RadioShack’s inevitable demise

Filed under Mainstream coverage, Musings;

I became an Apple II user in 1983, but it wasn’t until 1990 or so that I started becoming a power user. The APPUSER Forum on CompuServe had so many great games that I couldn’t play due to my IIGS not having enough RAM or a hard drive. SysOp Loren Damewood and game developer Scott Everts encouraged me to call Quality Computers to make one upgrade, then another. Before I knew it, I had a juiced GS.

But sometimes, things didn’t work quite as expected, and I’d need a trivial adapter for which I didn’t want to wait a week for mail order to deliver. Or I needed speakers or some other generic part that wasn’t specific to the Apple II. For those times, my father would drive me to local strip mall known as the John Fitch Highway, home of the nearest RadioShack. I became such a regular there that one of the clerks even invited me to his weekly D&D game.

Now, for better or worse, RadioShack’s days are numbered. The anachronistically named retail stores may soon follow former parent company Tandy Corporation’s TRS-80 into the realm of defunct technology.

Long-time hobbyists and hackers may not mourn RadioShack’s passing, as the store has long since transitioned from catering to our needs to competing with big box stores like Best Buy. Walk into any RadioShack today to buy electronic parts and components, and you’ll never get the attention of a sales clerk eager to make a commission on a more expensive iPhone or HDTV. Some may say that RadioShack’s inventory has simply mirrored a larger shift to a disposable society, where computers are locked down and unable to be tinkered with. But the emergence of the popular Raspberry Pi suggests otherwise. Did you know you can buy the Pi at RadioShack? Maybe if, like the Apple Store, RadioShack held various classes and workshops for working with their products, this might’ve been a larger market for them.

Yet even that shift alone might not have saved RadioShack. "Call it death by a thousand cuts," said one marketing professor, citing many other changes that have made RadioShack obsolete. For example, as much as RadioShack hawks its cell phones, those very products may also be killing the store. Almost everything RadioShack sold in 1991 can now be done with cell phone apps. Why buy a dozen bulky gadgets when several 99-cent digital widgets can perform the same functions?

Regardless of the chain’s current worth, it’s always sad to see an old friend go — especially one that, for Apple II users, is still a useful source for batteries and cassette players. It seems unlikely RadioShack can reverse their downward spiral. But we’ll always have memories of their years of value to the community.

(Hat tip to Bryan Villados)

  1. Radio Shack may not *focus* on their electronic components any more, but they do *have* them, which is more than any other brick and mortar store I can think of, so I’ll miss them for that. When they close, there will literally be nowhere else but online to get this stuff for the vast majority of people.

    And yes, we do live in a consumer electronics world where electronics as a hobby is somewhat marginal compared to its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. And yet with the current “Maker” subculture, there’s probably more interest in electronics than there’s been for the last twenty or thirty years. You mention that you can buy a Raspberry Pi at RS. But as you say, it is probably too little too late to save RS.

  2. Off the top of my head, stuff I’ve bought in the past 3 years at RadioShack, for my Apple II:

    – those black rubber feet
    – bottle of Contact cleaner for keyboard switches
    – 16-pin DIP sockets. In fact I used my last one just two days ago when I broke an IC leg
    – soldering iron and spool of solder. Also recently used for that broken IC leg