Tuesday, July 11, 2017

A Visit To Fry's

In the early 90's I had heard from my brother in law of a store called Fry's.  It was supposed to an amazing land of electronic joy, of computers and games and technology galore.

I made pilgrimages in the early 90's -first just visiting, and then moving there - and found that it was everything that he had said it was.  Aisles of computers and games, cordless phones, games (did I mention that) - all in the context of stores done as Aztec temples or Egyptian pyramids.  It was a place where someone who dreamed of those vaunted Macintosh games could wander to their heart's content.

Fast forward 20 years. I have reason to go into a Fry's - not any of those, but one in New Home - to buy a birthday present.  I expected to go into some kind of environment of activity - instead, I went into a retail wasteland.

Oh, the shelves were stocked.  Fuller than I recall seeing them in years.  But the actual customers in the store seemed outnumbered by the red-shirted staff personnel.  And there was an empty silence in the store, the sort of thing that makes you try to avoid meeting the eyes of any store personnel in case they latch on to you (Fry's personnel, in the very old days, had a rather bad habit of hounding customers to get credit for the sale).

I stumbled around a bit until a youngish sales clerk came over and guided me to the cell phone accessory I was looking for.  I went and waited in the checkout line - gone were the days of packed in line, looking at the snacks and small items set aside to tempt you.  The extension for the lines to loop around in the event of long lines mocked me with its emptiness, two soda coolers at the end of them suggesting that someone still maintained the vain hope that they would be used.  Behind the counter, where often in the past I had recalled a hum of activity, there was almost silence and three check out clerks and supervisor cycling people out.  Paying, I went out after my receipt marked for inspection (the first store I ever remember doing this, even before Costco).

You cannot draw lot of conclusions from a Monday afternoon at 5 PM on the health of a store or an economy, to be sure.  But what I saw there left me skeptical in the belief that the example of corporate retail I saw today was anything other than healthy - or promising for the future.


  1. Hi TB :) I think that depends on the type of store maybe. If I need to go into an electronics/tech type store, it's usually quite empty. Same thing with the clothing stores, which can't compete with online stores and Walmart-types. When I do my monthly shopping, the grocery stores and the big box stores like Home Depot are always packed.

    Specialty shops too. Someone had the bright idea of opening a flower shop in this area...in the mountains where people have wild flowers and gardens. We predicted 1 year, it closed in 6 months. There seems to be a continual turn over of people with high hopes that their store/restaurant will work. It's too bad, but that's the way of the world now that pretty much everything is available online.

    I guess more and more people are choosing to shop online now for whatever reason. I know I am. In fact, I was going to start my Cheddar yesterday then realized I didn't have a big enough pot. I had the choice of driving to the nearest big town (45 minute drive) and getting the pot...starting the cheese today - OR - buying it on Amazon and using the gas money for shipping. I chose Amazon and waiting to make my cheese on Friday. I just can't stand driving much and being around people anymore. It's not just the rude clerks and lousy service, it's also the other customers who are usually so impatient and angry...at least that's my experience!

    I think the days of the mom and pop stores will be part of history now.

  2. It's a sign of the times, TB. No one buys games at a store anymore; they download them, or buy licenses or subscriptions to play them in "the cloud." No one builds a computer anymore; they go to a website, "build" it online, and place an order. You don't repair a computer (or any other "consumer electronics") anymore; you throw it away. Heck; you can't even replace the batteries on most laptops anymore! Most teens don't know what "ham radio" or CB is. When you tell them, they look at you like "How quaint," and say something like "I didn't know any of those guys were still alive."

    I'll admit it; I do the Amazon thing more often than not. If I need something and know exactly what the specs are, I point, click, and order. I can either drive around (or make several calls) looking for a set of security Torx screwdrivers, or I can order the set in literally five minutes from Amazon.

    Is this going to eventually cause problems? You bet. Face it though; as long as half the country is forced to work so that the other half can sit on its collective ass, there'll be more work, and less free time. A minute saved is a minute earned...

  3. The same thing happened to CompUSA. And Radio Shack, too, for that matter. They turned their backs on what made them popular. Couldn't compete with the online prices, then lost their customer base because they no longer sold what people went there for.

    Sad comment of the state of the economy, so to speak.

  4. Rain - True enough. I have had the same experience at Large Box Home Supply Stores or Pet Stores or even some smaller stores (used book stores come to mind). And a specialty shop that relies only on brick and mortar sales is probably begging for a losing sale any more. And yes, Amazon is increasingly used by lots of folks (even us for groceries at this point). But it has been a long time - maybe never - since I saw a large store - cavernous, one might say - with more employees than customers.

  5. Glen - You are right, of course. Even most business software is up on the cloud at this point. I have not repaired the last three laptops I owned - cheaper to buy a new one. And Amazon - or indeed, lots of other online stores - is just as convenient or more so than actually shopping.

    The radio thing bothers me a bit (Odd, because I do not do it) - but only because becoming dependent on a single form of communication - wireless phones and the Internet - ultimately means that communications are far more vulnerable than they should be.

    The issue of declining jobs due to automation and the change in consumer shopping (Soon, I would argue, to matched by the same change in how businesses work) is not a hope producing exercise. I can see a day where warehouse jobs and food service industries will be fought over.

  6. Linda - CompUSA - Man, there's a name I have not heard in forever. Reminds me of Egghead Sofware stores and the small local outlets that (once upon a time) sold Apple.

    Strategic thinking is to blame, I suspect. No-one could have predicted the internet 30 years ago but 20 years ago the writing was on the wall, albeit in faint letters. In retrospect, more time might have been spent on figuring how to bridge the gap.


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