Y'all just had to get one last shot in, didn't you?
November 26, 2014 12:39 PM   Subscribe

A eulogy for RadioShack. With hopes for a turnaround plan fading, RadioShack will now join other stores in opening on Thanksgiving. Jon Bois (previously) looks back on his time working for "strange, craven, five thousand-fingered strip-mall monster from a forgotten age."
posted by zabuni (166 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
 
I love RadioShack. I loved it when it was Tandy. Unless they are selling emergency turkey backup drives, what's the point?
posted by breadbox at 12:48 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


> RadioShack is a rotten place to work, generally not a very good place to shop...

The RadioShacks in Canada all turned into The Source a while ago, and the salespeople there are the fucking worst for a) trying to upsell you on stupid shit you don't want and didn't ask for, b) downselling you on stupid impulse-buy shit like non-rechargeable batteries that you don't want and didn't ask for, and c) insisting on you giving them your postal code. I didn't travel across the province to visit your wonderful store, sir.
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:49 PM on November 26, 2014 [10 favorites]


I'm not sure I understand why it's so fundamentally untenable. Consumer electronics are huge. Hobby electronics and the maker culture aren't huge, but they're a thing again. I'd think someone could make it work...
posted by weston at 12:51 PM on November 26, 2014 [9 favorites]


I hardly ever shop Radio Shack, but when I do I really appreciate them. It's usually to buy an overlooked cable/doodad a project depends on to move forward.

Plus it's nice to have a place where I can still buy blank audio cassettes.
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:52 PM on November 26, 2014 [8 favorites]


Pipe dream: I'd love to see Radio Shack become a one-stop shop for tech DIY needs. Sell (more) Arduinos, Raspberry Pis, 3d printing gear (Makerbots et al), DIY Smart Home gear, etc. Offer a space for community workshops, and really encourage the next generation of technologists. It'll never happen, because margins and volume and probably millions of other reasons, but I can dream, right?
posted by cvp at 12:53 PM on November 26, 2014 [85 favorites]


About once a year, I need some random little electronic doohickey, and I think to myself, "Radio Shack? I wonder..." and I go to Radio Shack, and lo, they have it, and I drive home happy. When Radio Shack dies, I suppose I will just have to Amazon the doohickey and wait a couple of days, because even if I think they might have the doohickey at Best Buy, hell no, seriously, fuck Best Buy.
posted by /\/\/\/ at 12:54 PM on November 26, 2014 [52 favorites]


Radio Shack seems to mark up their adapters, cables and other basic but necessary things less than Best Buy. Amazon and Monoprice always beat them, but that's what a national network of warehouses and massive scale without needing to maintain physical stores does.

I hope they do stay around in some form, but it's hard to see them becoming any form that'd be that likable. I don't want them to be a cell phone or TV store any more than they already are, but the hobbyist electronics and adapters probably can't make the money to pay the bills on their own.
posted by mccarty.tim at 1:01 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


No really, this is the kind of commercial enterprise that could deserve a serious subsidy or tax benefit, IF they maintained their parts inventory at a suitable level. There are much better places to order parts but if you need a resistor, odd connector or say a 555 IC on a sunday afternoon, well that is a true benefit to humanity.
posted by sammyo at 1:02 PM on November 26, 2014 [14 favorites]


Not enough people realize how soul crushing and unsustainable a life working strip-mall retail is. Or they've lived it, and think that everyone else should feel that same pain. It doesn't really matter if their business outlook is untenable or not, they've developed a corporate policy to treat their employees like absolute garbage.

I worked in a chain bookstore for too long, ad like Jon didn't realize how bad it was until they let me go. Nothing as bad as what they go through at Radio Shack, but it was still a working environment where the DM would randomly call the store to make sure you answered the phone with only his approved phrasing, and if you broke it down by hourly rate, the ass mans were making less than the part timers.
posted by thecjm at 1:03 PM on November 26, 2014 [23 favorites]


Does anyone really think that the corporate HQ that built the culture described in this article is every going to live up to your dreams of this cozy little shop where you get all your Makerbot needs and rub shoulders with the Woz while digging through a bucket of capacitors?

Every mention of Radio Shack on the blue is full of this rose-tinted 1970's silicon valley view of the store, and has no real bearing on how useless (and dare I say corporately evil) they've been for the past few decades.
posted by thecjm at 1:09 PM on November 26, 2014 [57 favorites]


Jon Bois you are a national treasure
posted by hellojed at 1:12 PM on November 26, 2014 [10 favorites]


I remember Radio Shack from the early 1960's when it was catering to radio hams and electronics hobbyists. That was a big enough thing to support one or two stores in a city the size of Portand back then.

It had the hobby-shop vibe, where the men who worked there were obviously themselves into the hobby. My brother and I used to buy bags of unsorted, unlabeled transistors, 100 per bag for a couple bucks, and take them home and test them on a home-made beta tester to see how good they were.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:12 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


It's absolutely fascinating that Radio Shack is opening at 8 AM, closing at noon, and then opening again from 5 till midnight. Every other store mentioned is opening at 5 and 6 PM on Thanksgiving, which is bad enough. What on earth could anyone possibly need to buy at Radio Shack between 8 AM and noon on Thanksgiving Day? It's fucking sadistic is what it is. Just absolutely obscene.

Black Friday is like my personal rage porn, though. Only two years ago I worked retail on Thanksgiving (not normal for the company, but normal for my particular store since a lot of the customers were foreign tourists who don't celebrate Thanksgiving). I worked for four hours, something like 3-7 PM, just long enough to keep me from going home to my family in Sacramento. (I also worked at 4 AM the next morning, and I think those were my only two shifts that week.) People would bring in stuff for a Thanksgiving potluck in the breakroom. Apparently it was like a tradition for the CEO to come in for a store visit every year on Thanksgiving (before presumably going home to Thanksgiving dinner with his own family), and the longtime employees were all whispering about how last year he went into the breakroom and ate the last of the turkey. They were still angry about it. Just... ugh.
posted by sunset in snow country at 1:13 PM on November 26, 2014 [27 favorites]


I'm also lucky that I live in a city where I can go to Active Surplus, which pretty much eliminates the need for RadioShack/The Source.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:13 PM on November 26, 2014 [6 favorites]


Not enough people realize how soul crushing and unsustainable a life working strip-mall retail is.

this is a good time to remember to be thoughtful and kind to retail and service workers as we approach the WInter Spending Festival.
posted by thelonius at 1:14 PM on November 26, 2014 [49 favorites]


The problem with Radio Shack is that whatever you need, that shelf space is always empty. And so are the shelf spaces that once contained anything you could substitute for the thing you need that they do not have. Very frustrating.
posted by elizilla at 1:16 PM on November 26, 2014 [6 favorites]


RadioShack gave in just a little: after originally planning to open from 8 a.m. to midnight on Thanksgiving

This is when government needs to step in and say "Nope. We're done here children. You abused the discretion we gave you and it's time for the adults to step in and fix this shit. Nobody works on thanksgiving anymore".
posted by Talez at 1:26 PM on November 26, 2014 [48 favorites]


The last time I went in my local Radio Shack, it was to buy a replacement USB cord. The clerk started to ring up the purchase, then stopped and said, "you know, I can sell you this for $25, or you can go a few doors down to Big Lots, which probably has this in stock for $5." This turned out to be an accurate state of affairs.
posted by thomas j wise at 1:28 PM on November 26, 2014 [39 favorites]


I found them useful when I needed a phone dialtone generator and a 6.5536Mhz crystal; which would be circa 1994 a time when payphones dotted our great American landscape. Now, not so much.
posted by MiltonRandKalman at 1:32 PM on November 26, 2014 [23 favorites]


Pipe dream: I'd love to see Radio Shack become a one-stop shop for tech DIY needs.

If they coupled each store with a classroom in which you learned to put together the shit you bought in the store, I'd shop/learn in a place like that. Buy all the shit you need to put a kit together, then go put the fucker together in the classroom with other beginners. Parent-and-child classes. Retiree classes. Classes closely couple with electronics classes offered elsewhere each semester.
posted by pracowity at 1:34 PM on November 26, 2014 [9 favorites]


> This is when government needs to step in and say "Nope. We're done here children. You abused the discretion we gave you and it's time for the adults to step in and fix this shit. Nobody works on thanksgiving anymore".

Government needs to do this for a lot of shit.
posted by The Card Cheat at 1:40 PM on November 26, 2014 [37 favorites]


What on earth could anyone possibly need to buy at Radio Shack between 8 AM and noon on Thanksgiving Day?

You act like nobody ever gets a last minute impulse to truss their turkey with a coaxial cable
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:41 PM on November 26, 2014 [52 favorites]


Pipe dream: I'd love to see Radio Shack become a one-stop shop for tech DIY needs.

Pipe Dream: I'd love to see Home Depot and Lowes start carrying the tech/maker DIY parts so that RadioShack can finally vanish from the landscape. Like half an aisle is all I ask.
posted by Xyanthilous P. Harrierstick at 1:42 PM on November 26, 2014 [13 favorites]


I was in a Radio Shack yesterday buying a couple of batteries for my wife's VW remote key fob. While I was waiting for surfer dude to finish in line, I browsed the selection of soldering irons and resistors and idly thought that this might be a cool place to get stuff for a DIY synth.

Then I got real. There's no way Radio Shack will stock or sell the parts to build a Moog clone when they have all that Casio inventory to move. Maybe in the seventies they would have (before they started selling the Realistic MG-1).
posted by infinitewindow at 1:45 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


I remember Radio Shack had a (vacuum) tube tester that you could use and then you could buy replacement tubes. Radio Shack was also totally on point during the CB radio craze, good buddy. It's a shame they missed the boat on Maker/DIY. They were a great store in their day.
posted by Rob Rockets at 1:53 PM on November 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


When I was a kid, there were two Radio Shacks in my town: the one downtown was where all the middle-aged electronics geeks would hang out messing around with various doodads; and the slicker one in the mall with its prominently displayed Tandy computers and noisemaking toys. I remember the first time I realized that both of these stores were called Radio Shack. It was always so obvious which one someone was talking about, I'd never noticed that they had the same name. Even the signs were different - one looked like that of an appliance store that had been around since the 50s; the other one looked like a computer store. They were two different models of consumers' relationship with electronics -- one active, one passive.

