Fry’s Electronics, a big box retail icon of the California suburbs, has confirmed that, all of the brand’s remaining stores have “ceased regular operations” as of last night. The stores–known as much for elaborate, themed decor as for the computer and tech equipment they sold alongside an eclectic mix of “as seen on TV”-type goods–had struggled for years. But it was the pandemic, the company says, that ultimately sealed Fry’s’ fate.
“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, Inc. 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,” an official statement from the company says.
Launched in Sunnyvale, California, in 1985 by a group of brothers who adapted what they had learned from their father’s grocery store business to the booming tech scene of mid-80s Silicon Valley, Fry’s sold everything from computers and software to processors and components, but also tee shirts and snacks, marketing itself as the “one-stop-shop for the Silicon Valley professional.”
The whimsical store design that would become the company’s signature started with a second location in Sunnyvale, decorated to look like the inside of a giant computer. As the brand expanded–ultimately to 31 stores in nine states–each store would get its own unique decor theme. Burbank was retro sci-fi, Woodland Hills was based on Alice in Wonderland, Fountain Valley was inspired by ancient Rome.
By the 2000s, Fry’s was beginning to fray, with customers increasingly shopping online–a pivot Fry’s was never able to successfully do–and some of the items they originally carried, like software, no longer being widely sold as physical product at all. Competitors like Best Buy came to dominate what remained of the retail electronics market.
In recent years, even at stores that remained open, whole shelves or even entire sections of the vast stores would sit empty, with no new stock arriving. In 2019 and 2020 a handful of the brand’s stores closed, suggesting that the rest might soon follow. When the announcement leaked on Twitter on Tuesday night, few on social media were surprised, but many expressed nostalgia for the experience of going to the stores.
“Pour one out for [Fry’s Electronics], a true Silicon Valley institution,” tech investor and Stanford lecturer Adam Nash tweeted. “I used to walk around the stores for hours, just exploring every aisle. It was a reliable index into the zeitgeist of builders. Every store has its own character.”
Hollywood was touched by Fry’s too, with Crazy Rich Asians and In the Heights director Jon M. Chu chiming in on Twitter that, before he was making blockbuster, he was one of the likely many future filmmakers who “used and returned a lot of video equipment back in the day” from his own local Fry’s.
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