As bankruptcy looms for an American icon retailer, some of us remember its glory days, and feel a sense of sadness over its future.
Radio Shack (officially “RadioShack”) is the nation’s electronics mega-chain, beloved by radio junkies and gadget geeks, but also an example of unforgiving retail economics in the Internet age.
All things considered, The Shack had a great run.
Competition was always spotty, at least in New England. There was Lafayette Electronics, the Long Island-based chain which had a handful of stores in Connecticut in the 1960s and ’70s, and local Connecticut companies Hatry Electronics and Bond Radio, both long gone.
After years of lackluster sales and a failed 2014 bail-out, Radio Shack formally filed for Chapter 11 and plans to close half of its 4,000 U.S stores including 24 in Connecticut.
Stores that remain will be turned into selling points for Sprint PCS smartphones.
See the Forbes business story here.
Local outlets are sporting “going out of business” banners, and expected to close by the end of March.
Nostalgia-wise, the 1970s really stands out as prime-time Radio Shack.
As a middle and high school kid obsessed with shortwave, scanners and stereos, September couldn’t roll around soon enough for me.
Not because school was about to start, but because September was the release date of the annual Radio Shack catalog.
I can still picture those beautiful catalog covers, with component stereo systems categorized as “good,” “better” and “best,” and prices escalating accordingly.
Brilliant sales strategy, in my opinion. Why buy something “good” when you can have “better” or “best” for a little more money?
On the covers were happy, content people adoring the stereo systems (which seemed to enhance their lives) and between 1975 and 1977, Arthur Fiedler was on the front cover, too, striking a conductor’s pose.
Some of my favorite Radio Shack memories:
- The Battery of the Month Club. Customers were issued a punch card good for one free battery every 30 days. Nine volt batteries were my favorite, not because they cost more, but because they powered those little transistor radios.
- The CB radio craze of the ’70s. As a high school kid, I saved to buy Realistic walkie-talkies, a three channel, crystal controlled mobile CB radio, and finally, best of all (for 1975), a 23-channel Navaho base station. (I still have it and it still works!)
- Realistic police scanners. Radio shack competed with Bearcat in the scanner market, and carried plug-in frequency crystals that these radios needed. The Shack stocked all the local frequencies, and the sales staff knew which ones customers needed.
- Archer, Space Patrol and Science Fair electronics. The 100-in-one Science Fair project set was one of my favorites. Components were mounted to one large board, and could be wired together using small surface mounted springs, to create buzzers, metronomes and a host of other cool gadgets.
The Radio Shack story wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the TRS-80 computer, a very successful entry into the DOS home computer business, competing with Apple and Commodore in the late 1970s.
The TRS-80 offered a monitor, cassette tape drive and a host of peripherals.
It was so popular, there were long back orders, even at the retail price of $600