I keep wishing for the world to return to the old Radio Shack. But electronics are too cheap now; it's cheaper to replace them than to repair them. And outside of certain pockets of dedicated hobbyists, the world is hurtling so quickly in the other direction.
posted by roll truck roll at 1:54 PM on November 26, 2014 [7 favorites]


After looking at their Value Line sheet about a year ago, I seriously considered shorting them, even though shorts are not a part of my investment strategy. Hindsight, yada-yada ...
posted by ZenMasterThis at 1:55 PM on November 26, 2014


I'm sure most of y'all didn't read the first link, which is understandable because it's very long, but if you have the time, please do. It's great and it's worth it.

If I were the MacArthur Genius Grant committee, I'd give out awards to these four people, in no particular order:

1) Richard Simmons
2) Jon Bois
3) Michael Kupperman
4) Ta-Nehisi Coates
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 1:57 PM on November 26, 2014 [25 favorites]


So I live in New York and just started doing hobbyist electronics. I don't know where I'd get a last-second diode if not RadioShack or the less convenient Tinkersphere. So the tradition lives on at least here.
posted by dame at 1:57 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


I used to go to Radio Shack a fair lot. I wasn't keeping them in business singlehandedly or anything, but I suspect people like me probably represented a decent portion of their customer base.

The first big, major corporate misstep I remember was that predatory marketing policy, where they'd demand all your personal information to shop there.

It was a very very long time ago that I went into a Radio Shack to buy a Y-connector, with cash, and the cashier got really really mad and told me he couldn't sell it to me until I provided my name, address, and phone number, or some subset of that information. And I mean, that was a LONG time ago, but I was horrified enough by the encounter that I still remember it was a Y-connector I was trying to buy. I walked out, leaving the connector on the counter, with the salesguy still yelling at me, and probably didn't step inside a Radio Shack for close to ten years.

I mean, that kind of policy is ridiculously consumer hostile regardless, but there is such a huge overlap between privacy advocates and tech hobbyists that it was particularly dunderheaded for Radio Shack.

Electronics have rapidly and steadily become more disposable, so the market of people buying DIY or replacement parts is probably shrinking, but it looks to me like they put all their eggs in the 'disposable electronics' basket. It rarely even occurs to me to check Radio Shack when I need cables or wires or adapters or other electronics parts now. They used to be the first place I checked. I would totally pay a reasonable premium to be able to walk in and get what I needed that day, but the few times I've looked, all they had was a bunch of cheap, pre-fabricated plastic gadgets in the front and a paltry selection of cables and stuff in clamshell packaging in the back, all watched over by predatory salespeople.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:02 PM on November 26, 2014 [13 favorites]


I just have to point out that the second article is called "Hedge Fund Monarch Said to End Talks on RadioShack Loan." The phrasing seems like there is a King of Hedge Funds who has cancelled diplomacy on RadioShack.
posted by graymouser at 2:02 PM on November 26, 2014 [20 favorites]


This is a really really good article. Thanks so much for posting it.
posted by Greg Nog at 2:03 PM on November 26, 2014


Did anyone actually read the link? Because this is an article about how a poorly a well-known brand treats its front-line employees, and this thread is more about how fun it was to buy diodes 30+ years ago.
posted by thecjm at 2:04 PM on November 26, 2014 [40 favorites]


This is the Brum Song, I guess
posted by theodolite at 2:04 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


I've never been a Radio Shack that had the parts to build or fix a radio.
posted by Metafilter Username at 2:05 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


> So I live in New York and just started doing hobbyist electronics. I don't know where I'd get a last-second diode if not RadioShack or the less convenient Tinkersphere. So the tradition lives on at least here.

I just assumed that in New York you could call some guy at 3 AM and he'd bicycle over with a 741 op-amp and a bag of weed. Not so?
posted by benito.strauss at 2:08 PM on November 26, 2014 [29 favorites]


I felt sorry for Radioshack until I read the first link. Now I would boycott them, if I ever shopped there in the first place.
posted by General Tonic at 2:10 PM on November 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


There's no way Radio Shack will stock or sell the parts to build a Moog clone when they have all that Casio inventory to move. Maybe in the seventies they would have (before they started selling the Realistic MG-1).

I had an MG-1 for a while! It was a limited little thing, but it was my first analog synth, and I loved it to pieces. Great for bass patches.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:15 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


"Good night, Radio Shack."
"Good night, Jon Bois."
posted by kyrademon at 2:16 PM on November 26, 2014 [34 favorites]


In contrast to everyone else in this thread whose RadioShacks have apparently gone totally untouched by the ravages of time since the eighties, every time I've gone to Radio Shack looking for a doohickey or a gizmo in the last few years, they haven't had it. Usually I am informed of this by some tired-looking teenager who is very apologetic and seems kind of embarrassed by how little stuff the store actually does carry.

I feel like there's a market space for a store that is full of parts and adapters and gizmos, and Radio Shack already has carved out its brand-name-space in my head as being that store based on the decades in my youth when that's more like what it was, but in the present reality, at least in my neck of the woods, it seems like instead of finding their own niche they just decided to do a winner-take-all marketshare-competition deathmatch with Best Buy by trying to occupy exactly the same retail niche (that niche being "store that egregiously upsells you on the latest smart phones and consumer-ready gadgets"). Neither chain seems to be doing particularly well on that strategy. (And I note that being open on Thanksgiving seems completely unnecessary for an electronic parts-and-gewgaws store and very much necessary for a BUY THE IPHONE 6GS++ HERE!!! store.) And in the meantime, when I just need an adapter or a new part for a thing, I almost invariably end up having to order it online.
posted by mstokes650 at 2:18 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


I have had three days of work at Target so far, including about an hour on register. My next shift is Thursday evening when the store opens for 5 hours of cashiering. Pray for my survival.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:22 PM on November 26, 2014 [47 favorites]


PS I can't believe I forgot to brag about this, but I still have a CueCat somewhere around here, modified to be used as a regular barcode scanner. After Radio Shack is all the way dead, I should be able to sell it to some nostalgic nerd for like a million dollars.
posted by ernielundquist at 2:22 PM on November 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


It was a very very long time ago that I went into a Radio Shack to buy a Y-connector, with cash, and the cashier got really really mad and told me he couldn't sell it to me until I provided my name, address, and phone number, or some subset of that information.

I remember when Circuit City used to do that stuff too and look where they are.

A pet store that I shop at has started doing something similar (if you want to use their rewards program) and I'll likely stop going there. Not sure why I need to announce my phone number in front of strangers just to get some random discount.
posted by fuse theorem at 2:23 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Did anyone actually read the link? Because this is an article about how a poorly a well-known brand treats its front-line employees, and this thread is more about how fun it was to buy diodes 30+ years ago.

It is sometimes the case that the article is interesting, but either covers the topic so well that further discussion doesn't seem productive, or there are related topics that are practically searching for a way to get themselves talked about. I think this is one of those times. Several people have said the article is great, but not elaborated on it. While everyone laments what Radio Shack has become, it is a classic case of clueless management failing to move with the times, and both people who have read, and those who haven't, think that's worth talking about.
posted by JHarris at 2:23 PM on November 26, 2014 [9 favorites]


I'm really, really far from the type of guy who'd get in a loud, heated argument with a manager at The Source, but recently....there I was.

I miss the Radio Shack of my youth.
posted by davebush at 2:24 PM on November 26, 2014


Good luck, Pope Guilty!
posted by JHarris at 2:25 PM on November 26, 2014


I feel like people in the "maker/diy" scene vastly overestimate the size/demand of that scene.
posted by Ferreous at 2:25 PM on November 26, 2014 [36 favorites]


I spent my life knowing Radio Shack were shit, and made shitty microphones and overcharged for cables.

But last summer, I was in the Chicago suburbs looking everywhere for Arctic Silver thermal paste, and they were the only place that had it in a physical store to pick up and take home that day. I was shocked looking at how useful they were when I went in.

Like a little flare-up of utility before the fire goes out,
posted by C.A.S. at 2:26 PM on November 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


> After Radio Shack is all the way dead, I should be able to sell [a CueCat] to some nostalgic nerd for like a million dollars.

Hate to disappoint you, but the previously-mentioned Active Surplus bought up cases of these things, and they are likely to continue selling them for $15 until they are gone.
posted by scruss at 2:26 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


The day Radio Shack decided it needed personal information from anyone who made purchase at the register is the day I lost all interest in their survival. Nowadays no one thinks twice about demanding your zip code or phone number in order to sell you gum for a quarter, but those fuckers were early adopters.

Despite the fact that they are the cheapest tech-parts store in many places, and the ONLY parts store for quasi-esoteric parts, I'll shed no tears when they're dead. Which will happen in the next few years, I'm certain.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:29 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'd like to think that, after reading about how they treat their staff, people would be less likely to say things like, "I wish Radio Shack sold me things I want like they used to, so I could have a reason to shop there again," and instead the sentiment would be more along the lines of, "Now that Radio Shack has dug their own grave, I'd love for someone new to be like the Radio Shack of old and sell me the things I want."
posted by thecjm at 2:29 PM on November 26, 2014 [33 favorites]


This is when government needs to step in and say "Nope. We're done here children. You abused the discretion we gave you and it's time for the adults to step in and fix this shit. Nobody works on thanksgiving anymore".

The only job I had in which I had to work on Thanksgiving and Christmas was in a hotel. If you had to work on the holiday, you would be paid 2.5x your regular wage. Because my department didn't require a full staff on these holidays, there was only a skeleton crew and people with the most seniority usually requested to work that day because it was a) you got paid 2.5x your regular pay and b) it was slow so you didn't actually do much "work" that day. This was a union gig so the regular pay was $10 more than the then minimum wage. So I was pretty lucky.

I don't think the government needs to require businesses to close on holidays but they should enact some sort of holiday pay rule that would reward employees that are stuck working (or make it too expensive for the company to be open). I actually enjoy the convenience of having stores/restaurants/hotels/movie theaters open, but would like to see the people working there to be paid a premium to do so.

