Mourning in America: Gearing Up for the Post-Radio Shack World

We all paraded from the AMC Matador Ambassador station wagon into the Acme. Pop cashed his check from the Budd Company at the customer service window, bought a carton of Salems he’d share with Nan, and handed her a wad of cash to pay for the groceries. She steered the cart off among the aisles, for what must have been an island of sweet respite after a week trapped at home with four noisy, dirty, scuffling boys.


Then, most Wednesdays, if we didn’t need a haircut at the barbershop — a Princeton: tight on the sides, longer on top, looped over with a generous handful of Vitalis — it was off to one of three destinations in the Doylestown Shopping Center:

1) W.T. Grant: a five-and-dime, if we needed school clothes or supplies, or to look at the tropical fish, chameleons and pet rodents.

2) Sears: where my brothers and I played Pong, or fished through the discount 45’s bin while Pop shopped for tools.

3) Radio Shack: AKA Heaven for Boys

While the first two had their charms, it was Radio Shack that cast a spell on us, drawing us in at a dead run.

Gadgets and kits, lights and switches, buzzing and whirring and crackling — things that were cool before “cool” became “bad” or “sick” or “ridiculous” or whatever “cool” is now.

There was nothing like Radio Shack.

Today, I read that Radio Shack is sick — actually sick, perhaps dying — almost certainly headed for bankruptcy.

Troubled electronics retailer RadioShack Corp’s shares have lost nearly a third of their value since brokerage Wedbush Securities said on Tuesday the company could file for bankruptcy soon, making the stock worthless by the end of this year.

The stock fell as much as 20 percent to 76 cents on Wednesday, adding to a 23 percent plunge on Tuesday.

“Our price target reflects our expectation that creditors will force a reorganization and wipe out RadioShack’s equity,” Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter wrote in a note.


Oddly enough, I was just in a Shack in McKinney, Texas, on Sunday. Of course, it’s not really Radio Shack anymore…at least not the front half of the store. It’s a Frankensteinian amalgam of hipster brand names, competing for attention against a backdrop of their competitors’ products. It’s the Wal-Mart electronics department, in a third of the space with higher prices.

Cowling my eyes with my hands, I mumble to myself “not seeing anything, not seeing anything” until I reach the back of the store.

Here vestigial Radio Shack yet survives, like a pin-pithed dessicated frog with a faint heartbeat, but no will. My 18-year-old son asks what I’m looking for. It’s a logical question that not one of my brothers would have asked back in the day.

Scott Ott with T-1220

The author with his Texas Instruments T-1220, which can add, subtract, multiply, divide and do percentages. It’s a yard sale prize at 89 cents. But when his Pop bought him one at Radio Shack in about 1976, it was $79, an unimaginable luxury.

How could we know what we’re looking for until we see it? When we find the unsought object, we want it with a mighty wanting until the quarters from allowance, and the dollar bills from weeding Mrs. Hatcher’s flower patch, accumulate to the “dreams come true level.” Items out of reach of our own labors got added to the assiduously maintained Christmas and birthday wish lists. In that pantheon, the metal detector kit reigns supreme in my memory, and the $79 calculator runs a close second.


This past Sunday’s Radio Shack visit inspired me to write the following on Facebook.

Bought a couple of specialized batteries at Radio Shack last night (357 silver oxides for an Audio-Technica ATR-35s lavalier mic, if you must know). The Shack sent me a customer satisfaction survey email today, and at the end, asked if there were anything else I’d like to say. So here’s what I said.

Radio Shack can’t beat the prices or selection of online alternatives. That leaves you with a few possible Unique Selling Propositions.
1) Get it now: Immediate access to products for folks who don’t want to wait a day or two for Amazon.
2) Touch it: Tactile access, for folks who need to handle something before they buy it.
3) Talk About It: Although the internet offers far more tech advice than any one RS associate could, the opportunity for real time, back and forth, conversation with a trusted advisor is tough to replicate online.

It seems Radio Shack is now trying to be all things to all people, and no one can do that well. Of course, the marketplace has fractured into a million niches, so it’s hard to know what to pursue.

One possibility would be to bring cutting-edge products to my neighborhood first…so I can handle them, and talk to someone about them. I skim a couple of dozen tech, geek and gear blogs, but I would love to handle the new stuff, and interact with experts about it in person.

Radio Shack still looks like a legacy store in search of a new mission. It has been one of my favorite haunts for more than 40 years. Here’s hoping you find yourself…again.



Trending on PJ Media Videos

Join the conversation as a VIP Member