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Requiem for Radio Shack June 14, 2014

Posted by Peter Varhol in Technology and Culture.
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Most of what I did in electronics in my youth (circa early 1970s and beyond) was what I could scrounge together and purchase for a dollar or two here and there. Much of that was purchased at Radio Shack; while I grew up in a rural environment, there was a store within riding distance on my bicycle. I used to get all the Radio Shack catalogs in the mail, and was impressed at the rate they added new stores and electronics.

I majored in the liberal arts as an undergraduate in college, and joined the Air Force, leading my life in a particular direction. Had it not been that direction, I’ve told many people over the years that I probably would have started out as an assistant manager at a Radio Shack. Radio Shack had the hobbyist reputation and technical cachet that I instinctively knew that I wanted at that early age.

Today, Radio Shack looks to be on its last legs. I confess that I haven’t been there much over the last few years, mostly a few times to purchase power adapters, and once a USB turntable (yes, I still have a significant collection of LPs which I am trying to convert to MP3).

But power adapters cost 70 percent less on Amazon, and I’m pretty sure I can get anything I need in the way of electronic components on Amazon or elsewhere. And if you browse a local Radio Shack today (yes, there is one in my town), there is little an electronic hobbyist might want to see. And there are far too many cell phones, which you can get practically anywhere. Simply put, there seems little reason for Radio Shack to exist in its current form.

I’m not a sentimental person by any means, and economically I believe in Schumpeter’s concept of creative destruction. Still, I feel a loss at the decline and eventual closure of Radio Shack. I feel more for what they have become, less a distinctive destination than an accidental stopover. I realize that there may not be a viable business as a hobbyist store anymore, but they have made years of wrong decisions of what they should become.

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