On the radio this morning, I heard an ad for a Ford dealer that was going to open at 5am on Friday for its big Black Friday sale. Who the fuck needs to buy a car at 5am? No one needs to buy shit for a holiday a month away tomorrow or Friday either. The scary part is how certain sectors rely on this whole Thanksgiving/Black Friday sales to make their numbers for the year.

I feel sorry for the people at Radio Shack because they'll have to work tomorrow and it is unlikely they'll be paid a premium. I would also be surprised if the rank and file at the stores would get holiday pay even if they got tomorrow off. That is one thing about the low wage jobs, if they're closed the employees don't get paid anything and getting a 20% lighter check really hurts the household income. If there's a saving grace, at least they won't have to deal with a lot of customers.
posted by birdherder at 2:30 PM on November 26, 2014 [12 favorites]


Specialty box retail stores and all walking dead and if you have ever worked at one you will smile and piss on their grave when they die.

I get that yeah maybe at one point places like this served a purpose and were a community hub, but now they are literally machines designed to grind pain into people who work for them for no other reason than "we can"

Retail stores like radio shack and it's ilk are all about squeezing pointless labor out of people because "god dammit we pay them we own them."

At least the people being ground down in amazon distribution centers are actually accomplishing something.
posted by Ferreous at 2:32 PM on November 26, 2014 [9 favorites]


Radio Shack seems to get picked on because, you know, nerrrrrrrrrrds. That article, and many others like it, and the entire downfall of the strip mall specialty store isn't unique to Radio Shack at all.

I probably still have a battery club card sitting around here somewhere. Monthly family excursions to the shack to stock up on free batteries isn't exactly the fondest memory, but puts a small smile on the face still.
posted by splen at 2:33 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


I waited patiently in line at Payless Shoe Source the other day. The cashier asked each person in line for their phone number. Each person obliged without hesitation. I got to the front of the line, and after ringing up my $1.59 pair of shoelaces, the cashier asked for my phone number.

I reminded myself that she was just doing her job, and refrained from answering with the response that the question deserves. "I'd rather not" is my standard line, so I said that instead.

Did anyone actually read the link?

Yes. It's a really good article. I'm tempted to take some kind of treat to the employees of my local Radio Shack tomorrow, but that would probably be awkward.

I, too, have fond youthful memories of Radio Shack: saving up my allowance for weeks to buy the Realistic knockoff of the Casio SK-1 sampler; begging my parents for a pair of green plastic walkie-talkies; poring over the circuit books and breadboards in fascination; buying components to build a red box (eliciting a knowing remark from the cashier); picking up audio patch cables, MIDI cables, motors, whatever I needed quickly and cheaply for a project.

Now? I don't even know what they sell. On the rare occasions I go in (usually to buy an audio cable or a weird battery), there's just a lot of flimsy home-theater equipment that no one in their right mind would buy, a rack of cell phone accessories, and a few of those same damn remote-control toys that they seem to have been selling (well, offering for sale) since 1982.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 2:35 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


What on earth could anyone possibly need to buy at Radio Shack between 8 AM and noon on Thanksgiving Day?
Dog ate the HDMI cable/remote/other radom tv-viewing dohickey!
posted by King Sky Prawn at 2:37 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


There used to a White Castle in a shopping center on Broadway in Astoria. Now it's a Radio Shack. Your guess is as good as mine.
posted by jonmc at 2:45 PM on November 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


It's a great and sad article. Like a biography of cancer from inside the tumor. It's such a decrepit place now.

Once walked into a Radio Shack (early 90's) and an old couple who were dressed like central casting's idea of swingers (geriatric hot pants on both of them, no lie), had brought in their Polaroid instamatic saying that it's batteries were low.

The helpful but clueless clerk had completely dismantled the camera looking for the battery when I informed him that the battery was in the film itself.


Radioshak: you have questions? Well... so do we.
posted by asavage at 2:46 PM on November 26, 2014 [28 favorites]


PS I can't believe I forgot to brag about this, but I still have a CueCat somewhere around here, modified to be used as a regular barcode scanner. After Radio Shack is all the way dead, I should be able to sell it to some nostalgic nerd for like a million dollars.

When you find that guy, ask him if he has a rich friend... although I love my cuecat, such a cute and wildly insane concept.
posted by Huck500 at 2:46 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Escape from the potato planet, I can't explain why the Radio Shack in upscale Marina Del Rey has 25% of its open-plan shelf space devoted to DIY, while the grimy one in Mission Hills is all phones all the time.

I feel bad for the plight of the Radio Shack employees, especially the guy who helped me yesterday and didn't ask for my phone. I don't have a lot of options to help them with their job situations in a way that will make them feel better.
posted by infinitewindow at 2:48 PM on November 26, 2014


There are all of the obvious reasons that Radio Shack is fading away, yes, but there is also the fact that some person or people in corporate HQ thinks it makes good business sense to open all of their stores on Thanksgiving morning when, okay, maybe a few people in town absolutely need something that Radio Shack carries (but Walmart does not) right now, dammit -- and that opening all of their stores just for those few potential sales actually makes enough sense to justify the costs of keeping all of their stores open and paying all of their employees' wages for the day.

Black Friday is called Black Friday because it's the day when stores finally make a profit. I predict that, in the annals of Radio Shack history, tomorrow will forever be known as Red Thursday.
posted by mudpuppie at 2:49 PM on November 26, 2014 [4 favorites]


It just struck me, right now, about 45 minutes after reading it, how much Bois's article reminds me of a slightly less humorous and more plainly delivered George Saunders story.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 2:50 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


The last time I was in a Radio Shack, a befuddled tourist was talking to a stoned employee. "Which one is best? Which one should I buy?" the tourist asked, holding two high-end headphone sets in his hands.

"Dude, I don't know. I work at Radio Shack," shrugged the employee.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 2:53 PM on November 26, 2014 [14 favorites]


A single Radio Shack drone-port could service most of a city. Small electronic and computer parts seems like it could be the killer app for drone delivery, initially.
posted by stbalbach at 2:56 PM on November 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


Hobby electronics and the maker culture aren't huge, but they're a thing again. I'd think someone could make it work...

It could, it really could. The Radio Shack of the 70s would be perfect for it. The end of the article has an ad, typewritten and from a forgotten age of the store, that claims its employees are all knowledgeable "hams," ham radio operators. Imagine a store that sold electronics parts and kits, where the people there could tell you how to use them, could provide advice on what's wrong with your project, who could even tutor newbies on how to get involved, who could show off their own creations. That would be amazing, and it seems that, once, Radio Shack was that kind of company.

If they had been on their game, then they could have been big players in the hackerspace thing. They could have provided space in which to work, adult supervision for kids getting involved, help to people working on their stuff, and incidentally selling those people all the supplies they would need. You can find information on the internet, but there is no substitute for a physically present, interested, helpful, knowledgeable teacher. Sort of like a Games Workshop store, except actually teaching people something useful.

The culture moved out from under Radio Shack, and instead of keeping those guys on or training new ones they just hired anyone they could find and pushed high margin items like phones and batteries. Now the old days might actually be back, but no one in the company's management has the wit to see it.
posted by JHarris at 2:59 PM on November 26, 2014 [6 favorites]


I hit a Radio Shack in Cuzco a couple of years ago and had by far the best service I've ever had in a consumer electronics electronics store anywhere. And the sales guy and I didn't even share a language. If I still got that service in the US I would still be a customer.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 3:04 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


I remember applying for a job at the local Radio Shack when I was living up in Duluth at the tender age of 19. I showed up for the interview and proceeded to get berated by the manager for not wearing a tie. I got so flustered I could barely even answer any of the questions he threw at me over the next 15 minutes.

It was the best interview I ever biffed. Based on everything I've heard since then, it was a good thing I did flub it.
posted by surazal at 3:09 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Did anyone actually read the link? Because this is an article about how a poorly a well-known brand treats its front-line employees, and this thread is more about how fun it was to buy diodes 30+ years ago.

That article does intimate, at least to some people, that their poor treatment of customers tracked pretty closely and intersected with their poor treatment of employees. There was a clear trend of Radio Shack employees becoming increasingly hostile and and incompetent, and that was probably not coincidental.

It is all about the trickle down effect of a bad corporate business model.

BTW, I am now going to buy all the surplus CueCats in the world and open a physical store called "The One Million Dollar CueCat Store" and sell them, as advertised, for one million dollars each, so ha ha.
posted by ernielundquist at 3:09 PM on November 26, 2014 [8 favorites]


Imagine a store that sold electronics parts and kits, where the people there could tell you how to use them, could provide advice on what's wrong with your project, who could even tutor newbies on how to get involved, who could show off their own creations. That would be amazing, and it seems that, once, Radio Shack was that kind of company.

The culture moved out from under Radio Shack, and instead of keeping those guys on or training new ones they just hired anyone they could find and pushed high margin items like phones and batteries. Now the old days might actually be back, but no one in the company's management has the wit to see it.

Those kinds of employees would be worth easily 60-75k+ to any other company. Radio Shack decided it didn't want to invest in retaining those people, and has held on this long by flogging its remaining employees to death with poverty level wages for pushing cheap Chinese crap. Could that DIY business model maybe work again now? Sure. Could it be done by Radio Shack at this point? Eff no.
posted by T.D. Strange at 3:10 PM on November 26, 2014 [9 favorites]


It's not worth a full post, but this seems like a good place to drop a link to .pdfs of every issue of Popular Electronics from 1954 to 1982.

There's also .pdfs of a certain Small Systems Journal.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:12 PM on November 26, 2014 [20 favorites]


At least in my experience, you can get the reasonably knowledgeable employees, decent customer service, and most computer widgets at a Fry's. I assume they must pay at least a little better than average retail, if only just for the guys manning the widget desks, since the employees I see in them always seem to have a reasonable command of where things are and don't look like they want to kill themselves.

