Skip to content

How Apple Stores Went From Geek Paradise to Union Front Line

Store employees helped create some of the most valuable square footage in the US. Now they feel more like regular salespeople—so they’re unionizing.

An Apple Store in Chicago. 

An Apple Store in Chicago. 

Photographer: Evan Jenkins for Bloomberg Businessweek

The Apple Store where you’ll do some holiday shopping this year looks the same as always. White-oak tables in neat rows welcome you beneath a gleaming Apple logo, the same one you’d see at the store along the Champs-Elysées or in the shadow of the Burj Khalifa. There’s enough white light and open space to make you think you’re walking through a literal Consumer Heaven.

And, of course, there’s the Genius Bar, a help center that for most of the past two decades has felt like something of a personal concierge service fueled by a small army of friendly, helpful nerds. Genius Bar staffers have generally been trusted to solve your problems, to fix your phone if they could, to replace certain busted headphones for free. In at least one case, captured this spring in a viral TikTok, a dedicated employee taught a coding class to an audience of zero, hoping someone would show up to learn. To this day, strangers flag down off-duty Geniuses for help wherever they see Apple’s signature blue T-shirt.