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More Trouble For Fry's Electronics

by El Destino

2020-01-21 18:53:55

After closing its Palo Alto store, another Fry's Electronics just closed in Georgia. And even more upheaval may be coming -- this time in the heart of Silicon Valley at another Maya-themed store in San Jose.

The beloved geek shopping emporium sprawls across 19.7 acres of prime Silicon Valley real estate, which also houses Fry's corporate headquarters (and a failed arena football team). But earlier this month a sharp reporter at San Jose's Mercury News noted a hungry real estate developer was eyeing the location -- and uncovered some new City Hall documents requesting a change of zoning.

Prologis already manages $111 billion worth of other properties around the world, reports the Mercury News, adding that Fry's "has been forced to confront widening challenges during a retail apocalypse" -- people buying goods online instead of going to a specialty store. The San Francisco Chronicle note we've already seen the end of Circuit City, CompUSA, Computer City, and Incredible Universe. And of course, Radio Shack's legendary two bankruptcies after 94 years of business have reduced the once-iconic geek brand into a store-within-a-store at 100 HobbyTowns across America. There were still 425 independent dealers who were keeping the brand alive as of 2017 -- and a new store actually opened in 2018 Pocatello, Idaho.)

There's still dozens of Fry's Electronics stores "from California to Georgia," reports the Chronicle, "including seven in the Bay Area." But their shelves are often empty, leaving geeks to wonder if the store is headed for disaster. Fry's told the Chronicle that they're trying to switch to a "consignment" model (which "sound suspicious," a retail analyst at Forrester Research told the newspaper, "because it suggests a cash crunch.")

And this month another Fry's Electronics also closed in Duluth, Georgia, in a location Wikipedia describes as "a distressed shopping mall."

All I know is that after 30 years Fry's closed the iconic Palo Alto store that I remembered this month, prompting a flood of memories from geeks who had fondly cherished its endearingly cheesey "wild west" decorations. Even Elon Musk reacted to the news. "Wow, I built my first server room with parts from Fry's," he posted on Twitter, in response to a post on Slashdot. "Ending of an era."

And that same store even turned up in Douglas Coupland 1995 novel Microserfs (which mentions the store's model train mock-up of a Wild West "Canyon City"):

Most guys have about 73 calories of shopping energy, and once these calories are gone, they're gone for the day -- if not the week -- and can't be regenerated simply by having an Orange Julius at the Food Fair. Therefore, to get guys to shop, a store has to eat up all of their Male Shopping Energy calories in one crack-like burst. Thus, Fry's concentrates only on male-specfic consumables insides their cavernous shopping arena, aisles replete with dandruff, bad outfits, and neradcious mutterings full of buried Hobbit references.

Near the EPROM shelves, Karla, Todd, and I were marveling at the pyramids of Hostess products, the miles of computing magazines, the cascade of nerdiana lifestyle accessories: telecom wiring supplies, clips, pornography, razors, Doritos, chemicals for etching boards, and all the components of the intangible Rube Goldberg machines that lie just beneath the Stealth black plastic exterior of the latest $1,299.99 gizmo...

Despite everyone's fond memories, I have to admit: It's been years since I've been there. Most of my geek stuff now just gets delivered to my doorstep, including my last three laptop computers and even my last desktop system. Maybe over the years we've all been swept away from our geeky roots, dimly aware that something's changing, but never quite able to put our finger on it.

But even so, "It's a sad day when Fry's start to vanish in the Valley..." posted one commenter on the Mercury News site. "We seem to be moving into generations that aren't up to doing anything themselves. There was a time when colleagues considered me lazy for buying an existing system and upgrading instead of building from scratch.

"I doubt many of the younger people in tech these days could swap out a board if their lives depended on it."

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.

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