By contrast, I think of Radio Shack as the place you go if your headphones die on vacation, you're in the boonies, and you can't find anywhere else. Much like Borders and Sears, it's been a lumbering mall zombie for a while, and probably for more or less the same reasons.
posted by tautological at 3:25 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you want a RadioShack that actually sells useful stuff, try Fry's. They probably have what you need, even if you didn't know you needed it.
posted by feloniousmonk at 3:28 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Here's my Radio Shack story. I worked there in the late 80s. Great times. Tandy Computers that really stretched the definition of "compatible". Speakers that would not work if you had a printer connected but not turned on, that sort of thing. The remote control toys that were massive sellers - incredibly cheap, really, until you factored in the batteries required (oh, the battery sales - they kept the lights on). The "spiffs" you'd get - micro commissions for selling discontinued items. And the night the store exploded when a large bucket some genius had hidden on the ceiling tiles at least a year earlier to catch a leak finally filled with water and came crashing ten feet to the ground.

But the best part was the management training. Once a week for two months, I headed an hour out of my way to a 9:30 training session with all the other hopefuls. I always got odd looks when I walked in, and a few snide comments about being the last to the table. Until the last day, for the exam, when someone finally pointed out that the sessions started at 9am. Half an hour late, I still finished the exam before anyone else, and I found afterwards I had scored the highest mark. I had known nothing about electronics before being hired, but I could still run circles around the rest of the staff. And that's when I realized I needed to find another line of work.

I can't imagine anything improved in thirty years.
posted by GhostintheMachine at 3:36 PM on November 26, 2014 [17 favorites]


These days, I pretty much just go to Radio Shack for the cool bezels I haven't found another source for and solder.

[Also, I have to work a retail shift tomorrow, but on the plus side time-and-a-half]
posted by drezdn at 3:40 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


The cashier asked each person in line for their phone number. Each person obliged without hesitation.

I don't mind people asking, plus it can be amusing to see whether they react when I tell them "(666) 666-4355."
posted by mr. digits at 3:48 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


This article owns, the old guy calling was the best
posted by rubadub at 3:54 PM on November 26, 2014 [8 favorites]


I can't post the link on my iPhone into this textbox but a San Diego Assemblywoman is introducing legislation to require stores open on Thanksgiving and Christmas to pay their employees double. It is a start.
posted by birdherder at 3:57 PM on November 26, 2014 [8 favorites]


I don't mind people asking, plus it can be amusing to see whether they react when I tell them "(666) 666-4355."

When they used to ask for ZIP codes, I'd always say '12345'. One time a clerk called me on it and asked what city that is for. Fortunately, I was prepared.

There used to be a lone Radio Shack in a nearly abandoned outdoor mall managed by an older gentleman who always reminded me of the guy in the Spirograph factory. One time I went there with my brother and he asked if either of us had a computer, then handed us each two or three CueCats dismissively remarking that they were "for computers".
posted by RonButNotStupid at 4:01 PM on November 26, 2014 [8 favorites]


I didn't work retail but I've had two jobs where I had to work on holidays, and the sting was always offset by the 2.5X pay. I'm guessing these people are not getting holiday pay for working on a holiday? We'd usually get enough volunteers to cover the holiday shifts.
posted by Hazelsmrf at 4:01 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


When I went back to school in the late 80s/early 90s I did a couple holiday seasons at Radio Shack. Staff back then was mostly laid back. Our manager was a retail die hard but he was decent to work for. We had a ton of remote control and electronic toys. There was this bear that repeated everything you said. Of course, we had to keep one out of the box with batteries in it so the thing would sell itself. It got old very fast. All you had to do was walk by and say something, the bear would play it back. You did not mutter things like "I just wish all these fucking people would leave." All of the employees hated it but we never mentioned it in front of our boss. Like I said, he was a die hard.

Christmas Eve we're just closing up the doors. One of the guys was shutting the gate and we were ready to race to the back door and get back to our real lives. The manager frantically waves the guy at the gate to stop. He grabs the goddamn bear, runs to the front of the store and punts the sonofabitch straight out into the dark maw of the mall. "Last time I'll have to hear that fucking thing. Now shut that gate and let's get the hell outa here," he said. I laughed my ass off all the way home.
posted by Ber at 4:02 PM on November 26, 2014 [30 favorites]


I can't post the link on my iPhone into this textbox but a San Diego Assemblywoman is introducing legislation to require stores open on Thanksgiving and Christmas to pay their employees double. It is a start.

Lorena Gonzalez introduced the legislation.

Editorial from her.

posted by zabuni at 4:03 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


When they used to ask for ZIP codes, I'd always say '12345'

I wonder how much you can suss out about someone's age/demographics that way. What's your fake address and phone?

Is their zip code 12345 or 90210 ?
Phone 555-1234 or 867-5309 ?
123 Main Street, or 21 Jump Street, or 1313 Mockingbird Lane?

Protip: I find that often someone has signed up for the free discount program using these, and so I'll always say "867-5309" rather than "fuck off."
posted by tyllwin at 4:20 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


Did anyone actually read the link? Because this is an article about how a poorly a well-known brand treats its front-line employees, and this thread is more about how fun it was to buy diodes 30+ years ago.

You don't see how the two things are connected? It's a great article, but the remembrances here of what it was like to shop there before it turned to shit are, to my eyes, just emphasizing what the article is saying.

I can first remember going there as a kid, so maybe early 1980s, and the guys working there (and they were all guys) were total Hollywood-casting nerds who knew exactly where to find a specific relay my father needed to jury rig something on the car. I hope they all became sysadmins and retired early from cashing in their stock options because they absolutely deserved better than what the stores turned into just a few years later.

For a few months, I worked with this guy I'll call Craig. He was a guy in his fifties who had been making lots of money growing pot out in the country until the feds busted him and took it all, and he mostly preferred to stand around and crack jokes about TV shows I'd never seen. Every day, halfway through his shift, he'd happily announce that he was going to go "take [his] medicine," and then sit in his car and get extraordinarily stoned and become Stoned Craig

Everyone has worked with Craig. Sometimes I've worked with several Craigs at once.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:21 PM on November 26, 2014 [8 favorites]


As usual, The Onion nailed it years ago: Even CEO Can't Figure Out How RadioShack Still In Business
posted by zardoz at 4:31 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


they seem to have backed off from the phone number thing, or at least, the one near me did
posted by thelonius at 4:31 PM on November 26, 2014


This article seems a bit unsportsmanlike, kicking someone when they're already down. But it's probably fair enough to show what working at RS was like, since anybody who shopped there recently, already knows how bad it sucked from the customer's point of view.

The last good thing about RS is that they'd take any battery for recycling. Of course it was just a scam to get customers to come in and buy new batteries. I dumped plenty of junked batteries there over the years, some of them were probably worth good money. The big ni-cads I dumped from my old 1980s brick phone must have weighed several pounds and made a few bucks at a recycler. And I felt good that I was keeping hazardous waste out of the environment, especially those little watch batteries with mercury in them. For all I know, they just threw them all in the trash, but at least I tried.

The last time I went shopping at RS, I needed a watch battery for my Canon Wordtank. I had a few dead old batteries saved up, so I decided to hit the RS and dump them in recycling, and pick up a replacement. I was surprised that the one tiny little battery cost about $4. Then I went to the grocery store next door. I walked past the battery shelf, and was stunned to see the batteries cost less than $2. I marched right back to the RS and demanded a refund. The clerk was like, "oh whatever."

Yeah, I spent plenty of money at RS back in the 70s and 80s, on antennas and CB parts and resistors and diodes. That stuff used to be incredibly difficult to find. But I don't think I have bought anything from them in the last 15 years.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:41 PM on November 26, 2014


They should at least have to make working on a holiday truly worth your while. Working on Thanksgiving, frequently one of the only times each year when you can see your family together, should be worth at least quintuple or sextuple time. Working on Christmas should get you duodecuple time in honor of the twelve days of Christmas. If I'm a store clerk and you want me to sell your shit on Christmas, I'm definitely going to need 12 times my normal rate. Ho fucking ho, mister assistant sub junior trainee wannabe wallaby manager in charge of scheduling while the actual boss is on holiday.
posted by pracowity at 4:45 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


If you want a RadioShack that actually sells useful stuff, try Fry's.

That's great if you live in California. It's a long drive for the rest of us.
posted by octothorpe at 4:48 PM on November 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


When they used to ask for ZIP codes, I'd always say '12345'

General Electric Co.
Schenectady, NY 12345
posted by mikelieman at 4:51 PM on November 26, 2014


Thanks for posting those links zabuni.
posted by birdherder at 4:52 PM on November 26, 2014


123 Main Street, or 21 Jump Street, or 1313 Mockingbird Lane?

I usually give 1060 W. Addison, Chicago IL 60613.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:53 PM on November 26, 2014 [22 favorites]


Protip: I find that often someone has signed up for the free discount program using these, and so I'll always say "867-5309" rather than "fuck off."

That number is being used too. Whatever, the fake number ploy is problematic when the register clerk is using it to pull up your record in their computer system. Since multiple names will likely come up, next they'll want your address or zip code and again this info is being announced in front of other customers. You will have to have memorized a whole set of fake and somewhat unique info to make it work and to me it's not worth the hassle.
posted by fuse theorem at 4:57 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


My last time at the local electronics parts store, the guy behind the counter got a robocall, and ended up screaming "I hope you die!" into the phone, over and over. I was in there once when an attractive woman started shopping... she got oozed over by the entire staff and probably had to shower afterwards. Ugh. Not going back.

Rad shack has had the little items I need, more often than not. It's been nice.
posted by underflow at 4:59 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


I was in Radio Shack the other week, and they actually had a nice selection of Arduino, Beagleboard and Make kits. Late to the party, but they at least showed up.
posted by zamboni at 5:00 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


Can we have mandatory national holidays in the U.S. for most kinds of businesses yet? (or, as someone above proposed, mandatory holiday bonus pay/overtime pay if those holidays are worked?)
posted by JauntyFedora at 5:01 PM on November 26, 2014


Former store manager here. I'm not much motivated tonight to explain a lot of things necessary to understand the issues involved in discussing the things that people are discussing here, so instead I'll just bullet point the most important factors.
 
