Apple store may be an iOpportunity

Published 12:01 am Friday, March 14, 2008

A landmark event happened Friday morning at the Mall of Louisiana in Baton Rouge.

Four hundred people weaved their way along the sidewalks outside the shopping area to get their first look at a new iMac, iPod or iAnything for that matter.

People from as far away as Chicago waited in line for hours before the doors were opened to Apple’s newest computer store.

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“What does the opening of a tiny store in Baton Rouge have to do with Natchez?” one might ask.

Before you dismiss Apple’s newest venture as another one of those over-hyped news stories, think about the big picture.

Apple has over 180 stores in the United States. Most of them are on the East Coast and West Coast.

Until last Friday, there wasn’t an Apple store to be found anywhere near the Gulf Coast between Houston and Tampa Bay.

In the computer world, some tout the states of Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas as the “black out zone.” According to U.S. census numbers, these three states have the lowest rate of computer and Internet usage in the entire country.

For Apple, the lowest percentage of its computer sales is centered in the state of Mississippi.

When Hurricane Katrina ripped through New Orleans, a large influx of people from hurricane-ravaged areas poured into Baton Rouge, a city of 602,000 people.

In the months following Katrina, streets were clogged with traffic from hurricane refugees. Cash register receipts and sales tax numbers swelled with the new population numbers.

Commerce flourished in the capital city.

Now Apple has decided to open a store on the south side of Baton Rouge, instead of opening one in New Orleans.

The movement of large populations of people is a rare thing to witness.

It may be akin to the seeing the Mississippi River move. It is hard to see the slow methodical meandering of the river. But if you looked at a map that showed the movement of the river over the past 100 years, you could see how much the river has snaked across the landscape.

It takes a lot of might and lot of resources to make it happen almost immediately.

Or maybe it takes a natural disaster the size of a hurricane. The same thing applies to people.

But it has happened before.

A few years ago, I remember reading a book by Erik Larson, called “Isaac’s Storm.” It was the story about such a cataclysmic event.

On September 8, 1900, Galveston, Texas, was sure to become one of the nation’s most prosperous cities.

It was a town full of activity and commerce. Little did residents know that their lives and town would be changed forever by Hurricane Isaac.

With no warning, the storm decimated the town on the Gulf Coast. With no protection, houses and business were torn apart and over a third of the city’s population was killed in the natural disaster.

After the storm, Galveston quickly changed from one of the nation’s most important commerce centers to a small Texas Coast town. Galveston would soon give up its status and much of its population to Houston. Now Houston is the fourth largest city in the United States.

The opening of an Apple store is small news in the course of daily events. But it may be a sign of something bigger. It may signal a population shift northward from New Orleans, similar to that of Galveston.

For us that may mean a population shift northward toward Natchez.

What this ultimately means for our area is hard to predict.

But now is the time for area leaders to think about how we can take advantage of such a population shift.

With a little creative planning and dreaming, we too can reap more benefits from what Katrina has already given us.

Ben Hillyer is the web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at