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Originally published November 18, 2010 at 8:14 PM | Page modified November 19, 2010 at 2:42 PM

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Microsoft Store in Bellevue opens with glitter, glitz

Microsoft united tweens and Gen Xers at Bellevue Square on Thursday, first giving away free Miley Cyrus concert tickets at its grand opening, then throwing a surprise free concert at night with Dave Matthews.

Seattle Times technology reporter

Microsoft united tweens and Gen Xers at Bellevue Square on Thursday, first giving away free Miley Cyrus concert tickets at its grand opening, then throwing a surprise free concert at night with Dave Matthews.

Three doors down, the Apple store, maybe for the first time, felt just a little stodgy with its cutouts of the Beatles in the window.

The new Microsoft store is the first retail store the company has opened on its home turf and represents a bid to make consumers fall in love with its brand and software.

"It is just exciting as heck to have the seventh store open in our back yard," Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer said before he cut the ribbon and a curtain dropped to show 50 cheering store workers. "All of our stores are special, but this is the store I'm going to be in and out of most often."

Then he and Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner pumped hands with the first people to enter the store.

The opening comes at a time the company is trying to show Wall Street it can be as sexy as Apple to consumers, not just with the stores but also with its new holiday products, the Xbox Kinect motion sensor and the new Windows Phone 7.

Apple built a direct route to customers through its retail stores over several years. The Cupertino, Calif., company now has more than 200 stores around the world.

Hands-on displays

The design of Microsoft's stores echoes Apple's minimalist look and focuses on giving customers a chance to put their hands on gadgets displayed on tables.

The 5,374-square-foot Bellevue store, in the old Eddie Bauer and Tall's Camera space, has more than a hundred monitors mounted to the walls.

The videos promote products and show images from the history of Microsoft, including photos of Bill Gates.

The store sells all sizes of PCs, Windows Phone 7, Xbox 360 and the new Kinect, software and games. Most of the computers are displayed on high tables, and there's a community-training space in the back.

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The store will also do a free diagnostic on any Windows PC no matter where it was bought.

"This is a place where customers can enjoy this immersive experience," said Mika Krammer, general manager of merchandising and marketing for Microsoft stores.

In a town used to Seattle nice, store employees are jarringly extroverted.

Clad in primary-color shirts, they cheer and high-five customers. In other stores around the country, they break into an occasional dance.

Krammer said a lot of thought has gone into design. All tables are either perpendicular or parallel to each other. The company tested lighting until it found one that did not cast shadows.

Even the store's scent, "bamboo sage," was specially chosen.

To keep bringing people in through its first weekend, Microsoft will feature Olympic speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno at the store Friday from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. to play Xbox and Kinect.

The first two Microsoft stores, which opened last year in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Mission Viejo, Calif., have had more than 1 million people come through, the company said.

The other stores are in other affluent, mostly suburban malls in Bloomington, Minn.; Oak Brook, Ill.; Lone Tree, Colo., and San Diego.

Pace to pick up

Krammer said the company will have a "similar real-estate strategy for the next 12 months," and expects to open stores at a faster pace next year.

People started lining up for the free Miley Cyrus concert tickets Wednesday afternoon and waited in the parking garage overnight. They brought sleeping bags and stadium foldout chairs, and played cards and napped.

The first 2,000 people received free tickets to the Saturday concert, at Northeast Fourth Street and Bellevue Way. The store ran out of tickets at 2 p.m. Thursday.

Crissy Allen started waiting Wednesday at 2 p.m. with her son and her service dog. She came to get concert tickets for her son.

"I'm here because my son is in love with Miley Cyrus," she said. "He said the only reason they're not engaged is because she hasn't met him yet."

Allen bought an Xbox 360 video game and said the store was "awesome." "I like that there's so much space between aisles," she said. "Wheelchairs can get through, my dog can get through. It just looks uncluttered and classy."

Gifts of money

Microsoft gave checks at the opening to nonprofits: $200,000 to Cleveland High School, $200,000 to the Bellevue School District, $500,000 to FIRST Robotics and $500,000 to the King County Library System.

The store appeared to win over some potential shoppers who showed up just for the tickets.

"I really just came here for the tickets, but after looking at some products, I think this is my favorite," said Rica Bejarin, a student at Pierce College, looking at a Dell Inspiron Mini Duo. "I think the prices are pretty good."

Dell is launching the new $549 netbook, which has a touch screen that flips over, exclusively at Microsoft stores.

The new Dell Venue Pro Windows Phone 7 also debuted at the store.

Michael Tatelman, vice president and general manager with Dell's consumer business, was at the store opening.

"I love the videos on the wall, the demos, just the next-generation thinking that went into how to run a store," he said.

Sharon Pian Chan: 206-464-2958 or schan@seattletimes.com

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