versions of games, including some that use the Xbox 360's Kinect motion controller and camera.
An "Answer Desk" staffed with support technicians also is near the back, and behind it is a "community theater" of tables and benches where private training sessions with customers and group classes can be held for instruction on using Microsoft products. The store also can be used for community events.
"If someone wants to come in and teach résumé writing, they can come in for free [to use the theater], or someone who wants to teach scrapbooking," Reagan said. "That's one of the things we're really excited about helping out the community."
The signature design element in the store is a 125-foot-long video wall that stretches through the location. Made up of 86 synchronized screens, the wall will display "ever-evolving videos, advertisements and messages," Reagan said.
Microsoft opened the first of its retail stores in Scottsdale, Ariz., in October 2009, after the highly successful launch of the Apple stores, which have the highest retail sales per square foot of any retailer in America, according to retail analyst RetailSales. Microsoft plans to open 10 more stores between now and summer.
The software giant's Salt Lake location will be the 107th business to open at the City Creek Center, which is part of the larger City Creek development of business offices and residential units.
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Microsoft Retail Store grand opening
The event is set to begin at 10: 30 a.m. Thursday at City Creek Center, 50 S. Main St. The store is in the Regent Court on the east side of the ground level, across from the Food Court.
T-shirts and prizes will be handed out to the first customers in line, as will tickets to a concert for the rock group Train (quantities are limited). The concert begins at 2 p.m. Saturday at the Gallivan Center, 239 S. Main St. Gates will open at noon.
The store's regular operating hours are 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday . It is closed on Sundays.