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Tech Superpowers shuts down Newbury Street store

Flagship store’s popularity prompts Tech Superpowers to close Newbury Street shop

Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Joshua Brzuchalski (left) and Audrey Knuth (center) during Tech Superpowers’ move from Newbury.

Even a superpower couldn’t take a bite out of the apple.

Tech Superpowers, a boutique Apple Inc. reseller that made its home on Newbury Street about 15 years ago, has closed its cozy basement shop, unable to compete with the massive flagship store that Apple opened around the corner in 2008.

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“Apple is just an extremely powerful brand in the consumer space and no matter how hard we try to differentiate ourselves, they are the mothership and they have this big shiny store,’’ said Michael Oh, founder and president of Tech Superpowers.

Next week, the company will retreat from Apple’s shadow and move to the fourth floor of an office building on Stanhope Street in the Back Bay, where it will focus on providing technology support to business clients. It’s a strategy Tech Superpowers began formulating after the Mac maker announced plans to open a three-story 20,000-square-foot emporium on Boylston Street four years ago.

A month before the ribbon-cutting, Oh, who had been following the progress of the Apple store’s construction with a webcam, slipped a Tech Superpowers T-shirt into the wet cement sidewalk in the alley behind the work site. He was inspired to leave the blue shirt emblazoned with the words “Technology for Genius’’ by a Red Sox fan who buried a David Ortiz jersey under the new Yankee Stadium when it was being built.

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“We are in business because of the great things Apple has done. But there’s also been blood, sweat, and tears from our side,’’ Oh said at the time. “I have no idea how this will turn out. Maybe Apple will refer us customers. Or maybe six months from now we’ll be moving out to an office park in Waltham.’’

Tech Superpowers, whose business is almost entirely based on Apple products and related items, grew from a start-up with $200,000 in annual sales to a global company with an office in London, a store at Patriot Place in Foxborough, and more than $5 million in revenue last year. But the firm took a hit shortly after Apple, which declined to comment, opened on Boylston. Despite some referrals from the Apple store, consumer sales, which once made up nearly half of the business, dwindled to less than 10 percent at Tech Superpowers’ Newbury Street location, Oh said.

Gary Allen, creator of ifoAppleStore.com, a blog dedicated to Apple’s retail operations, said resellers across the country have faced similar challenges and frequently move or change their business model to focus more on professional clients.

“You have to be agile when Apple comes to town,’’ Allen said.

Tech Superpowers, which has 25 employees, said it could no longer justify its Newbury Street rent ($7,500 a month) without the walk-in traffic - especially after opening a store in Foxborough last summer. So on Thursday the staff at Tech Superpowers dismantled its headquarters, packing up a row of computers in the “digi-lounge’’ and a couch in the Internet cafe. Files and furniture were moved out of an upper floor that housed the repair and service operations.

Olirah Oliver, of Boston, sat outside the coffee shop next door to Tech Superpowers with his Mac laptop opened on the table. He said he visited Tech Superpowers once in 2009 to fix his computer but went to the Genius Bar at the Apple store to get his laptop rebuilt three times since then.

“There is no competing with Apple,’’ Oliver said. “They try to push you in the direction of spending more money, but they are great with customer service.’’

Before the growth of Apple stores and the dominance of intuitive products like the iPod, iPad, iPhone, stores such as Tech Superpowers served an important purpose by providing consumers with personal assistance to navigate complicated technology, said Mike Tesler, president of Retail Concepts, a retail consultancy in Norwell.

“But to pay Newbury Street rents for walk-in/impulse type traffic no longer makes sense because that customer is infatuated with the Apple Store - with good reason - and would not consider shopping elsewhere,’’ Tesler said. Tech Superpowers “has really done nothing wrong. It is just that the Apple Store is so so so right and also they are so right around the corner as well.’’

Jenn Abelson can be reached at abelson@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @jennabelson.
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