  • European "Tandy" stores and Canadian "Radio Shack" stores were, by the 80s, almost completely independent of US Radio Shack. They'd been part of, IIRC, "Tandy International" and had long been a separate division, but I think that in the 80s they'd actually spun-off from Tandy proper, though there was still some ownership stake. So this was more branding than being the actually same stores of the actually same company -- which matters in terms of generalizing about anything called "Radio Shack" or "Tandy" on the basis of US "Radio Shack", Canadian "Radio Shack", or European "Tandy" stores. In the 80s, for example, Canadian RS and European Tandy stores sold a wide range of name-brand consumer electronics -- US Radio Shack didn't. And US Radio Shack didn't because the core Tandy model was to make money by selling Tandy brands that were, in fact, manufactured in Tandy factories. Everything I wrote from this point on will be about US Radio Shack.
  • Radio Shack was originally a hobbyist store. By the 80s, they were deep in the transition from the more modest hobbyist retail chain to a consumer electronics retail chain. But all those parts were a relic of the hobbyist era and they were problematic with regard to the transition. The older customers and the hobbyists relied upon those parts, and they were part of RS's brand, but they took up a lot of warehouse, stockroom, and floor space, not to mention sales effort and time, that could more profitably be used for the much more expensive consumer electronics. The margin on the parts was huge, but they were generally so cheap that it didn't really matter. But all those parts were, during my day and up until the early 90s, required to be stocked at a certain minimal level at all stores, regardless of the store's sales patterns. So, up until the early 90s, you could reliably go into any Radio Shack and get whatever particular resistor or transistor or capacitor or whatever that you needed. Until they changed that policy.
  • The financial model of US Radio Shack up to the early 90s was that each store was its own profit center with each manager having a large amount of autonomy that was coupled to the manager's income. There was a mostly negligible hourly wage, but the majority of a manger's pay was in the form of the bonus. And the bonus was calculated on the basis of the store's profit margin and sales. For a top district store, which in those days was usually a mall store, with annual sales in the millions (which isn't much relative to the big retail stores of these days, but was pretty good for small stores like a Radio Shack), a manager would probably make over a $100K. In 1988. This has implications for a whole bunch of things, such as the inventory stuff we were talking about. The managers who wanted to make as much money as possible, especially the mall store managers, hated all those electronic parts, for example. But it wasn't just that. Different kinds of consumer electronics and different models all had different margins, and managers who were really ambitious about profit margins would do everything they could to micromanage inventory and sales to maximinze their store's profit margin. That caused a lot of bad stuff that I won't go into (including crazy little things that happen when you're a new store manager such as other store managers trying to sneakily transfer low-margin stuff into your inventory). But it's relevant with regard to the whole parts inventory thing.
  • Similarly, during my time at Radio Shack in the late 80s, the retail employees were paid only a minimal hourly wage and relied upon sales commissions for the majority of their income. But if they were good at sales, and they worked at a higher-volume store, they could make much more money than most other retail salespeople anywhere. Before I became a store manager, I was the second highest ranked salesperson in my district. I worked at a mall store. But the highest ranked salesperson, also at the store where I worked, was a nineteen year old college freshman who made $23,000 in 1989 working part-time. Again, this sales paradigm had all sorts of effects on what it was like to shop at Radio Shack, and they were often bad. In my case, I struggled with learning how to sell, especially learning how to close, but eventually I emphasized actually doing my very best to get the customer the best possible solution to their problem (and to close them on that sale). I didn't up-sell when I didn't think it was best for the customer, and so on. Over time, I got more and more repeat customers, people who knew and trusted me. This was also the period when RS sold a lot of computers, which was my specialty, and each of those PC could be a $2,500 sale. But, anyway, the point is that with regard to income, back in those days it was pretty nice to work there, we made more money than the average retail clerk. And all the stores I worked at treated us pretty well, and when I managed a store, I tried very hard to treat my staff well. Not the least because now that my salary was dependent on their sales, it was to my benefit to get the best people and for them to be happy.
  • But that compensation model also changed in the early 90s. Both how the store managers were paid, and how the salespeople were paid. Both just went to the hourly wage model. And for the salespeople, that just became your bog-standard low retail wage.
  • With regard to the expertise of the salespeople, well, that varied. I grew up with the 70s Radio Shack hobbyist stuff; I first learned about electronics from the educational booklets they sold. I could reliably answer most questions and help people. And that was true for a good portion of the people I worked with, and was true of most (but not all) of the managers. But there were still a lot of people that didn't know much and it was just a retail job to them, could have been working anywhere.
  • As discussed elsewhere, Tandy is like McDonald's and 7-11 in having an enormous US real estate footprint. And it's not just that -- to deal with what it meant to own all these stores on all this property, Tandy ran its own security company for the store alarms, had to deal with all the insurance and utilities and everything else. The store manager had a surprising amount of responsibility about some of this stuff; but Tandy had (has?) a lot of overhead just owning all this property. Not to mention all the parts of the chain before the store, warehousing and, again, Tandy was a big manufacturer for a long time. The changes in the global economy have made all this untenable.
The bottom line is that the heyday of Radio Shack, which was the 80s, was only the heyday because it was a very limited time and place when RS's weird, transitional model could flourish. A hobbyist store could never have supported the growth of RS in the early 80s and Tandy's ambitions, and that's why they have been trying for thirty years to stop being a hobbyist store. But just by the time that they managed to stop being so much a hobbyist store and instead a consumer electronics store, they found that they were a consumer electronics store in a market segment of much better and more successful consumer electronics stores. And, worse, those other stores weren't stuck with the baggage of their own expensive, US-based manufacturing and store brands and whatnot and, even worse, they didn't the economies of scale of the larger stores. Several thousand small, strip mall stores is not how you build a retail consumer electronics juggernaut. It doesn't work. Tandy was behind on the global supply chains. And then you get the last fifteen years when it's barely possible to be profitable with a brick-and-mortar consumer electronics storefront at all.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 5:02 PM on November 26, 2014 [83 favorites]


When they used to ask for ZIP codes, I'd always say '12345'

I wonder how much you can suss out about someone's age/demographics that way. What's your fake address and phone?


The reason your ZIP code is most often asked for in retail is not for demographic purposes but for site selection. If shoppers are 2-zip codes over it tells the site people there's an appetite for the store in your ZIP. A secondary use can be to determine demographic data for many zip codes there's not to go on. You can see what your ZIP says about you here. My ZIP code has rich and poor, old and young, white and black/latino. In other words it is average.
posted by birdherder at 5:03 PM on November 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


There was a great Radio Shack I was at a few times in the 80s. It had the usual crap up front, but the back was split into two sections I'll call Computers and Accessories and Miscellaneous Parts, Doo-Dads, and Tools. It was great. It had all the things you hear everyone complain isn't there anymore plus some more odds and ends (they even had a vacuum tube tester and a good supply of tubes too, which was great for my old guitar amps). The owner ran a TV/VCR repair shop next door as well, so the inventory was well stocked. Then it closed without warning, and I was left to fend for myself by catalog.

Every few years, I'd wander into one looking for little adapters - nothing fancy, just 1/8" or 1/4" splitters, or some solder, or just some wire. Each time I went to the back of the store I was faced with nothing but the same things a few connectors for your stereo or TV, a bottom of the line soldering iron but no solder, and a few terribly bad kids electronics kits. After that, every few years I would go in to a random store just to see how bad it was in a 'prove me wrong' kind of way, and each time it was the same depressing scene, staffed by kids that shouldn't even be trusted with the single task of making sure the carpeting stays glued to the floor during their shift.

It has really been difficult for the last 15 years or so to find a lot of the analog equipment and parts I want without going through an auction or online store and wait for the shipment to arrive. With musical equipment and gear, you'd think that sometimes it would be easier in a big city like Chicago, but that's not the case. Looking for a reel of 1/4" tape, a head demagnetizer that's not in cassette form, or a vacuum tube? Most of the people you ask at music stores, both big and small, just look at you as if you're some sort of bizarre time traveler. And if by some miracle they should happen to have what you are looking for, they want 10x the amount its worth because they are the only ones who have it in town and you should be honored someone went to such trouble to rob you.

Stbalbach's drone idea is the best idea for electronic parts shopping in cities - a central warehouse with robots fetching the parts and checked by humans before loading it on a drone to be delivered to a common chain store for pickup (UPS, Kinkos/FedEx, or even a grocery store chain) in a couple hours would be a godsend. I think of all the money I would have spent from mail-order places like MCM, but lost interest after realizing I would have to wait a week before the order came in, and would find another solution for the task at hand instead.
posted by chambers at 5:07 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


Goddamn, TFA. God. DAMN.

Let that shit burn.
posted by trunk muffins at 5:08 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've always said that if I get rich enough to buy property and name a street on it, even if it's just a private way, I want to name it Fake Street. My house number will be 123, natch.
posted by Spatch at 5:13 PM on November 26, 2014 [11 favorites]


It was 1990. It was closing time. My manager was in the back running the daily report. I had just turned out the lights, flipped over the closed sign and locked the door when a guy ran up and desperately pulled on the handle.

Me: "There's a guy who wants in. What should I do?"

Her: "Can't he read the fucking sign?! Tell that motherfucker to hit the motherfuckin' trail! We're closed! We got better shit to do than stay up in this motherfucker all night!"

Me (to the man at the door): "I'm sorry, we're closed."

Man (holding up many hundred dollar bills): "I need a computer right now!"

Me (to my manager): "He has over a thousand bucks in cash and wants to buy a computer right now."

Her: "Well, what the fuck are you waiting for! Open the goddamned door, roll out the motherfuckin' red carpet and sell that dumbass son of a bitch a computer!"

Did I mention that she could make a sailor blush? She could. She was one of the best bosses I've ever had, even to this day. Our district manager, on the other hand, was the biggest tool in the box. He would stop by at least once a week to scream at us about our sales figures. He would say a lot of hateful things trying to shame us. I still get mad when I think about him. Asshole.
posted by double block and bleed at 5:18 PM on November 26, 2014 [19 favorites]


A Tandy misstep in the 90s was Incredible Universe. They were huge and had acrobats and shit in them. The one in San Diego -- like the other profitable ones -- became a Frys.
posted by birdherder at 5:26 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


I've always said that if I get rich enough to buy property and name a street on it, even if it's just a private way, I want to name it Fake Street.

