Good Riddance, Radio Shack

It’s just not the same store I loved as a child.

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On Tuesday, Radio Shack announced that it would be closing 1,100 of its stores — nearly 20 percent of the company’s locations. During the last quarter, which included the normally busy Christmas-shopping season, Radio Shack sales fell 19 percent while net losses reportedly tripled. There are 20 Radio Shack stores in the Philadelphia area, but it remains unclear which of them will be affected.

This is a big business story, especially because Radio Shack has more stores in this country than almost any retailer (Walmart has 3,700 and Radio Shack competitor BestBuy has 1,400), and no doubt some pundits and prognosticators are going to chalk this up to a sluggish economy. But the real cause for Radio Shack closing 1,110 stores is none other than Radio Shack, which is quite simply and without hyperbole the worst retail shopping experience that exists on planet Earth.

Oh, I didn’t always hate Radio Shack. No, quite the contrary.

When I was a kid in the ’70s and early ’80s, I used to love love love Radio Shack. My paternal grandfather Pop-Pop, an Italian immigrant who always called the store Radio Shack, as opposed to the more common emphasis of Radio Shack, was an avid amateur radio operator (call letters: W3VWY). We would stop by the Radio Shack near him in Norristown to get solder wire and various connectors, resistors and the like.

My Uncle Joe, Pop-Pop’s son, was a Navy man. He sailed the seven seas. But Uncle Joe would always find a way to get home for Christmas, and while my sister would get diamond jewelry from Israel or Southeast Asia, Uncle Joe gave me presents from Radio Shack, like the Radio Shack Junior Electricity Kit. I built potato clocks, AM radios, and electromagnets, thanks to Uncle Joe and Radio Shack. I used a Radio Shack cassette recorder to save BASIC programs that I wrote on my Texas Instrument TI-99/4A “computer.”

And as a teenager, my interest in electronics not waning, I purchased all sorts of Radio Shack kits, wiring and components. I remember when I was 15, my parents found an alligator clip from Radio Shack on my dresser. They thought I was using it as a roach clip, but the truth is that I was using it for a project. We had a big conversation about marijuana, a “not under my roof” kind of talk. And because I continued to deny that the clip was drug paraphernalia, they grounded me for a week.

So, as you can see, my formative years were spent in and around Radio Shack, and I have a lot of nostalgia for those great, quirky little shops.

But the Radio Shack of today bears no resemblance to the Radio Shack of yesteryear.

Radio Shack’s customer service in 2014 makes your experience at the DMV seem downright pleasant. When you walk into a Radio Shack, there seem to be far too many people working inside the store. The customer-to-salesperson ratio is like the student-teacher ratio in a special needs school.

And yet, you’ll wait forever to get help, and the help that you will eventually receive is largely incompetent. And if you actually know something about electronics and start asking questions that threaten the salespeople by pointing out the gaping holes in their knowledge base and basic human intelligence, they might ask you something like, “Oh, so you don’t know about the new A-410-PR-99 Apex Ring that was just deployed?” Of course, there’s no such thing as an A-410-PR-99 Apex Ring.

Radio Shack employees know little or nothing about electronics, but they are quite happy to sell you a T-Mobile plan you don’t need.

And Radio Shack products are the lowest of the low. You’re better off buying knockoff “Panasoanic” stuff on Canal Street in New York.

I recently bought an audio cable at Radio Shack, simply because I needed one at the last minute and it was the only place I could get one (I actually asked a friend to go get the cable for me, because I couldn’t bear the thought of going to the store myself). That was three weeks ago. I used the cord three times. I’ve already thrown it away, because one of the connections became wonky. Radio Shack products are basically single-use items, like those cheap Kodak disposable cameras we all used to buy at the airport 15 years ago.

It’s always sad when a company shuts its doors or lays off workers. But let’s be honest: In this case, Radio Shack brought it on itself.

Good riddance, Radio Shack. May your death be quick and painless.

Follow @VictorFiorillo on Twitter.

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