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Published February 11 2011

Verizon iPhone hits stores

Justin Meyer staked out his spot in front of the Verizon Wireless store at West Acres mall at 3:50 Thursday morning. Over the course of the next few hours before daybreak, a dozen other people filtered in behind him, parking themselves on the floor and waiting.

“All of us are here for screen protectors,” Meyer quipped. This wasn’t quite true. They were there for iPhones, ready to greet the device on the first day it was available to the general public through Verizon Wireless – and, not coincidentally, the first time it’s been available in North Dakota.

The Apple Inc. smart phone has been an object of techno-lust for Verizon customers since its debut in 2007. Until last month, it was available exclusively through AT&T, which does not yet offer service in most of the Dakotas. AT&T merged with Alltel to cover the area but has yet to complete the transition.

“I’ve been envious about it (the iPhone) for about three and a half years,” said Meyer, an active-duty serviceman in the Navy who lives in Moorhead.

The West Acres Verizon store, which normally opens at 10 a.m., let customers in a few minutes before 7 a.m. Thursday. Manager Robert Swope was working the line of about 15 people early, handing out numbered cards, determining eligibility for upgrades, and even busing empty coffee cups.

The long lines and unbridled enthusiasm that mark many major Apple product launches may have been tempered a bit in this case by the fact that existing Verizon customers could pre-order the iPhone starting a week before the in-store launch. Fans got up early for that one, too, and Verizon broke its launch record for a new phone in the first few hours of a presale that started at 2 a.m. Some of those devices arrived by mail earlier this week.

But Swope said he expected the store to remain busy throughout the day with iPhone traffic. “We’ve done a lot of preparation,” he said. “I think this will be definitely one of the most successful launches that Verizon’s had.” He declined to say how many phones the store had in stock.

Customers said they were drawn to the iPhone, or to Verizon, for a variety of reasons: They like the interface and operating system. They were tired of waiting for AT&T to show up. They were due for an upgrade and wanted to make the most of it.

“I went from the cheapest phone to the most expensive one,” said Chris Raaen, a Fargo resident who hadn’t upgraded his phone in 2½ years before Thursday. He said he arrived at the mall about 5:40 a.m.

Kevin Paape, a Fargo chiropractor, had a more personal motive for turning out early. “I’m really good at buying my wife gifts she returns,” he said. “I finally found something that she won’t end up taking back.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Marino Eccher at (701) 241-5502