After several years in which its once vibrant, quirky stores were filled with rows of empty shelves, and following several store closures around the Bay Area, Fry's Electronics has officially announced it's shutting down for good.
One of five remaining Bay Area locations of Fry's, an Egyptian-themed store in Campbell, shut its doors in November. And its once widespread presence in California and eight other states was notably faltering throughout 2020 — following the closure of its Palo Alto store in December 2019, many customers complained on Twitter of the increasingly depressing aisles at other locations devoid of products. As The Verge reports, the company had switched to a consignment model in which vendors were only paid after Fry's had sold their products, leading to major inventory issues — a sure sign that things were headed south.
The Horn of Plenty is barren. pic.twitter.com/ycE0EBLHpD— Harry McCracken (@harrymccracken) February 17, 2020
As the Mercury News reports, employees at Fry's locations in San Jose, Sunnyvale, Fremont, and Concord were told not to come to work on Wednesday, and were paid only through today.
"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 reads.
The company denied it was in trouble last January, as the Chronicle reported after the Palo Alto closure. But like so many other businesses nationwide, the pandemic appeared to be the nail in the coffin of a business that was already struggling to hang on — facing stiff competition from Amazon and the still-hanging-on Best Buy.
Also, last April, the Mercury News noted that Fry's North San Jose location, which resides next to the company's corporate headquarters, was slated for a major redevelopment project.
Fry's was founded in 1985 by John, David, and Randy Fry at the height of the 1980s boom in electronics, and it became a catchall emporium for TVs, computers, appliances, video games, stereo equipment, toys, gadgets, obscure parts, and plenty more. The original Sunnyvale location was like a landmark in Silicon Valley — with an interior themed after inside of a computer — and the chain became an essential touchstone for scores of engineers and "ground zero for geek culture," as the Chronicle described it in 2012.
"The Palo Alto store was a fixture for techies everywhere,” said engineer Abbi Vakil, speaking to the Chronicle last January after its closure. “You will not find an engineer in the Bay Area who hasn’t gone to Fry’s for some kind of prototype building."
The company also made the oddball choice to give all of its stores elaborate themes by way of themepark-like interiors — the Egyptian-themed store in Campbell had laptops laid out on fake stone slabs that sat on the backs of black panther statues, and the Burbank, California store had a sci-fi movie theme with a UFO appearing to have crashed into its front facade, and an enormous fire ant suspended from the ceiling.
The most magical place in the universe:— SwiftOnSecurity (@SwiftOnSecurity) November 18, 2017
The Fry’s store in Campbell. pic.twitter.com/gUGHYGN5Do
Look it’s Egyptian wall-art with consumer electronics! pic.twitter.com/LF3ynPxMPl— SwiftOnSecurity (@SwiftOnSecurity) November 18, 2017
Fry's Electronics @ Burbank, CA (opened 1995) pic.twitter.com/Kj5yqorQ7K— Froyo Tam 💽 #BlackLivesMatter (@FroyoTam) February 24, 2021
That may have set it apart from competitors like Circuit City (which called it quits years ago), but the death knell for brick-and-mortar retailers of this size had been ringing louder over the last decade.
And, as Sean Hollister writes on The Verge, customer service wasn't exactly their forte. "Rare was the day I’d find an employee who knew anything about their products, checkout lines were long, returns were incredibly slow, and the company was well-known for taking product returns, slapping on a discount label, and sticking them right back on the shelf."
Now we can add Fry's to the list of nostalgic brands that have entirely or all-but disappeared, like Circuit City, CompUSA, GameStop, Blockbuster, and Radio Shack — all reasons why you can't jump in your car or on your bike and run down to grab a game or a part for immediate gratification. Now, everything has to be shipped, and waited for, and the days of elaborately theatrical retail experiences where you get excited by the physical abundance around you may be nearing an end.
Photo by David McNew/Newsmakers/Getty Images