Weird. Amazon has opened a physical "store" in SF that doesn't sell anything physical

By Carmel DeAmicis , written on June 5, 2014

From The News Desk

In San Francisco, near Westfield Mall, a stone’s throw from Union Square, lies a coder kid’s paradise. Bright green couches and book shelves line the wall, with funky clocks, all pointing to the hour of 4 pm, hanging beside each other on the wall.

It’s clearly a startup haven, with the requisite refrigerated keg in the corner and Quirky Pivot Power outlets for visitors. Upstairs, a quiet lounge is complete with fruit loop and Goldfish cracker dispensers, jars filled to the brim with candy, a coffee station and a kitchen. One level higher takes visitors to an expansive room with a tall ceiling, filled with chairs facing a podium. When you look closer, tiny touches dot the landscape, from a miniature record player to a foosball table.

The play land is hidden inside a nondescript storefront that looks like it came down on tough times and closed. The opaque windows block any view of the interior, and the only hint to what’s inside is a burly looking bouncer and a tiny logo in the bottom corner that says AWS.

No, this isn’t the latest hip later-stage company that has just scored millions in venture and is spending some of it on a play pad for its employees. This is an experiment run by a much bigger company — Amazon, to be exact — in its efforts to reach its customers.

Amazon Web Services decided to experiment with a pop up shop in downtown San Francisco for the month of June. It just opened to zero fanfare from press, since the company neglected to tell anyone they were doing it. Anyone except customers that is. All the users of the Amazon web servers were notified of the pop up shop’s existence and invited to the opening bash.

All month long, anyone — customers or not — can stop by the shop to learn more about how to set up their own server space through Amazon.

Pop up shops are all the rage with e-commerce startups. But this might be one of the rare pop up shops with an enterprise and business target -- a fact made all the more weird because of Amazon's famous disdain for bricks and mortar. How weird that their first foray into physical retail is for their flagship virtual product.

AWS customers or potential clients can visit the “Ask an Architect” bar to troubleshoot their server issues or learn about the process of setting up a system. They can use the rows and rows of computers in the back to go through different server tutorials. They can attend any of the myriad of training sessions that happen during the day — from “Pinching Pennies on AWS” to “Building mobile games.” They can stop by for evening presentations by companies like Coin and TinyCo, which talk about how they use AWS to power their businesses.

Barring all that, they can do exactly what I’m doing right now and hang out on comfy chairs eating candy, drinking free beer, and working from 10 am to 8 pm Monday through Friday or 10 am to 6 pm on Saturdays.

The space looks decorated by a pro, and is about as far from a temporary “pop-up” vibe as you might imagine. A whole family could live here happily forever more. Beautiful lights hang from the ceiling and artistic, metal lampshades. Flowers and plants dot the surroundings. Exposed brick complements graffiti style artwork splashed on the wall that reads “Code.”

When asked whether the pop up could become permanent if AWS customers responded positively, Amazon spokesperson Leah Bibbo played coy. “It’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility,” she said.