Welcome to China's Fake Apple Store

An American living in a remote province discovered a "beautiful ripoff"

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When Apple announced record-high quarterly revenues and profits yesterday, COO Tim Cook noted that China--where the company's four stores bring in the most traffic and revenue of any Apple stores in the world--was "key to our results." That growing popularity among Chinese consumers, however, may also explain the incredible discovery an American living in Kunming, the capital of China's southwestern Yunnan Province, revealed on her blog, Bird Abroad, today: an elaborate and strikingly realistic fake Apple store.

The whole thing began innocently enough. A couple weeks ago, the blogger and her husband stumbled upon what appeared to be an Apple store near their house. The scene, pictured above, had all the trappings of the company's iconic retail outlets. There was the winding staircase:

The Genius Bar and upstairs sit-and-play-with-our-products area:

The employees with blue T-shirts and Apple name tags:

But there were also suspicious signs. Kunming, as the blogger put it, "is the end of the Earth." Why would there be an Apple store there? What's more, the stairs were shoddy, the walls were painted poorly, the employees' name tags only said "staff." And then there was the matter of the signs. Apple Store signs generally just show the company's trademark fruit symbol. The Kunming store's signs read, "Apple Store."

All this evidence--plus the rather damning fact that Apple's website showed only four stores in Beijing and Shanghai--led the blogger to conclude that the store was a "beautiful ripoff" (an Apple spokesperson later confirmed to MSNBC that it doesn't have a retail outlet in Kunming, though it does have a reseller in another part of the city). Perhaps even more surprising, the blogger claims that the store's employees "genuinely think they work for Apple ... when really they're just filling the pockets of some shyster living in a prefab mansion outside the city by standing around a fake store disinterestedly selling what may or may not be actual Apple products that fell off the back of a truck somewhere." The blogger soon discovered two more fake Apple stores nearby, including this gem:

The fact that Chinese counterfeiters ripped off an entire Apple store is funny, The Financial Times notes, but the discovery is also "a worrying development for Apple and Steve Jobs" and a "serious embarrassment to the Chinese government, which has been trying to crackdown on counterfeits and IP infringements." ZDNet adds that "Apple's job will be to shut down the stores. But the rip-off stores are probably just the tip of the iceberg. Apple is likely to have a lot more counterfeit fires to put out as it enjoys crazy growth in China."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.