By Harry McCracken | Monday, November 10, 2008 at 5:59 pm
Today’s news that Circuit City, American’s second-largest electronics retailer, has filed for bankruptcy left me sad. And, oddly enough, nostalgic. The City isn’t going out of business, but as I reflected on its woes I thought about all the electronics chains I’ve shopped at over the years–the vast majority of which are no longer with us. (If Circuit City were to close its doors, it would leave only Best Buy and RadioShack as truly national chains focused solely on consumer electronics of all sorts, right?)
Once I got nostalgic, I did what I often do in such situations: I headed to YouTube. Which is rife with old commercials for defunct electronics retailers. Many of these chains basically did themselves in through poor management or inability to change with the times, and I thought some of them were shabby even when I did business with them; But it’s fun to get reacquainted with them through the miracle of streaming video.
After the jump, a look back, mostly in chronological order sorted by the year of the chain’s demise (click on the year for more details on the circumstances of its death).
Highland (died 1993)
A deeply moving 1985 minidrama, explaining that you can get your busted turntable fixed right at the store–Highland apparently operated a sort of prehistoric ancestor of the Genius Bar.
Another Highland commercial that–as you’ll see if you watch it–unquestionably dates from the Cold War era.
Fretters (died 1996)
A 1985 ad for this chain, which was so unmemorable that I’d forgotten it ever existed even though I was once a semi-regular customer.
Silo (died 1996)
Fretters also ended up owning one-time Silo. Same bland personality, except for the farmland-themed name. Here’s a 1992 spot.
Incredible Universe (died 1996)
Actually, I’m sorry to say that I couldn’t find any Incredible Universe ads on the Web. But I’m including it here anyhow, because it’s gotta be one of the most memorable defunct electronics retailers. Founded by RadioShack owner Tandy Corporation, its stores were sort of anti-RadioShacks: astoundingly large. In fact, at 185,000 square feet, they were more than seventy-five times as a large as a Shack. The VCR aisle went on as far as the eye could see. Despite being a gadget nut, I found the Universe unnecessarily huge, which was probably a bad sign; the chain lasted only four years. But I digress–let’s get back to commercials.
Lechmere (died 1997)
Lechmere had a fabulous reputation for good prices and salespeople who knew their stuff when I was growing up in Boston–before Montgomery Ward bought it and did everything in its power to drive it into the ground. This ad from 1995 is a good reminder of just how much consumer electronics have changed in recent years: It features CD players, VCRs, tape-based camcorders, film cameras, and tube TVs, all of which were hot products.
This ad with Patriots coach Bill Parcells dates from around 1996. He may have led the Pats to the Super Bowl, but he couldn’t save Lechmere–it died in 1997. (I still miss it.)
Computer City (died 1998)
This chain, also owned by Tandy, was sort of a slightly more pleasant clone of CompUSA, which eventually bought and liquidated it. Watching this 1990s commercial, I’m once again struck by how much has changed–remember when computer stores had mammoth sections of CD-ROMs?