I always wanted Ogallala Warpath but it turns out its taken.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 5:43 PM on November 26, 2014


So, is it time for Adafruit to create the little local Arduino/Pi/Maker*/circuit bits boutique all of us seem to want? Or do they just stay virtual?
posted by gusandrews at 6:02 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Fry's has gone downhill as well. There's still more electronics components than Radio Shack, but they're disorganized and rarely restocked. Plus, the whole thing where they treat anyone leaving with something in their hands like a criminal hasn't encouraged me to buy things there.
posted by ckape at 6:08 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


chambers: "..the same depressing scene, staffed by kids that shouldn't even be trusted with the single task of making sure the carpeting stays glued to the floor during their shift."

This gave me one hell of a giggle fit.
posted by double block and bleed at 6:16 PM on November 26, 2014 [3 favorites]


The last RS I shopped at was a combination RS/Pharmacy/Christian bookstore. (I was in a very small town in rural Ohio. Thank god there was a Rite Aid 6 blocks away for people who needed things like birth control.) I needed parts for a physics lab on electricity (some resistors, a couple of different wattages of lightbulbs, etc. I remember they didn't have anything useful by way of capacitors). Reading more and more about the shitstorm that radioshack has become, I wonder how that shop existed (this was only 6 years ago). Weird place, but they had most of what I needed and I didn't know where else to look.

Given the rest of what they sold, I always assumed they treated their employees like shit (I assume this of any business that wears religion on its sleeve until I hear otherwise), so I suppose they fit right in with the rest of the RS business model.
posted by Hactar at 6:17 PM on November 26, 2014


thejcm: Did anyone actually read the link? Because this is an article about how a poorly a well-known brand treats its front-line employees, and this thread is more about how fun it was to buy diodes 30+ years ago.

It's called nostalgia.
posted by harrietthespy at 6:26 PM on November 26, 2014


My husband and his co-workers were pissed about CueCats because the company they worked at invested (and lost) tons of money on them. My sister found a couple somewhere and made them into Christmas ornaments for him. ("I found this cat thing. Is this the thing Mr. artychoke's been mad about?") So we still have a Cuecat on our Christmas tree every year. She painted holly on it and wrapped red and green ribbon around the cord and looped it to go on a branch.
posted by artychoke at 6:30 PM on November 26, 2014 [11 favorites]


"I was in a very small town in rural Ohio. Thank god there was a Rite Aid 6 blocks away for people who needed things like birth control."

That's another distinction I should have made clear -- there were and I'm sure still are a relatively small number of franchise stores in small towns that are almost invariably part of another small-town, local electronics store that's been there since forever. That was the case in my small-town growing up. Such stores sell whatever the store's owners want to sell, typically that kind of small-town electronics bric-a-brac, and use the RS association to stock some parts and some other things that it's more convenient for them to get through Tandy. But they're really quite a different sort of a thing than the majority of those five-thousand company stores in cities and metropolises.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:35 PM on November 26, 2014


Probably my favorite thing about the CueCat is that the logo for CueCat next to the barcodes looks like someone decided that a bass clef didn't look adequately like an unhappy person barfing
posted by DoctorFedora at 6:59 PM on November 26, 2014 [10 favorites]


Radio Shack and Sears, two companies that could have dominated online sales, if they had taken a moment to have a clue.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:00 PM on November 26, 2014 [10 favorites]


I remember, back in the BBS days, I went to work at RadShack. Some of my fellow local sysops had a contest where the first BBS user to submit a picture of me in a tie (because my BBS was the local counterculture hang out site) won a free gargantuan pizza from the good local pizza shop.

A week or so later, I went to the monthly BBS get together to see said picture showing up on everything from an Atari 520ST to a TRS-80 Model III...
posted by Samizdata at 7:06 PM on November 26, 2014 [13 favorites]


QUIT FINGERIN' THE GODDAMN MERCHANDISE AND MAKE A FUCKIN' PURCHASE!
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 7:08 PM on November 26, 2014 [8 favorites]


you can get the reasonably knowledgeable employees, decent customer service, and most computer widgets at a Fry's

I lost track of the number of times I went to a Fry's, had a salesman insist that he could help me before informing me that not only didn't they have what I wanted, but there was a good chance that what I wanted didn't exist. And then, invariably, I would find the thing on a shelf somewhere in the store. Good selection though!
posted by 1adam12 at 7:23 PM on November 26, 2014 [6 favorites]


Fake customer profile information: Use your old address. I use the house I grew up in as a kid and the first phone number I ever learned. (Sorry, new residents. Enjoy your coupons!) On the other hand, if you use something flagrantly false, your cashier can get in trouble for it. We also get in trouble for not collecting enough information, so...use a fake-but-still-extant address and save everyone the hassle.

I no longer have to collect emails or zips at the register because NY state had a lawsuit regarding information collection at cash registers a few years ago, and it was just easier for the company to reprogram the registers nationally than it would be to just do NY. If you've noticed a lot less collection at the actual POS, then that might be why.

I am still angry about the Christmas I requested time to travel to see my family, got denied, volunteered to work Christmas day because I figured I might as well get the money, then got four days off over Christmas anyway...so I got to spend my Christmas alone, away from my family, wondering what the hell I was going to do about the hole in my paycheck two weeks from then. I'll never forgive that. Never.
posted by blnkfrnk at 8:13 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


/\/\/\/: When Radio Shack dies, I suppose I will just have to Amazon the doohickey and wait a couple of days, because even if I think they might have the doohickey at Best Buy, hell no, seriously, fuck Best Buy.

Fry's carries ALL that shit. Seriously, they have a wall of like 50 different kinds of LEDs even.

Yea they kinda suck sometimes, like they'll put broken returns back on the shelf at a discount as "open box" or whatever, but they really do carry a TON of weird almost alibaba type shit.

Back when a 2gb flash drive was expensive, i bought a cheapo one there that also had a built in battery and mp3 player for about the price of a normal cheap flash drive. no screen, and it was also the size of a normal flash drive. i used the CRAP out of that thing in the flipphone days.

Between the electronics components and just weirdo stuff like that they're basically like a bigger, cooler radio shack. also they have milk shakes and weird "vintage" soda.

Only on the west coast though, i think.
posted by emptythought at 8:15 PM on November 26, 2014


I interviewed for a sales position at some company in '97, and was saying I thought I'd be good at it by learning all I could about the product and I'd be able to share my passion for it with the customer, etc.
The interviewer asked what I'd do if I didn't believe in the product.
This caught me off guard. I said I'm sure I could find some quality to highlight, but I was young and thought maybe it was a trick (who would knowingly sell shitty shit?), so I also said I wouldn't want to sell something I wasn't actually behind, and that I could never work some place like Radio Shack, because I wouldn't be able to live with myself or sleep at night.
I was given a confused look and told I'd need to be able to sell anything, whether I liked it or not, and the interview pretty much died right there.
I walked out wondering if I should try harder to be upset (I still needed a job), but I was mostly just happy that I wasn't going to be working at some place that seemed not at all bothered by the horror that was Radio Shack.
posted by hypersloth at 8:17 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


Like RS, Fry's is creepy, crapy and poorly merchandised. They are in the Chicago burbs tho.
posted by wotsac at 8:18 PM on November 26, 2014


Fry's has gone downhill as well. There's still more electronics components than Radio Shack, but they're disorganized and rarely restocked. Plus, the whole thing where they treat anyone leaving with something in their hands like a criminal hasn't encouraged me to buy things there.

This has kept me out of there, as well. It rankles me for philosophical reasons legally, but at the end of the day it's just disrespectful to the customer to make them stand in a long line to exit when you literally just saw their receipt and all their stuff about 20 feet away. It's intimidation more than strategic loss prevention, I think.
posted by SpacemanStix at 8:25 PM on November 26, 2014


This has kept me out of there, as well. It rankles me for philosophical reasons legally, but at the end of the day it's just disrespectful to the customer to make them stand in a long line to exit when you literally just saw their receipt and all their stuff about 20 feet away. It's intimidation more than strategic loss prevention, I think.

They mark the receipt so you can't walk out with an item, come back and shoplift a second. It's still stupid. There are better ways to do it.
posted by Talez at 8:42 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


There's a Fry's near Indianapolis, too. So not just west coast.

I had a thermal fuse go bad in my furnace last winter. The temperature outside was below zero. Amazon had one but it would have taken a month (!) to get to me. Fry's had it. I bought three of them, just in case. They were less than ten dollars all together. That saved me from what would have been an unbelievably expensive emergency house call from an HVAC contractor.
posted by double block and bleed at 8:43 PM on November 26, 2014


Wow, what a fantastic article! I laughed, I cried. This was surprisingly personal for me. My grandpa owned a Radio Shack franchise from the 60s through the 80s, and my dad managed a (different) Radio Shack in the mid- to late-80s. So my grandpa was a RADAR guy during WWII and he knew his shit, and they were pretty damn successful in that business (although he relied on unpaid labor from his kids a lot). I seem to remember they made a good portion of their money on repairs and hobbyist stuff, which I'm sure my grandpa was highly qualified to do, and made the rest of it on selling & installing satellite dishes. In any event, they were able to make a comfortable middle-class living on one salary running that store, and it stayed in business until he retired and my cousin took it over and turned it into a hobby store.

By the time my dad was managing his Radio Shack, they mostly sold shitty electric racecars and goofy novelty phones and weird computers (I had a Tandy 2000 growing up), and my dad had to work absolutely insane hours to stay afloat while making very little money. I was too little to pick up on the details, but I remember a lot of talk about commissions, with like a near-daily "bad news time" where he'd tell us how bad it went that day. Jon Bois describes it perfectly: "Working at RadioShack was sort of the worst of two worlds: there was the poverty-level income of a blue-collar retail job, coupled with the expectations, political nonsense, and corporate soullessness of the white-collar environment."

My dad quit that job after a few years and went to work part-time at a sporting goods store, to endless denigration about what a terrible slacker he was from my grandpa who had since retired and didn't understand the changes that had occurred in the company or the broader economy. Plus from the commentary here, it sounds like the old franchised Radio Shacks were very different from the corporate locations like the one my dad managed, so he probably didn't realize there was such a huge difference in kind there either.

In retrospect, it's a near-perfect allegory for the decline of the middle class. My dad never even had a chance at the success my grandpa had. Anyway, thanks for the fantastic post, it actually meant a lot to me.

