For the umpteenth Over the past year, a wave of sadness has hung over my family’s group chat. This time it is not about tense elections or the woes of the ongoing pandemic. That’s because Fry’s Electronics, the West Coast’s first suburban electronics supermarket, has announced that it will close all of its stores soon.
I took the news hard, as a major chapter of my life has closed. But when I tried to deal with my grief aloud with my fiancé, I was greeted with deaf ears.
“It’s just a stupid electronics store,” she said, heading to the kitchen for a cup of coffee in the morning. “Why does anyone care !?”
I was stunned. How could anyone do not care? Fry’s was the magical electronics store where many of us bought our first CD burners, flat panel monitors, cordless vacuums, wireless printers, or ATI Radeon 9800 graphics cards. Fry also sold more than just electronic. Here you might find bone-handled pocket knives and bins full of DVDs that you never – ever – want to watch. I bet if you surveyed 100 Fry shoppers at least 90 of them walked out of this store with something they weren’t originally planning on buying. Midwestern people can’t say that Micro center, their own regional electronics retailer.
Fry’s has been slipping for a long time. It was inevitable that a business whose entire selling motto seemed to be “If it plugs in, we sell it” would slowly bleed in the Amazon age. I am a little surprised that it has lasted this long. And yet, I now feel sad for the next generation who won’t have a place like Fry – with its aisles of cables, computer parts, and nonessential gadgets – to spark practical inspiration.
My family’s Fry outings always started on a whim. My dad would find a random nickname we needed – a new TV remote, a hard drive, the latest version of Quicken – and our collective engines would start to spin.
We stacked in the wagon and took the trekking path through the Portland, Oregon suburb to the giant red and mole building, my two brothers and I, heads spinning, as we thought about the ways we divide our meager budgets.
Fry’s was one of our favorite places because we had the freedom. It was just too big, and our interests too dispersed, for us not to have a timer and a meeting place. And so, for an hour, we could play with anything under the fluorescent sky.
All the latest game consoles, computers, headphones, speakers, and even pre-built gaming computers were just sitting there, waiting for our fat fingers. Fry’s was one of the only places you could see the entire home tech revolution spread out in front of you. And you could experience it without spending a dime.
New technological breakthroughs were appearing in my life for the first time under this domed ceiling. Fry’s was the first place I saw Wi-Fi, HDTV, Xbox. I remember seeing the first VR headsets out there and hearing shaky surround sound for the first time. It was exciting to watch the future scroll down to your feet as the following sequence on the Guitar Hero screen.
It was also at Fry that I learned first-hand that nascent technologies – in this case, a glove-based controller that my brother sadly squandered $ 100 in 2002 – are sometimes too good to be true.
Bits and bobs
These crowded aisles fostered a surprising sense of community. After all, most normal people really had no reason to go to Fry’s. Our family outpost in Wilsonville, Oregon was the birthplace of apology-based e-shopping for the entire Portland area. Along with the sea of dads obsessed with touchscreen remotes, you’ll find a nerd-kid fellow powering the latest DDR demo, a lookalike in a Star Wars T-shirt also buying cheap LAN hardware, and someone else obsessed with the new NVidia card.