I was downtown past midnight recently and was surprised to see this eerie line of empty chairs outside the Pioneer Place mall. What was this? A Rose Parade flashback?
No, said a friendly security guard doing his patrol, this was people waiting for the Apple store to open in the morning. The line has been there every night for the past three months. Instead of waiting on the curb, people set up the lawn chairs, then park their car right next to the mall and stay in there all night, keeping warm and vigilantly watching their spot. In the morning, the professional Apple hoarders get first into the Apple store and buy as many iPhone 5's or iPad minis as they can. Then, they can turn around and resell them for more.
Apple tries to deter stockpiling and reselling its popular products by rationing purchases: At Portland's store, you can only buy two iPhones at a time—when they're in stock. I just called the store and they have neither iPhone 5's or iPad minis. The clerk encouraged me to call back daily to check if they're in stock. This has spawned an industry all itself of Apple flipping. If someone in the Portland line is rewarded for their night-long wait with the luck of being first into the Apple store on a day it actually has iPhone 5's, they could buy two for $200 each and easily sell them for four times as much. It's a gamble, but a quick way to make $800 a night by gaming Apple and its hype-hungry buyers.
I lingered too long by these chairs—as a friend and I stopped to take a photo of the seemingly empty street, suddenly three people jumped out of cars on the block and ran over. "You in line?!" one man asked quickly. No, no, no, no thanks.