On February 24, Fry’s Electronics shared that they would be going out of business. The announcement came as a semi-surprise to the tech savvy citizens of California and Texas (along with a handful of other states). Of course, I was greasing up the keyboard to write a sappy novel on Facebook explaining what the store meant to me so that others could reminisce and mourn over our shared nerdy interest. Instead, I’ll leave my homage, thoughts and stories to this blog.
Founded in 1985, Fry’s is (was?) older than I am. And on top of that, I didn’t grow up going to this store. There were only 34 stores across 9 states at their peak, and the state I grew up in was not one of those 9. So imagine my giddiness after moving to California and setting foot in one of these electronic wonderlands.
The first time I went, I remember needing an odd sized battery that I couldn’t find anywhere else in the Western Hemisphere. The internet told me that Fry’s had it, so off I went thinking I was headed to a Radioshack-esque store. I went to the Anaheim, CA location, and little did I know I would be stepping into a space themed warehouse with tech items from microprocessors to refrigerators, and everything in between. I found my battery, but I also found joy.
Recently, I came across an old Facebook memory I had written in 2016. I had “checked-in” at the Fry’s with Ancient Roman theming in Fountain Valley, CA and I wrote “Seriously, this store must be what heaven feels like.” So as you can see by the intellectual depth of that review, I had fallen into a whirlwind romance with what Fry’s was. I even remember watching Fry’s job postings years ago with a vague plot to take it on as a second job and one day manage a store. (I never did work there).
When I started dating my now husband back in 2015, our third date included a visit to Fry’s for me to check out a new MacBook I had my eye on. If you can imagine a classic movie date scene where a couple is blissfully perusing the aisles of a store together (imagine the IKEA scene in 500 Days of Summer), that was us times 10. We both still remember that date fondly, and decided then that we would visit every new Fry’s we came across together. It’s worth noting that my husband loves the store as much as I do if not more, because he did get to grow up going there.
Fast forward 2 years and we were passing by the San Diego Fry’s after a trip to the zoo. As promised, we stopped there and the place was completely packed with people and inventory! I will admit, the Fry’s locations I had been going to up until then had an ominous emptiness at times. We just tried to ignore it whenever we looked at empty shelves inside of empty stores. But the aviation themed San Diego location was a breath of fresh air! We were probably there for over an hour, and it stands as the best Fry’s shopping experience I’ve had.
I remember finding a certain product at the SD location that really stood out to me. It was an attachment for a MacBook charger that converted an old magnet connector into the styling of a newer generation connector. This allowed me to use my old charger for $10 instead of buying a new charger for $70. And while this story may not be that exciting, the thing is that I didn’t even know that charger attachment existed at the time! Fry’s had tech items relevant to me that I didn’t know about, and that felt like a big deal. It showed their depth in how they catered to all varieties of nerds right down to an uncommon dongle.
Fry’s famously carried computer components for those who liked to build their own machines. And they carried appliances for those who were just looking to get a new blender on sale. They had it all. The founder, John Fry, had the idea to start this electronic’s store in a budding Silicon Valley. He wanted it to be a one stop shop for tech professionals. At that time there was even a grocery shopping section at their first store to solidify his grand idea! However, this grocery section dissipated quickly and it became just an electronics store. But was it really just an electronics store?
As I’ve been mentioning with each location, they were all themed in a different way making each visit unique. The space location in Anaheim greeted you with a sculpted space shuttle that you could stand in for photos. Little accents of this theming could be found from floor to ceiling throughout the warehouse. Simply put, it was fun! While there were no thrill rides to be found, it gave you a touch of the enjoyment that a theme park might provide. Stores also had snack bars where you could order some classically not so great food. It was all part of the experience, and it always did feel like more than just an electronics store to me.
As far as I was concerned, Fry’s did everything right. But looking at the bigger picture, the writing was tragically on the wall with their recent end. I know I’ve painted a picture of butterflies and rainbows, which is truthful for me. But as I hinted at before, the shelves were getting re-stocked less often. The brands were becoming less familiar. The snack bar in Anaheim looked like it hadn’t been operated in months. You could count the number of shoppers on one hand during most visits. The theming pieces were fun, but often outdated and dilapidated. Had they re-vamped or tweaked some of these needs, maybe they would have stood a chance. But ultimately, it felt like they couldn’t keep up. Eventually it hit a point where all you would find in the audio section that once carried amps and speakers was a lonely off-brand karaoke machine.
As much as it pained me, I remember picking up on those less than favorable vibes a few years ago and thinking that Fry’s was not long for this world. Those concerns became reality a week ago. To be honest I’m impressed they survived even a year into the pandemic. It remains a sad topic in our house, but we will remember the store fondly. And my hope is that everyone involved in making Fry’s what it was knows that they did make something special, and people like me will take away nothing but good memories now that it’s gone.
PS – If you would like a better visual of what Fry’s was like particularly towards the end, I would encourage you to check out the following YouTube channels: Retail Archeology and Company Man. Both provide some great insight along with footage.
*featured image from weirdca.com