Apple's iPhone Lines Get Hijacked By Black Market Straw Purchasers

As most people with any working senses know, Apple's newest iPhone models launched last Friday to another round of blocks long lines and truly insane camping out for days in front of Apple Stores in New York and in many other cities to be the first customers for the coveted new device. While the story has become familiar over the past few years, The Shophound noticed something odd while walking past the Apple Store on 14th Street on Friday (pictured above). Even in the mid-afternoon, the line still extended well down the block, containing several hundred people, and, for some strange reason, it appeared that the vast majority of them —at least 90%— were Asian. Now, before you get your hackles up, there is nothing wrong with this. We aren't making any judgements, but it did seem odd that in Manhattan, the group of customers who were willing to spend hours in line would be so demographically lopsided. We aren't experts in Asian languages, but it appeared that they were Chinese speakers and, as a group, didn't seem like the young, tech-crazed type of people who would subject themselves to waiting in line for hours just to be among the first people to get their hands on a coveted device that will be easily accessible to anyone within a few days.

We didn't think much more of it until the next day when we came across a post on Gothamist which suggested that the lines in front of Apple's stores were packed with straw buyers purchasing iPhones for the Chinese Mafia. The article pointed to "Filmmaker and professional fun-haver" Casey Neistadt, a tech fan who has chronicled the annual frenzy over iPhone releases for the past few years. Neistadt was struck with the observation that, when the doors finally opened, what he saw among those who had doggedly waited for days to buy the new iPhone was not the excitement fans finally getting their new toy, but a new grim determination of people who had a task to accomplish and just wanted to get it over with. While The Shophound would not presume that the Chinese Mafia (whoever that would actually refer to) is explicitly behind all of this straw purchasing, Neistadt's video (embedded after the jump below) identifies a pattern of buying among the many Chinese speaking line-waiters, many of whom apparently needed a Mandarin translator to communicate with the filmmaker. Purchase two unlocked phones in cash. Hand the phones off or re-sell them to a second post-purchaser a few blocks away who stockpiles bag of new phones to be sent off to —well, who knows where?

The presumption is that the phones are being sent to China, where governmental red tape has kept Apple from announcing a release date for the iPhone 6 and it is unavailable for legal purchase. According to the Washington Post, the new devices are already selling there on the Black Market for up to 10 times their U.S. purchase price. Neistadt suggests that a network of smugglers has descended upon New York's Apple Stores, and, though he backtracked somewhat from the Chinese Mafia accusations in a later interview, it seems clear to any observer that there is some real organization behind the effort to get iPhones into some kind of unauthorized reselling channel which is artificially packing the huge lines outside Apple Stores with straw purchasers. Without them, it seems unlikely that these lines would stretch for block after block. Many shoppers have reported that it is already fairly fast and convenient to pick one up at one of the city's many AT&T, Verizon or other mobile phone retailers —but, of course, those phones are for people who are actually buying for themselves as they come with service contracts.

Apparently, this activity falls into something of a legal gray area. The buying and immediate reselling is not illegal, and Apple has run into problems in the past trying to discourage sales of desirable devices that they thought were being funneled into unauthorized channels. What is questionable is the presumed smuggling that happens after the observed handoffs. Neistadt's video also documents some unfortunate behavior by NYPD officers assigned to patrol the overnight lines, and some altercations among those in line which makes one question the safety (and sanitation) of having these annual, several-days-long queues at all. At this point, it seems like the only reason why people would endure hours and days waiting on the sidewalk to buy a phone would be for a handsome profit or possibly a legitimate lack of sanity. Have a look at the video after the jump and make of it what you will. In the meantime, when The Shophound gets our new phone, we plan to order it on line to pick up in-store. No lines.

Video: Were iPhone 6 Mega Lines Taken Over By Chinese Mafia?, Filmmaker Discusses iPhone 6 Lines & "Chinese Mafia" (Gothamist)
iPhone 6s being sold for insane amounts of money in China (Washington Post)

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iPhone Lines Are So 2007

In case you have been spending the last few weeks of Summer under a rock, you probably know that two new iPhones are being launched to day at Apple stores and authorized dealers today. When we passed by yesterday afternoon, the people in the picture above had been waiting in line outside the Fifth Avenue Apple store for a couple of days so they can be among the first to get one of them. They can politely be referred to as a bunch of dum-dums, because there were literally tens of people in line behind them. And not that many tens.

Don't be caught in an iPhone line. This time last year, Apple devised a reserve-online-pick-up-in-store system that essentially abolished all iPhone lines, and it worked well enough that we managed to get ahold of one within the first week of the launch without the slightest bit of trouble or waiting.
So don't fell the need to wait in line for an iPhone, and if you see anyone else doing it, throw a pie at them. 

HOLY $#!‡:

A Japanese Department Store Needs A ?µ¢&in' Translator

It's sale time in Osaka, Japan, but one department store apparently needs a primer on what English-language words are appropriate for sale signs. We have the fine folks at Gawker to thank for directing us to the Japanese Subculture Research Center, a very entertaining blog about Japanese Culture filtered through a Western sensibility. They relayed these pictures from a reader of mixed japanese descent who found took the above photo in Osaka just a few days ago.

