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Radio Shack Store Closures: A Blow to Engineers and Hobbyists

Recently Radio Shack closed many of its store fronts. This is a major blow for those of us who need quick solutions when building circuits. No longer can we just go to the store for components. Now we are at the mercy of shipping delays and catalog internet page sifting.

Radio Shack has always been there throughout my college days, during my career as an employee, and now that I freelance designs for clients. I could always find parts to make a circuit work. Even the freebie samples offered by many semiconductor manufacturers weren’t as useful as Radio Shack’s inventory. This is mainly due to the newer components arriving in small surface mount packages that are almost impossible to solder into a circuit. Radio Shack may have had ancient parts however they had solderable leads that got you up and running in a pinch.

Radio Shack always maintained their inventory of components at that back of the store. I would walk through the gaudy fads of toys, gizmos, and Bluetooth and USB based loads to where the components were neatly laid out in drawers and along the wall. All of the glitz of cell phones and other trends never appealed to me as I passed them by through the years of electronics revolution. Forget the fads, Radio Shack was the place if one wanted to create a circuit or hobby projects such as robotics and other educational ventures with blinking lights and synthesized sounds. Now, they have gone their way leaving us to the society that lives off the internet and turned my once robust 4x4s from off-road capable machines to boulevard four wheelers some of which can’t even handle six inches of snow. Thankfully Chrysler recognizes the advantages of a solid front axle and keeps the Jeep Wrangler series capable and able to be modified to perform on the trail.

For those of us who don’t have a Fry’s Electronics in our city, we will now have to do without as far as store front shopping. This sad end to an era has many aspects to it. From what I was able to learn, the root cause of failure was bankruptcy. Getting down to the core issue behind the scale back, it is rumored to have been a bad cell phone deal with a major career who basically screwed them. Isn’t that wonderful in this era of high profits for cell phone and cable/internet services that engineers enabled and now suffer as a result of the greed? After all, the infrastructure is in place yet it’s not unlikely that the combination of these services amounts to more than a monthly car payment while the industry struggles to get from 3G to 4G while totally ignoring new technologies that can overcome slow upload times. Hell, you can’t even buy a phone anymore . You rent the damn thing along with a wireless router.

Radio Shack meant a lot more to me than components. I bought my first Micronta multi-meter there during college. This was my entry into creating my own lab versus having to use one at work or school. The meter featured a needle display unlike the digital readouts of today. As electronics improved, Radio Shack took me through hand held digital meters to the pocket Micronta version that I ordered with company logos for my customers when I was an applications engineer.

The loss of Radio Shack is again a major blow to hobbyists and engineers. It makes one wonder if there is a store front market that is worth investing in for a new chain of local engineering customer support. Maybe I’ll open Joe’s Pipe and Rocket shop or a combination art gallery, monster truck ride venue, and components store to encompass several markets. That’s me in the back freelancing on the computer due to a lack of customers who visit store fronts in this the day of Amazon delivery. True, Radio Shack’s markups were rather high however in a pinch, they were worth the price. Also, it saved a lot of time just looking through drawers even when today’s search engines pair down responses so well. I still find there are gaps in the system. So long to the American dream that led to so many interesting and creative ideas. I’m hoping Fry’s fills the gap soon. Come to Denver! We have many more hardware engineers than just the Boulder software types!

It was bitter sweet going through the drawers of components while buying at reduced prices. When I pulled up to the store and saw it totally empty, my stomach felt a little queasy knowing that another iconic American industry had bit the dust due to greed and trending.

References

  1. RadioShack is closing 552 stores — see if your store is one of them,” Mary Hanbury, Business Insider website, Mar. 17, 2017, 4:31 PM
  2. RadioShack, closing 1,000 stores, leaves only these 70,” Chris Woodyard , USA TODAY Published 11:43 p.m. ET May 31, 2017 | Updated 3:51 p.m. ET June 1, 2017
  3. Here Are The 365 Stores RadioShack Wants To Close Next”, By Laura Northrup , Consumerist website, Updated: May 9, 2017 5:35 pm EDT
  4. IDEAL CLOCKING AND ULTIMATE WIRELESS
  5. Fry’s electronics

4 comments on “Radio Shack Store Closures: A Blow to Engineers and Hobbyists

  1. D Feucht
    June 12, 2017

    Scott,
    You pushed several of my  hot-buttons in this article:

    * Radio Shack has not had an optimal offering of parts for contemporary design, but some basic ones were readily available, and this was quite helpful at times.

    * “… small surface mount packages that are almost impossible to solder into a circuit.” I also stay with through-hole components for prototyping as much as possible, and that possibility is decreasing somewhat with time. It is so much easier to pull a transistor or op-amp out of its socket to find out what is causing a circuit to malfunction than desoldering SMT parts!

    * ” Forget the fads, …” Same here. I headed for the components.

    * “Radio Shack's markups were rather high …” Indeed, we were paying as much for packaging as for the part.

    *   . another iconic American industry had bit the dust …” Good eulogy for Radio Shack. Where I am, the nearest Radio Shack was over 1000 miles from the Belizean jungle. So I shop the Internet as more of us now must do. It's not all bad; selection and pricing is much better. Yet youngsters are deprived of local electronics inspiration.

  2. David Ashton
    June 14, 2017

    The loss is more mental than physical I think.  We had a Tandy in Bathurst, Australia when I arrived 15 years ago (I think they used Tandy outside the US?) and it is still going (under another name) after several iterations, but I don't often go there.  The competitor was Dick Smith, which used to be a really good shop with a good range, but went over to selling PCs, TVs and phones and eventually died as well.  With the rise of the web and mail order no high street store can hope to compete.  Our ex-Tandy store, now called Leading edge, are really helpful and part of a nationwide chain, and will order anything you want, and while I shop there when I can it's still easier (and cheaper, in most cases) to shop online.

    In a previous life, living in Zimbabwe, I got to Paris a couple of times a year and going to the Tandys there was like being a kid in a candy store

    So it's sad more than anything that they've gone.  I don't think anyone will be much more than marginally inconvenienced.

  3. Effective-Technical-Writing dot com
    June 27, 2017

    Alas the industry has gone away from easy prototyping to canned solutions.  We might see a resurgence in the sale of old parts but then again, data sheets will cost as well.  Many are archiving them and charging fees.  All inhibit development however it's the accountants that run the industry, not the engineers.

  4. EdwardThirlwall
    October 4, 2018

    I'm just wondering really whether it's all that difficult to look for components online. I'm pretty sure that you can get almost anything from those Chinese mirror sites like Alibaba or Aliexpress. It's not really so much a matter of looking for a physical store anymore but yeah, I guess losing the convenience of a hardware shop around the corner really sucks. I don't have anything like that in Australia so really no loss for me I guess.

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