This week I read that RadioShack's stock price fell to less than $1 a share on the New York Stock Exchange. Really? I mean, I was amazed. RadioShack still has trading stock? They must be doing better than I thought.
I remember going into RadioShack as a kid, and it was pretty awesome. I was always a bit of a geek, and back then they were the only place you get a handful of transistors without a clerk looking at you like you were holding Cracker Jacks from Mars. It was a safe place for geeks.
And they had a great selection of rocket engines, crystal radio kits, breadboards, and soldering equipment. If you wanted any sort of unapologetic geeky electronics thing -- stuff like those guys in "Halt and Catch Fire" are always playing around with -- RadioShack was home. You could build a working computer just using the stuff the janitor swept up at the end of the day. It was THAT awesome!
This was way before the internet, online commerce, and the days when everyone's phone would become way smarter than them. Do you remember how to convert celsius to fahrenheit? Nobody else does either. I'll bet you're googling it right now on your Galaxy 3.
The last time I was in RadioShack I was buying a noise-reducing headset for my daughter, who was going to her first rock concert. RadioShack wasn't my first choice either: I'd googled these headsets and found a bunch of options. Too many options, really. I'd procrastinated and then it was two days before the concert: even with Amazon Prime shipping, it wasn't going to make it. So I looked for electronics stores -- on my Galaxy 3 -- and found a hit on my drive home. RadioShack. I don't think I'd been in one for ten years.
I stopped in and the place was actually busier than I remember from childhood. There were three people at the counter, every one of them buying some sort of headset or ear bud. I had to walk around a whole display full of smart phones and accessorries, and I didn't even see their tub of voltage specific transitors and capacitors. Maybe they moved them in the back aisle.
I found a pair of headphones that matched what I found online, and walked to the counter. I stood there about 10 minutes until they checked me out. This was like I remembered: they had the same long checkout interrogation you get at Sears, where they ask you to provide an extended family history before allowing you to buy that $30 water filter. I guess the guy in front of me forgot his parent's address when he was six years old.
(Sucker: I wrote that down and had it ready in my wallet. I can only buy that damn refrigerator filter at Sears.)
Anyway, the guy ahead of me finally passed his exam, and it was my turn. I pulled the cheat-sheet out of my wallet and was ready to go. But the clerk just looked at me, shaking his head. "The computer's froze up again, do you have cash?" he asked. I did. So some other guy helped me.
It took a few seconds, I gave him the money, got change, and left. No lengthy interrogration, no full addresses, phone numbers, full name, employment history and marriage certificate required.
I was kinda disappointed. This definitely wasn't the RadioShack I remembered. As the guy was giving me change, he smiled and confessed it was his first day. "But I'm pretty sure they're gonna close this location soon," he said. The guy next to him, still trying to reboot the cash register, laughed.
"Amazed it's been open this long," the first guy said and they both laughed.
On the way home, I realized that even though I'd driven by it a thousand times, I didn't know the store was there until I found it on my phone. Maybe that was the problem.