So, bye-bye mighty nerd haven Fry’s, took Silicon to the Valley… and now you must die

Store chain Fry’s Electronics announced on Wednesday it was shutting down for good, saying the internet and the coronavirus pandemic together sounded the death knell for the Silicon Valley institution.

“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 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,” reads a note plastered across its website, adding:

“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.”

It was an inevitable turn of events, but no less sad for it. What started as a single store in northern California, in 1985, grew to nearly three dozen outlets spread across nine states in America before gradually collapsing inward like the core of a dying sun. It was once a cave of parts, appliances, tools, and treasure for tinkerers and inventors thanks to its mix of electronics, household gear, and all the odds-and-sods that came with the techie lifestyle.

Alongside the microprocessors and resistors, there were also dried noodles, energy bars and chips for sustenance, mini-fridges, magazines, and even a selection of clothes.

If you were piecing together a project, you only had to do one journey out to one shop, and you could get right back to the job in hand. It billed itself as “The One-Stop Shop for the Silicon Valley Professional,” something highlighted by the fact the first location was in the heart of Silicon Valley, in Sunnyvale.

When the business expanded, it closed that site down, and opened a new store 15 minutes up the road in the new, new heart of the tech industry, Palo Alto.

When the company said it would shut down that Palo Alto store – an event that happened as the COVID-19 virus arrived on the West Coast early last year – there was no going back. It switched its business model in an effort to stay alive and despite claiming it was in fine form, more stores across the United States started closing, often with no announcement.

Bezos bust

Let’s be real: it is Amazon and the myriad component souks on the internet that ultimately killed Fry’s off. As large, eclectic, and widely sourced as the store chain once was, it couldn’t compete with online bazaars in the US and China, primarily, that touted just about every item you can imagine. And at a cheaper price.

What Amazon and Aliexpress and the like won’t provide is the quirky side of Fry’s outlets: stores with UFOs bursting out the front; ones shaped like ancient Egyptian or Aztec monuments; giant gears… the chain had a personality. And a legendary returns policy. But with the pandemic severing that physical connection, even the scaled-back Fry’s was toast.

“The company ceased regular operations and began the wind-down process on February 24, 2021,” its website stated. Even announcing its own death, Fry’s stuck with its engineer ethos, no dramatics or cloying sentimentality, just a thoroughly decent concern for its customers and partners.

“The Ccompany is in the process of reaching out to its customers with repairs and consignment vendors to help them understand what this will mean for them and the proposed next steps… Please understand if we are a bit slow to respond given the large volume of questions. The Company appreciates your patience and support through this process.

“Sincerely, Fry’s Electronics.” ®

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