The 80s Hung Up
Despite an ad that provided one of the most memorable moments of last month's Super Bowl, it turns out that Radio Shack isn't doing so well. A few days ago the company announced that was closing up to 1100 stores, slashing its retail presence in the U.S. by about twenty percent.

Radio Shack used to be THE place to get your electronics fix back in the day, selling everything from computers to spare parts, radios to antennas, calculators to cassette players. Now, in an era where Best Buy, Fry's, and Amazon.com exist, The Shack is having a bit of an identity crisis. Walk into one today and you'll notice that half of the store is taken up by cell phone displays and kiosks, with another quarter of the store devoted to cell phone accessories. The rest of the space is taken up by overpriced TVs and headphones, with a few forgotten shelves in the back containing all manner of doodads. The service culture has changed too, with employees focusing far more on selling than being informative. My delivery job has me in the back room of a Radio Shack on a daily basis, and it makes me sad how many memos I see that are all about sales figures, particularly of those extended warranties. Basically the only time actual knowledge is required is when it comes to breaking down how many minutes you get on the latest Verizon plan.

With all of its flaws, Radio Shack still is a special place for me as a system-builder and occasional DIY guy. Seriously, there's a LOT to be said when in the middle of installing a new video card or hard drive you discover you need a can of compressed air, new SATA cable, or even a tube of Arctic Silver--and you can pick it all up from the place down the street, as opposed to driving an hour to Fry's or waiting days on Amazon or Newegg. It's basically the 7-Eleven of electronics, the place to go when you need a part or component now instead of worrying about the best price or whatever has the five-star reviews online. Knowing where to quickly pick up an audio splitter, USB cable, or AC adapter within a few minutes of discovering the need has saved my ass more times than I can remember.

Oddly enough, as technology becomes more a part of our day-to-day lives, the knowledge of how it works is becoming more and more rare. As such, I'm sure the market for emergency transistors and diodes isn't going to keep Radio Shack in business. The company and their stores need to change and adapt to survive. If basically becoming a cell-phone warehouse is what they need to do, then so be it. At the same time, I'm hoping the chain doesn't lose what makes it so special and unique in the first place. I'm really not looking forward to driving 70 miles one-way the next time I need a can of compressed air.
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