My only other comment as a Radio Shack customer who has to go in there for emergency nerd parts sometimes is that they are horribly sexist to me literally every time I walk in. The last time I went in there, I had a dude mansplain to me for fifteen minutes about an electronics project I knew way more about than him, being super condescending and insisting I didn't really want what I said I wanted (I turned out to be right, of course). It's to the point where I just dread going there because I know I'm going to get some "hey little lady, let me help you with that project since you clearly have no idea what you're doing" smarmy bullshit. Plus they rarely even have the part I need, or if they do it's obscenely overpriced.
posted by dialetheia at 8:59 PM on November 26, 2014 [42 favorites]


I'm so confused by all the people here who think they are required by some sort of law to give out their personal information to any asshat in a nametag that asks for it.

anyway if they insist tell them you live overseas, no US computer system is set up to take a phone number that starts with a country code.
posted by poffin boffin at 9:28 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


I'm so confused by all the people here who think they are required by some sort of law to give out their personal information to any asshat in a nametag that asks for it.

I had a Radio Shack cashier refuse to sell me my 9 volt battery, without me giving him a phone number, one time. Or at least he wanted to debate about it, and I just walked out.
posted by thelonius at 9:40 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


At least back in the day, Radio Shack relied upon the mailed flyers as their primary advertising and it generated the bulk of their ad-driven sales. So receipts without customer info (I was there at the transition from pen-and-paper to point-of-sale) were tracked on a per-store basis and managers would get into trouble about it if it exceeded some ratio, which caused them to harp on it with the clerks. The way I was trained, and how I continued as a manager, was to ask but to be cool about it if the customer refused. But, you know, as with this and with returns and other things, there's a lot of retail clerks and managers and other people in customer service who are obsessive-compulsive control-freak nutjobs who basically hate customers and rather enjoy finding ways to be jerks.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 9:55 PM on November 26, 2014 [1 favorite]


This has kept me out of there, as well. It rankles me for philosophical reasons legally, but at the end of the day it's just disrespectful to the customer to make them stand in a long line to exit when you literally just saw their receipt and all their stuff about 20 feet away. It's intimidation more than strategic loss prevention, I think.

The second they've got my money, END OF TRANSACTION. What, their computerized receipt system, two dozen cameras, and massive customer database backend can't track that I just bought something five seconds ago? Tough toenails. NOT MY PROBLEM. I got so irate about this same practice happening at Guitar Center that I sent several nasty-grams to corp headquarters. A couple years later and it appears that they have stopped this practice. I like to think my bitch notes helped, but who knows. What's even more galling about this practice is that they attack THE PEOPLE THAT ARE GIVING THEM MONEY. It makes so little sense as far as customer service goes. It might also be illegal in some places. As a paying customer, it is NOT my duty to be an unpaid employee of a store's loss prevention department.

/end rant
/thanks for bringing this topic up. ugh, so much hate. :)
/loved radio shack in its heyday
posted by readyfreddy at 10:17 PM on November 26, 2014 [5 favorites]


I tried to get a job there in the early 80's but they seemed to only want people with sales experience.
I have hacked at least 3 RC cars from there as controllers for disposable machines for SRL shows over the years.
They do have a nice selection of battery holders still, but I am lucky to have Al Lashers near my shop. They still sell TV rabbit ears!
posted by boilermonster at 11:01 PM on November 26, 2014 [2 favorites]


The nice thing about smartphones is that I can fiddle with my phone while I'm walking out of Fry's and pretend I don't notice them trying to get my attention to submit to their search. Probably helps that I'm white, though.
posted by ckape at 11:32 PM on November 26, 2014


I'm so confused by all the people here who think they are required by some sort of law to give out their personal information to any asshat in a nametag that asks for it.

This is me. I am finally at the point where I've managed things so that I don't ever receive any mail. Like ever. There is no reason for anyone to send me anything through the mail. Hmmm. Now that I think about it, it has just occurred to me I don't even have a mail-slot. You couldn't deliver mail to me at all, short of tying a rock to the envelope, and tossing it in through my second-floor living-room window.

This means that I don't know my postal code, as I only retain information of actual use to me. I just tell people who ask, "Sorry. No idea. It's near the cemetery."
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 1:17 AM on November 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


I Went by Phil Feigelein.
posted by clavdivs at 2:50 AM on November 27, 2014


This is when government needs to step in and say "Nope. We're done here children. You abused the discretion we gave you and it's time for the adults to step in and fix this shit. Nobody works on thanksgiving anymore".

-----No, this is proof that we do not need more government regulation of business - employees quit, customers stopped going, and a bad employer is practically out of business. Would you rather subsidize a failing business and hire government "watchers" so "Stoned Craig" has a place to work?
posted by imthebadgerdamnit at 3:01 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


The shops do fill an actual market need, though: The British Tandy shops (which might have been independent, but had imported their customer relations culture with their Realistic products) all shut down, and in their place a network of Maplins shops (Maplins had previously been mail-order only or primarily) sprung up in their place. And they were much improved (at least they didn't demand your full mailing address every time you bought a battery). How they're faring in competition with the interwebs, I don't know; they're certainly very expensive indeed by comparison. But they're maintaining several Central London branches, which suggests there's enough money in it to stay open, at least for the moment.

I suppose the problem is the market need they fill is mostly for people who need specific transistors now.
posted by Grangousier at 3:06 AM on November 27, 2014


TFA is surprisingly similar to stories I could tell of working for morrisons in the UK...
posted by Dysk at 3:30 AM on November 27, 2014


They mark the receipt so you can't walk out with an item, come back and shoplift a second. It's still stupid. There are better ways to do it.

Nope. They mark the receipt to show they checked the items leaving against the items paid so that a STORE EMPLOYEE cannot work with an accomplice to pretend that items were paid for at the checkout. It's not an external loss control, it's INTERNAL.

Which makes it doubly fucked-up, but people 'pretend-scanning' ( "beep" )items for friends is a thing.
posted by mikelieman at 4:14 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


"In any event, they [grandpa] were able to make a comfortable middle-class living on one salary running that store, and it stayed in business until he retired and my cousin took it over and turned it into a hobby store.

...By the time my dad was managing his Radio Shack ... My dad quit that job after a few years..."


...and...

"In retrospect, it's a near-perfect allegory for the decline of the middle class. My dad never even had a chance at the success my grandpa had."

Grandpa building a business and Dad working for a bad employer is not "an allegory for the decline of the middle class" it is an apples and oranges comparison that demonstrates the different results acheived from different life choices. Grandpa established and built a businesses based on personal skill and knowledge that was relevant and needed at that time. Dad chose a career in retail sales.
posted by imthebadgerdamnit at 4:24 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


That's not something "government" or employers do until unions force the issue. Rember unions?

Radio Shack sucked ass in the 70s too, we just didn't have better choices in suburbia. I grew up with a soldering iron attached to my hand and I still do a fair bit of work, but I can't recall even entering a a radio a Shack in the last 20 years. Do they even still sell the crappy parts they used to have?
posted by spitbull at 4:35 AM on November 27, 2014


I grew up in the 80s and 90s, and it seemed like by the early 90s Radio Shack was getting noticeably worse every year.

>This has kept me out of there, as well. It rankles me for philosophical reasons legally, but at the end of the day it's just disrespectful to the customer to make them stand in a long line to exit when you literally just saw their receipt and all their stuff about 20 feet away. It's intimidation more than strategic loss prevention, I think.

They mark the receipt so you can't walk out with an item, come back and shoplift a second. It's still stupid. There are better ways to do it.


Costco does this too, and boy does it annoy the hell out of me.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:19 AM on November 27, 2014


I used to like doing this on the in store TRS80s

10 ? BALLS
20 GOTO 10

posted by mattoxic at 5:34 AM on November 27, 2014 [10 favorites]


rience, you can get the reasonably knowledgeable employees, decent customer service, and most computer widgets at a Fry's. I assume they must pay at least a little better than average retail, if only just for the guys manning the widget desks, since the employees I see in them always seem to have a reasonable command of where things are and don't look like they want to kill themselves.

I was about to say that Fry's has all the doodads & that my experience shopping there has been generally acceptable.
Other than them, I occasionally rely on Grainger (over-priced) & my local electrical supply place, which caters more to the professional electricians, but has a bewildering array of fuses, & things like wire nuts, cable ties, etc.

Radio shack is pretty dead to me, as the local ones have shrunk & shrunk their doodad section until it's just a few sliding trays of connectors & half an aisle of wires. I don't need a cheap iPad cover, no, thanks. And they've been pulling the address & zip code thing since the 70's. Was too young to catch on once, until they besieged me with a mountain of junk mail. Urgh.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:03 AM on November 27, 2014


Also, even if you don't buy from Grainger, their paper catalog is a thing of wonder and a good jumping-off point if you're not sure who makes a doodad or what it's called.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:48 AM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


Regarding the fix-versus-replace shift that has doomed RS: I was showing my Millennial Engineer Co-Worker my handiwork with a soldering iron when repairing my GPS. Her response after showing me her portable bio-diesel producing tub on wheels: "if my generation learned to solder, it would disrupt the Chinese economy." I was inspired by Halt and Catch Fire to break out the old iron.
posted by cgk at 6:53 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Would you rather subsidize a failing business and hire government "watchers" so "Stoned Craig" has a place to work?

isn't that what the government's doing when it gives food stamps to walmart workers? - (well, alright, walmart's not failing, but ...)

i can see a day where the government opens up storefront businesses just so people will have "work" and get "paid" for it just so they won't try to overthrow the system or other nasty things

we're a lot closer to that than we realize
posted by pyramid termite at 7:23 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


I knew the Radio Shack employees I remember from the past were gone when I got a totally blank look one day when I asked if they had solder. I suppose it was inevitable that the older generation of hams and electronics geeks would either retire or find better jobs but it was still a bit of a shock and disappointment.

Yesterday I thought I was being clever at Harbor Freight when I gave 555-1212 as my phone number ("it's for our customer database"). But someone else had beaten me to it. Now there's a guy who's getting credit for purchasing a $2.99 screwdriver set.
posted by tommasz at 7:46 AM on November 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


The RadioShack near me just got remodeled and it now has:
-Knowlegeable and happier seeming employees
-In store screen repair for broken phones and tablets.
-Ardiuno and Rasberry PI's along with plenty of useful boards to add on
-3d printer and filament
-Demos and classes on these things.

