Looking Back…..at Radio Shack.

While Radio Shack is still around to some extent today, it is but a shell of what it once was. With less than 80 stores open at this time, it is vastly diminished from the over 8,000 that it once was. I won’t bother going into details as to what was done right and what was done wrong over the past 100 years as this is not a history lesson, but a nostalgic look back.

Growing up in small-town America, before there were super stores like Wal-Mart, shopping was done very differently than it is today. Groceries were bought at a local grocer that may give out S & H green stamps. You went to the hardware store for parts and tools to fix anything that was broken, and you went to the mall for most other things. Ours had a Sears, a Woolworth’s, an arcade, a bookstore and of course a Radio Shack. There were lots of other places that a 10-year-old boy paid little attention to such as fabric shops and jewelry stores, but this is about Radio Shack so down memory lane we go.

It was a glorious place to kill some time while mom and sis were off buying fabric for whatever sewing projects they were up to. So, dad and I would stretch our legs and visit some other stores. The sights and sounds of all the cool looking doodads were quite a bit to take in. I would verbally announce all the things that I thought would make a great Christmas present and wait for Christmas to arrive. Then one Christmas morning around the age of something less than 10, I got up out of bed and there it was on the living room floor.

The Radio Shack 40 in 1 electronic projects kit. I now had lights, buzzers and switches of my own. I was hooked on electronics and on Radio Shack. I had that thing for quite a long time, and I had a small collection of other parts and such that I was always playing around with. I never ended up getting one of the higher numbered kits, but did add to my collection of parts here and there when the need arose.

During one of the family trips to the mall, we of course were at Radio Shack, and I noticed they now had a battery club. Just sign up and you are issued a card that you can use once a month to get a free battery. What is this madness? Sign me up I say! This seems a bit weird today as something to get so excited about, but I was a kid and it made me feel like I really belonged to something. I did not have to buy anything. I just walked in and asked for whatever size of battery I needed that month, they marked my card and gave me a battery.

But what was super annoying about Radio Shack was that anytime you purchased anything, anything at all, they needed to type your address into their system. This went on for decades until they finally just started asking for zip codes. The address was so they could send you a flyer. When they switched to just zip codes, I was told that it was to target their advertising dollars.

Over the years I shopped at Radio Shack quite a bit. Whenever I needed a resistor or capacitor, they always had everything I needed. Project boxes came in all sorts of sizes for whatever little electronic project I was working on. I bought my first soldering iron there and many years later I even bought my first cell phone at a Radio Shack in a completely different small town in the middle of corn fields. It was a glorious bag phone. Guess who my first call was to? My mother of course. I’m not a heathen.

All those great experiences seem like a lifetime ago. I live in another state now, but when I moved here in 2010, I needed some parts from Radio Shack once again. Being no longer in small-town America, I checked and there were 3 stores near me. I went to the nearest one and I was very disappointed. It was basically now a store that sold cell phones and accessories and happily signed you up for a plan. I looked around and found a very small island that had parts like they used to. I poked around and found a project box and whatever else it was that I needed and then asked if they still sold batteries. They asked me what size and I told them 18650. The salesperson looked at me like I had 3 heads and had never heard of such a thing. That was the last time that I ever stepped foot in a Radio Shack again. Not because it was a disappointing shopping experience, but because they all closed down around me not too long after, and by this time ordering anything you needed online was easy.

I did have an occasion to shop at Radio Shack one more time. About a year ago I needed a capacitor, and I looked it up on Radio Shack’s online store. They had what I needed, and it was here a few days later. As of today that online store is still up and running, but the future is not certain for this once great chain that lives fondly in my memories, and no doubt many other electronics hobbyists.


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