The Coolest Place in Town

Yep, and it's at the mall

I am of sufficient years to recall when it was pasture.

I am not a shopping mall creature in the same way I am not a theme park guy.

Too many people. Too much artifice. Too little quiet.

Face it; a consumer orgy is no place to read a good book.

But lately I have become a frequent flyer (not walker) of West Towne Mall, the large shopping factory with the quaint “e” at the end of its “Town.” The reason for these frequent visits, however, is not about the past, but about the future. For housed in the wide corridors of West Towne is “The Coolest Place in Madison.”

And I ain’t talkin’ Cinnabon.

I’m talking the Apple Store.

Sure, there are other cool places in town.

The Union Terrace. The Harmony, Cardinal or Crystal.

But right now, at this time in the history of mankind, there is no cooler place in Madison than the Apple Store at West Towne Mall.
There is a litany for this coolness. First there is the new world dominance of Apple products: the beauty and functionality of their design, their category-defining product introductions, their unrelenting march to create a digital proletariat experience, and the business and creative genius of illness-haunted Steve Jobs.

For my money, Apple is America’s twenty-first-century replacement for Standard Oil, General Motors and IBM. These blue-jeaned wizards have not just redefined the business of computers. Their creativity, modernized Yankee work ethic and ingenuity has forever altered other global businesses including music, movies, books, telephones, academia, travel and home entertainment.
Right now Apple is simply the best American capitalism has to offer.

And, yes, here is the compulsory nod to China and the production capabilities they offer Apple that America can no longer afford to deliver. But mass production isn’t what will keep America or Madison great. Innovation, initiative and the occasional brilliance that evolves in a free society will. You can produce a touch-screen iPad anywhere in the world. But you have to be in a very special place with special people to conceive of it and bring it to market.

The Cupertino folks have also managed a stunning trick in their retail locations. Not only have they remade the gadget, they have reinvented the American shopping experience. A trip to the Apple Store gives you a pleasurable peek into what America can be.
For there, in the white environs of its Madison retail space, you travel to Planet Apple—a personalized buying trip that registers you online before your visit, checks you in, allows you to touch anything you might buy, chat with a tutor or Genius, check out as you stand in the aisle, all the while surrounded by a bevy of smart, engaged, thoroughly trained folks who—get this—actually seem to care about what you want.

In short, it’s not Home Depot.

But the coolest thing about the Apple Store is neither the gear nor its employees.

It’s the customers.
You cannot find a more interesting cross section of Madison residents anywhere else in town. There are swarms of old folks, young folks, city folks and farm folks in every skin tone imaginable, all bustling about enthusiastically from morn until night, eager to upgrade their personal entertainment, information and intellectual universe.

The most charming folks in the customer parade are the older Madisonians, those in their sixties, seventies and eighties, who are clustered throughout the store, each diving into the digital revolution with gusto. It is inspiring to see so many old open to so much new.
It is also exciting to step into the future.

Because Apple is where we can all go.

If we are smart.

If I were to wish one thing, it would be to escort government, educational and business leaders from all over Wisconsin to the Apple Store for one hour and make them watch in silence. Force them to witness the combined best of the digital new with the reassuring constants of skilled, motivated employees thrilling satisfied customers.

And in a little while they would notice something else.

Alive in employees and customers alike, there is something present that is missing in American government, public institutions, automobile, real estate and banking industries, and other beleaguered endeavors.

It is Hope, combined with a likable touch of New American Swagger.

Which is Cool.

Which America also invented.

Madison-based television producer John Roach writes this column monthly. Reach him at

Read more Out There columns here.

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