I go there all the time now. Too bad it will be gone soon.
posted by humanfont at 7:52 AM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


I'm sorry for my nostalgia for Radio Shack- it seems strange even to me.

But my father was a WWII refugee who fled Yugoslavia and worked in a TV repair shop in Paris before landing in NYC and getting a college education under the GI bill and then getting a teaching job in Michigan, where all our neighbors were suspicious of him because he was a foreigner AND a professor. However, he could fix TVs. This was back when a TV was a pretty precious possession. So my father would go to Radio Shack, which was in a seedy part of Ann Arbor and he'd go in with a list of vacuum tubes and transistors, and the guy behind a counter would go back into the shop and return with the parts he wanted. My father would then fix the neighbor's TV and the neighbor would in return let my father borrow his rowboat to go fishing and my father would catch a bunch of fish for dinner (the thing our neighbors really didn't understand was that as a professor my father made less money than they did) and leave a six-pack of beer in the rowboat in appreciation and we'd eat bluegill and crappie for dinner and then watch one of the 5 or six decrepit black and white TVs the neighbors had given us when they bought new-fangled color ones.

And then there's the Radio Shack of the 1990s, when I'd go in for batteries and the people bugging me for my phone number were middle-aged men who had just been laid off from the Grummond Aircraft factory, and you'd put up with the inept hard-sell attempts to make you buy cellphones because these men were so desperately unhappy working at Radio Shack that you were afraid they'd commit suicide if you didn't pick up extra D-cell batteries for the flashlight.

I just bought my new camera at Radio Shack, though. The teenagers at the counter had many good opinions about cameras.
posted by acrasis at 8:09 AM on November 27, 2014 [15 favorites]


MetaFilter: "Sorry. No idea. It's near the cemetery."
posted by Chitownfats at 8:53 AM on November 27, 2014


i can see a day where the government opens up storefront businesses just so people will have "work" and get "paid" for it just so they won't try to overthrow the system or other nasty things

"we pretend to enroll them in the battery club, and they pretend to pay us"
posted by thelonius at 10:43 AM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


If you see a red sign inside of the mall
That says "electronics store", it's the...
Radio Shack!

Radio Shack, yeah yeah
I'm runnin' down my Radio Shack batteries
Can't use my calculator
Or even worse, my vibrator

I got me a computer, it's as big as a whale
My floppy disk gets hard at a Radio Shack sale
I don't got a life, I don't got a lady
I'm a dork, my best friend's a TRS-80!

The radio shack is a nerdy little place where
Dweebs can blow their fuses
Radio Shack, baby
Radio Shack! Radio Shack! (Clip-on ties!)
Radio Shack! Radio Shack! (Geeky guys!)

Woofers and tweeters to handy voltage meters
Join the battery club at Radio Shack
(Well, he don't need a girl, got a metal detector
He don't need a condom, got a pocket protector)
My power is droppin' but I can go shoppin'
'Cause the new catalog came in today!

Say what?!
(Sliiiiide rule... busted!)

Guns 'n Moses
posted by happyroach at 11:42 AM on November 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


This was a great article but holy crap that cuecat inventor's interview is just so breathtakingly bizarre that I suspect a horse_ebooks type hoax.
posted by gamera at 11:47 AM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


I worked at Radio Shack for a few months in 1982. Our store's employees were knowledgeable (I was a physics major) and I recall us having pride in being able to help customers getting the products they needed. Our manager wasn't terribly bright but he was capable, eager, and nice. Our biggest commissions were on clearance items and we pushed those pretty hard.To this day, whenever I go in a RS I scan the whole store for clearance items because they are always great deals. I don't remember there being TRS-80s in the store, although they must have been.

A couple of years ago I went into a RS looking for a common radio part, I think a UHF-SMA adapter. They didn't have it and I tweeted that they should change their name to simply "Shack". And just a few days later they announced they were going to become "The Shack" (a change that never materialized as far as I can tell).

At the end of 1982 I bought a stereo system (receiver, turntable, cassette deck, and a pair of gorgeous wood-cased floor speakers, knowing that great speakers are the key to a good system), probably all on clearance. I'm listening to those speakers now (replaced the bass surrounds a couple of years ago).
posted by neuron at 12:08 PM on November 27, 2014


The release of the CueCat on Metafilter - September 14, 2000 (containing an informative comment from CrayDrygu).
posted by unliteral at 6:07 PM on November 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


The release of the CueCat on Metafilter - September 14, 2000 (containing an informative comment from CrayDrygu).

That's amazing to me -- the CueCat had sounded more like something you would see advertised in the computer magazines I can remember from the late 1980s (back when they would include a couple of Basic programs in each issue for you to type in), simply because it seems like it should have been longer ago that someone thought that "Wow, scan in a barcode from an ad!" was a viable plan for a device.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:18 PM on November 27, 2014


(And someone must have made an FPP of this before, but I just discovered the archive of old computer magazines. The nostalgia is strong with these.)
posted by Dip Flash at 6:28 PM on November 27, 2014


That sounds great humanfont. Don't know why most Radio Shacks can't do those things.
posted by JHarris at 7:28 PM on November 27, 2014


There used to be one last holdout at our Radio Shack that knew his stuff. He's long since moved on, and the staff there now are utterly clueless (unless you want to be thoroughly maddened and confused by conflicting cell phone plans, in which case, They've Got Answers.) A client's small network went down one day and I was really in a bind for a new switch. I figured the one place in the town that might have a switch would be Radio Shack.

Hi, can I help you find anything?
Yes, all I need is a small network switch.
...A what?
A small network switch. 4 or 5 ports is fine.
What's that? And don't tell me, 'A switch for networks.', hyur hyur hyur...
[SCREAMING INTERNALLY]
(I got it at Wallgreen's.)

So yeah. If Radio/The Shack is going down the shitter, they've brought it on themselves.
posted by xedrik at 7:38 AM on November 28, 2014 [3 favorites]


RadioShack has setup the stores I described in hopes of proving that the model works to potential white knight investors or as a chapter 11 bankruptcy plan. They cannot roll the concept out everywhere without a lot of money.
posted by humanfont at 12:30 PM on November 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Here's a picture of the Cuecat ornament.
I did not know that "Capitalist Tool" was the motto of Forbes until just now.
posted by artychoke at 12:59 PM on November 29, 2014


Haha I posted this to the FB of a friend who used to manage a store in Dallas/Fort Worth. She tells me she was one of the extras in the infamous "managers playing poker" video he references.
posted by emjaybee at 6:25 PM on November 29, 2014


humanfront: RadioShack has setup the stores I described in hopes of proving that the model works to potential white knight investors or as a chapter 11 bankruptcy plan. They cannot roll the concept out everywhere without a lot of money.

But if they got that money, would they really go forward with that vision or just continue what they're doing now, chasing the easiest dollar the cheapest possible way?

I believe there's a place in today's world for Radio Shack as a center for electronics hobbyists, but they can only do it by building their audience. They can't just leech off of the big trends; they have to start, or restart, one of their own, and they're not going to do that by being the McDonalds of electronics, with multiple stores even in small towns. (There's one here in Brunswick, Georgia, and another on St. Simon's Island, which is practically part of Brunswick. Two in easy driving distance. That's terrible.)

It'd probably means closing a ton of stores, but they could get the money they'd need for such a bold re-imagining by selling most of their locations. The way I see it, this is the chain's only chance. It might not work, but it beats riding the current down the drain.
posted by JHarris at 11:43 PM on November 30, 2014


If Sears and Radio Shack both closed shop and liquidated most of their real estate at the same time, just how bad would it be for the US economy?
posted by infinitewindow at 11:45 PM on November 30, 2014


The impact would be minimal. The economic activity would shift to other retailers. Sears plus RadioShack is probably 250,000 employees (mostly Sears). These are mostly low wage jobs with limited purchasing power. Other stores would pick up a lot of slack before unemployment benefits expired making the net job loss smaller and less immediate wrt the economy.
posted by humanfont at 12:56 PM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]


Geez, humanfont, I thought my hatred for RS was personal, but the way you describe it... it's almost patriotic! ;)
posted by IAmBroom at 1:03 PM on December 1, 2014


Keep in mind that overall economic impact is a quantative measurment at a macro level. The 250,000 or so directly affected people will not see it at minimal.
posted by humanfont at 5:14 PM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]


The RadioShacks in Canada all turned into The Source a while ago, and the salespeople there are the fucking worst for a) trying to upsell you on stupid shit you don't want and didn't ask for, b) downselling you on stupid impulse-buy shit like non-rechargeable batteries that you don't want and didn't ask for, and c) insisting on you giving them your postal code.

I made my first purchase at The Source in at least a decade last weekend (they may still have been RS last time I gave them money). I forked over $9.99 for a laser pointer, which induced the batteries for it. The dude behind the counter did not ask my phone number or postal code but did try twice to persuade me of the value of a warranty plan. He insisted that if at any time in the next two years my laser pointer ceased working, stressing that even if the batteries ran out, then I could bring it back for a full refund.

So I see only three possibilities here: either he really believes that drained batteries are refundable, or he thinks I will believe that, or maybe it is store policy that dead batteries can be exchanged for their full value. The first two possibilities seem destined to make for retail hell stories ("you will never believe this -- yesterday I guy tried to return drained batteries for a full refund") and the third seems a hilariously bad business stratagem. Hmm, Radio Shack/Source, dismal customer experience, baffling business plan; maybe this explain a lot.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 9:21 AM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


I just got an email from Radio Shack about a Black Friday order I made:

Thank you so much for your order. Because of the heavy volume of site traffic over the Black Friday weekend, we experienced a malfunction in our system and were not able to complete select orders. We are so sorry for any inconvenience we have caused during this busy holiday season. We appreciate your business and you are important to us.

The email didn't even explain what the problem was or what orders were cancelled. What the heck am I supposed to do with this information? Is my order coming? Was it cancelled? There's no information given--just this statement.

So much for their last gasp Black Friday.

Meanwhile, in today's news I see lenders claiming Radio Shack has defaulted on its loans, and that employees are suing because Radio Shack invested their 401Ks in Radio Shack stock.
posted by eye of newt at 8:03 PM on December 8, 2014 [1 favorite]


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