It’s often been said that Apple Stores—soaring glass, sweeping stairs, light-flooded spaces echoing with the din of human voices—function, in their way, as secular cathedrals. The stores— though the word “store” doesn’t quite feel adequate—celebrate both introspection and communion. They are meant to humble and inspire. “They feel iconic, like an emblem of the personal,” the cultural historian Erica Robles-Anderson has put it.
Apple’s success in translating the religious revivalism of digital retail spaces into physical ones is something other brands (Google, Microsoft, Samsung) have tried to emulate—with, generally, much less success. Theirs are stores that have not been converted, via savvy branding, into temples. But now there’s another digital retail behemoth trying to take a lesson from Apple: Amazon. Which on Tuesday opened its own digital-to-physical retail space: a large bookstore named, simply, Amazon Books. The store, in Seattle’s University Village, is notably (and, of course, ironically) Barnes & Noble-like in its aesthetic. There’s a lot of wood. There are a lot of shelves. There are a lot of books! The dream of the ’90s is alive in Seattle, apparently.
Amazon Books is on the one hand a continuation of efforts its parent company has made with its grocery offerings and locker-based pick-up systems: experiments with the merging of digital retail and physical. (The store is “a physical extension of Amazon.com,” its press release notes. It’s also “a store without walls.”)