Japanese fashion has a longstanding history of decorating clothes with English-language words that they don't actually understand, often resulting in outfits with hilarious nonsense messages, but this takes things a step further. Maybe the folks at this store are unaware that this particular colloquialism, while prevalent in movies, cable TV shows and Hip-hop to name a few things, is not considered appropriate a part of discourse in polite society.

Or, maybe they just wanted to get attention and shock people. (We have posted the unredacted photos after the jump, just so you can get the full effect, but if you are the type to be offended by casual use of coarse slang for copulation, then by all means, do not click through!)

Either way, we think its hilarious, but the great crime here is not one of vulgarity, but of exaggeration. 20% off is emphatically NOT a great ?µ¢&in' sale. It's a nice little savings, but no excuse to break out the vulgarities. This morning, we got an email from Mr. Porter (the new men's offshoot from Net-à-Porter) announcing its final reductions up to 80% off.
That's a ?µ¢&in' sale.

It’s no ordinary sale. It’s a F___IN’ SALE! (Japanese Subculture Research Center via Gawker)

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Yes, People Are Still Lining Up
In Front Of The UGG Store

A couple of years ago, The Shophound noticed a strange phenomenon in SoHo in which people would stand in long lines in the cold outside what was then the only UGG store in Manhattan despite the fact that UGGs are widely available in over 80 stores in New York City. At the time, we thought it was some kind of fluke or a sign of a tiresome trend that had hit its peak, but no, last year there were more UGG stores and consequently, more UGG lines.

In case you were wondering (and we know your curiosity has been burning on this one) the lines are back again —at least in midtown. The above photo was taken yesterday afternoon in front of the UGG boutique at the corner of Madison Avenue and 58th Street where the line extended nearly halfway down a particularly long block. Why anyone continues to do this, we have no idea. It seems pointless on all fronts, but, as you can see, many people (tourists, they have to be, right?) in line are already converted devotées to the chunky, unflattering footwear.

We're beyond going on and on about why we can't stand UGGs at this point, but we still cannot endorse waiting in line for no reason whatsoever, so if you are hopelessly addicted to these shoes and you ust buy them from an official retail outlet, you might want to know that the third UGG boutique in New York, on Columbus Avenue between 67th and 68th street does not seem to be plagued with lines. In fact, The Shophound passes it often in our travels, and we have not noticed any lines outside since the beginning of the Holiday Shopping Season. So if you must indulge yourself, get out of the SoHo and Midtown crowd melée, and head across town to the more civilized West Side, just don't tell anyone we sent you.


It Must Be Christmas Because
The UGG Line Is Here

For all of you out there who were wondering if anyone will ever tire of UGGs, those Australian shearling boots beloved of so many folks who want their feet to look like those of a pachyderm, the answer looks like no, so far.

Like clockwork, the lineup of eager customers has returned to the Mercer Street storefront of SoHo's UGG boutique. Now that there are three UGG stores in New York City (not to mention about 80 other places in Manhattan to buy them), one would think that there would be no need for people to wait outside in the cold to buy some stumpy shearling boots like it's a Manolo Blahnik sample sale or something.

But then, we have never figured out why anyone wants to wear those boots at all (yes, we know they are comfy and cozy, but so are bedroom slippers, and we wouldn't want to be seen wearing those on the streets, now would we?). Anyway, some mysteries are just destined to remain unsolved...


A Pop-Tarts Gourmet Review


The bloggers of Serious Eats did what The Shophound hasn't the stomach to attempt: taste the specially concocted Pop-Tart dishes at the Pop-Tarts World pop-up shop in Times Square. As you might expect, the critiques ranged from "Please, please don't eat this," "All kinds of wrong," and "Nearly made me gag," to "If you've got the sugar tolerance, you might even like it," the faintest of praise. Ranked on an edibility scale of 1 to 10, only one item made it over a 5 —hard to ruin Trail Mix with bits of Pop Tart mixed in made it to a 7. The "sushi" pictured above rated a 0 as in " I physically could not bring myself to swallow."

This all probably comes as a surprise to nobody, but we suggest clicking through to their slide show for a stunning parade of crimes against the palate which will also save you the trouble of actually visiting the shop yourself just to satisfy your curiosity. At the very least, it's worth a look at their journey through the menu for the some of the most unappetizing food pictures we have ever seen.

Bon appetit!

We Ate at Pop-Tarts World in Times Square (Serious Eats)


Is Christian Audigier Finished
In SoHo?

AudigierpaperHas the preferred designer to the Jersey Shore set finally peaked, or is it just wishful thinking? NYC The Blog discovered that the Christian Audigier boutique on Lafayette Street has been papered over, as if they have...vacated?

Racked has been on the case and getting ambiguous responses from the company regarding the store's future. Redecorating? Moving? Closing up shop altogether? We'll all have to wait and see, but we know we're not the only ones who wouldn't mind seeing Mr. Audigier pack it in and head back to L.A.

