A friend of mine worked as an Apple Store Genius for almost a decade. There were apparently some urban myths among the employees about Steve Jobs himself coming to the Manhattan store. Obviously the day that a new iPhone or iPad were released were insane for him.
Another friend of mine works for a company that makes cell phone cases, and he made it clear that not having a presence in the actual Apple Stores surely hurt his companies ability to appeal to the rabid customers.
You've seen Samsung and Microsoft essentially copy Apple Stores, in the hopes of inspiring some of the passion and loyalty that Apple enjoys.
But the rumor is that Apple is looking to cut back on their staff or somehow rework Apple Stores, supposedly to make them more profitable.
I actually was not very impressed when I bought my most recent iPhone from the Georgetown Apple Store. The Genius seemed to have a hard time migrating my contacts, so I probably might have preferred to just order it online, and save myself a trip. But I couldn't imagine buying an iPhone at an AT&T store or Best Buy either.
I do think they could probably close a few locations. The first Apple Store in D.C. is in a somewhat struggling quasi-strip mall, so if it were closed, I would not be at all surprised.
One thought is that Apple may be looking to avoid unionization efforts, which is one of the issues Wal-mart faces.
It's interesting to note that Apple recently ran a somewhat controversial series of commercials, specifically featuring the Genius Bar.
But I think it's hard to understate the competitive advantage that Apple has over other phone companies and computer companies, that customers know they can go to any store, get help, and not get ripped off.
So it'd be sad to see that go away.