“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
― Arthur C. Clarke, Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry Into the Limits of the Possible
“It’s still magic even if you know how it’s done.”
― Terry Pratchett, A Hat Full of Sky
It was not really a surprise when I read Fry’s was going out of business (it has been circling the drain for years – the stores have been barely stocked) but I felt sadness nevertheless. I went to their website and read the following notice:
After nearly 36 years in business as the one-stop-shop and online resource for high-tech professionals across nine states and 31 stores, Fry’s Electronics, Inc. (“Fry’s” or “Company”), has made the difficult decision to shut down its operations and close its business permanently as a result of changes in the retail industry and the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic. The Company will implement the shut down through an orderly wind down process that it believes will be in the best interests of the Company, its creditors, and other stakeholders.
Fry’s has always been more famous on the West Coast, but it had a big presence in Texas too. Most people think of the outlandish and tasteless architecture but I have fond memories of the place.
My first visit was in the early 1996 or so when the Arlington store opened (I think that was the first one in North Texas). Back then buying a personal computer was a major operation – especially if you were looking for an affordable one. I had heard of a new megastore in Arlington (about an hour drive) and we went there. I was stunned at the acres of electronic geegaws and doodads with a few actual products sprinkled in. I found a PC… I don’t remember the brand – but it was off-off branded and was originally intended for sale in the Soviet Union… of all places. Yet, it was inexpensive and intelligently spec’d and I used that hunk of tan plastic for years.
Later, I build two personal computers (one for me and one for my son) from parts I bought at Fry’s. I had a list of components I needed and every Friday I would scan the new Fry’s ad – rush out there and buy whatever was on deep discount that week. I was able to build PCs for about half what they would cost retail – and tailor them for our needs (gaming for my son – writing for me).
Otherwise, Fry’s was a geeky, nerdy oasis of technology. I used to love to hang out there and walk the aisles looking for something useful and more things not useful. Audio, software, small appliances, large appliances, TVs, everything and anything.
I remember what I called “The Gauntlet.” Checkout lines were always long – though they moved fast (there were up to twenty registers open at any time) and while you were queued up to pay everyone was herded down a narrow aisle at the front of the store. This aisle was lined with shelves groaning under the weight of odd merchandise: Candy, Cooling fans, Energy drinks, huge packs of batteries, charging cables, keychains, Velcro strips, USB drives, odd magazines, soldering irons, puzzle books, pens, chips, hats, pins, pencils, on and on. I realized that these were all carefully selected to be irresistible impulse purchases for technology types. Nerd Heroin. Good luck getting through there without adding something to your purchase.
Writing this, the good memories come back –
-Fleeing from a stressful day at work and hiding out in the media room watching Twister,
-Seeing my name mentioned in the book “Everything Internet Book” (1998) when I pulled the tome off the extensive tech bookshelf (I had been interviewed by the author. I was one of the pioneers of the “online journal” in 1996 which eventually became blogging).
-Hours spent in the vast sections of the parts department looking for just the right adapter or soldering connector. It is not the same surfing through Amazon, or Banggood, or Aliexpress. Not the same.
-picking up a 65 inch HD rear-projection DLP television with my son back when nobody had a 65 inch television.
-Seeing my first Laptop/Tablet/LaserPriner/FlatscreenTV/BluetoothSpeaker/almost any other tech invention in the last thirty years.
-Hearing my first subwoofer in the audio demo room
On and on.
This is making me feel old.