Sunday, November 30, 2014

Radio Shack is dying

I grew up at Radio Shack. Long before I became a professional-adult-writer-nerd, I was a child-amateur-writer-nerd. As soon as I was old enough to wander the halls of the local mall on my own, I would gravitate, like a moth to a flame, to the nearest Compucentre or Radio Shack. Once there, I'd park myself in front of whatever computer they happened to have on display, then proceed to program it to display my name repeatedly. It typically looked something like this:

20 GOTO 10

(Modesty was not my strong suit then. Perhaps it still isn't. But I digress.)

Inevitably, a small crowd would gather around as I slowly coaxed a bit of BASIC-based ridiculousness from the monochrome-screened machine. Being in the middle of the scrum was somewhat intoxicating, and in retrospect I think some powerful seeds were being quietly planted for me.

In a 2014 context, those TRS-80s were laughably limited. But at the time, they seemed like almost magical pointers to a boundless future. You knew something changed as soon as they were first installed in the middle of a store better known for its Battery of the Month Club and its chaotically labelled bins of electronic doodads and cables way back in the dimly lit rear corners.

Ah, good times!

Eventually, Radio Shack disappeared from the Canadian retail landscape, with enough lawsuits and branding changes thrown in to make for a great book someday. Many of the old sites became The Source locations, and while they're now owned by Bell, I still get pangs of nostalgia every time I walk into one. The one near my house is a lot neater than the locations from my childhood, but it still feels strangely homey.

Radio Shack continues to function in the U.S., and its inability to transition from the pre-Internet economy to the post-Internet one seems to have left it in the retail equivalent of Neverland: Not quite dead, but nowhere near alive, either. Now that I've become an adult-writer-nerd, I can see just how loudly the clock is ticking. Drop in while you still can. published this brutally harsh first-person piece earlier, by former employee Jon Bois, this week. And if you ever found yourself bathed in the glow of a TRS-80, or engaged in deep, thoughtful discussions with Radio Shack employees on the merits of NiCd vs NiMH - or why those 100-in-one hobby sets were gateways to scientific hooliganism - this is a must-read:
A eulogy for RadioShack, the panicked and half-dead retail empire
Your turn: Thoughts?


sage said...

I earned my amateur radio license when I was 13 (long before the "Trash 80s") and Radio Shack was the only place for tubes and coax cable and other goodies. They do still remain here in the US, but I wonder how long as I have seldom visited one.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

First home pc I ever used was a friends Kaypro. It seemed like a toy, albeit a fun one.

A few years later, I had an actual paying jerb writing programs on an Apple II+!

Scott Simpson said...

I worked at Compucentre in the 1990s and now can't imagine such a store.

From time to time, I need something and think, oh, I could go to Radio Shack and get that. But there's no Radio Shack. Like right now, I need an AM loop antenna for a radio in my office. Radio Shack would have one. Now I'm reduced to scouring eBay for something.