Has The Christian Audigier Soho Store Closed? (NYC The Blog)
Christian Audigier Closed in Nolita? Say It Ain't So! (Racked)


Takashimaya's Former Storefront
To Be Erased

ThorEquitiesT Disturbing news comes from Thor Equities, the new owner of what was the Takashimaya building. The Wall Street Journal reported this week that the much admired Japanese retailer's former home, built in 1993, is too customized to attract a new tenant without extensive remodeling both inside and out. Thor is reportedly planning to keep the first eight floors as retail space and dramatically expand the main floor, but they will also dismantle the elegant marble and limestone front façade and replace it with eight stories of plate glass and metal (rendered at right).

Apparently, making the building uglier will make it more appealing to other retailers. Never mind that it was designed to harmonize with older limestone townhouse style buildings nearby that characterize midtown Fifth Avenue, Thor's CEO Joe Sitt will take advantage of the fact that the building is not landmarked and can be altered with few pesky approval proceedings.

Retail specialist and Prudential Douglas Elliman broker Faith Hope Consolo, who never met a media outlet she wouldn't speculate wildly to, suggests three big names to the Journal who might be interested, London's Harrod's and Harvey Nichols, or possibly Nordstrom. Never mind that the two British stores have thus far shown no recent interest in crossing the Atlantic and seriously entering the New York retail market that we have heard of. As for the famously choosy Nordstrom, they have walked away from countless sites in Manhattan that are far more suitable to their requirements, and are about as likely to open shop in a narrow eight story townhouse space as they are to launch a branch in Tehran. So much for Faith.

For his part, Sitt is looking to broaden the search to include European luxury brands and Abercrombie & Fitch or Uniqlo-type chains in the market for a midtown mega-flagship, and is offering the building's naming rights to whoever lands in the space. Is there anyone left in these categories who isn't already sufficiently represented on Fifth Avenue?

Hearing about this makes the Shophound think of the innumerable once beautiful old buildings in Manhattan who over the years have had their lower levels gutted to attract retail tenants, leaving the façades in a jarring, Frankenstein-like state that hints at their former refinement. The banal but thankfully soon to be restored Third Avenue face of Bloomingdale's is a prime example of this sort of architectural offense. Whether Takashimaya's relatively recent, ersatz Beaux Arts-ish façade is worth protecting is a mater of opinion, but destroying half of it and installing an incongruous replacement does nobody any aesthetic favors.

On Fifth, a Facelift to Attract a New Retailer by Craig Karmin (Wall Street Journal)


Nine NYC Stores Fined
For Open Door Policy

For anyone who had to trudge down the sidewalk in this week's punishing heat, the frigid breeze from an air conditioned store with an open door felt like a little gust of heaven, but it turned out to be an expensive one for nine city stores in the Bronx and Manhattan including the Filene's Basement, DSW and Forever 21 locations on the south side of Union Square.

Since 2008, any business larger than 4,000 square feet or part of a chain with five or more stores in the city cannot leave its doors open while using air-conditioning, but these are apparently the first fines the city has charged since the law was enacted. The law was intended to discourage excessive use of electricity, especially during heat waves when antiquated power grids are overloaded. Penalties range from $200 for initial infractions up to $400 for subsequent offenses within an 18 month period, which could be a pesky punishment for some qualifying stores, but is probably something like the change you would find in the sofa to the folks at Forever 21 who are probably willing to pay the price for straining ConEd as long as they can get those teenagers into the store.

Nine Stores Fined for Propping Doors Open in Heat (NYTimes)


Bedbugs vs. Abercrombie Round 2
South Street Seaport Store Shut

We like to think of Abercrombie & Fitch as a gift that keeps on giving, but to a bedbug, apparently, they are just lunch.

After having closed its Hollister Epic Flagship on Wednesday for a persistent bedbug infestation, the chain had to turn around and shut the Abercrombie & Fitch location at the South Street Seaport on Friday for the same reason! Is there a connection? The stores are miles apart, so it would seem unlikely, but it certainly is kind of funny, especially since the company appears to be handling the situation by following the leading life rule of one Suzanne Sugarbaker: "The man should kill the bug!" The man, in this case, would be the Mayor Bloomberg.

According to The Wall Street Journal, A&F Chairman and CEO Michael S. Jeffries has actually contacted the Mayor for "leadership and guidance" on how best to address the problem of "the growing infestation of bedbugs in New York City." As any New Yorker can guess, the the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene responded by basically saying, "Not my problem, dude."

We know, HILARIOUS, right? As if the Mayor has time to offer suggestions to every building that has been hit by bedbugs. Truly, such an infestation is a miserable trial that The Shophound wouldn't wish on our worst enemy (okay, maybe our second-worst enemy), but there's something appropriately karmic about a company that gleefully flouts all kinds of workplace safety and fair hiring practices having to turn to the city to help them out of an embarrassing situation. Abercrombie says that the Hollister store should have been ready to be reopened by Saturday, which sounds like wishful thinking for a building that size, especially one filled with clothes and overstuffed furniture.

As always, we wish the folks at Abercrombie the best of luck with their problem, and thank them for the material.

Retailer Asks Mayor for Help in Bedbug Battle (Wall Street Journal)
Schadednfreude Du Jour: Bedbug Infestation Closes Hollister