What have you always wondered about the economy? Tell us

Why Fry’s Electronics was more than a store to many

David Brancaccio and Rose Conlon Feb 26, 2021
Heard on:
HTML EMBED:
COPY
"It was this magical wonderland where pretty much everything with a power cord was on sale," said Parker Hall, a product reviewer for Wired. David McNew/Newsmakers

Why Fry’s Electronics was more than a store to many

David Brancaccio and Rose Conlon Feb 26, 2021
Heard on:
"It was this magical wonderland where pretty much everything with a power cord was on sale," said Parker Hall, a product reviewer for Wired. David McNew/Newsmakers
HTML EMBED:
COPY

What feature of the American landscape has disappeared in the last 10 years that was especially meaningful to you? Why do you miss this place?

Email us at morningreport@marketplace.org. We’ll feature some responses on the air.


“Marketplace Morning Report” is going to spend some time in the coming days and weeks looking at “Vanishing America” — parts of the landscape that might disappear in the next 10 years here in the land of Amazon.

One just vanished: Fry’s Electronics, a big-box store in nine states that shut down abruptly this week. Some called it the “Nerd Disneyland.”

Host David Brancaccio spoke with Parker Hall, a product reviewer at Wired, about what the store meant to him growing up. The following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

David Brancaccio: For people who’ve never walked into a Fry’s, what do you think the big deal is? I mean, how many SCSI and USB cords can you look at?

Parker Hall: It’s hard to describe the magic of Fry’s in its heyday, especially if you’ve only been there in recent years, when it sort of lost a little bit of its luster. But it was this magical wonderland where pretty much everything with a power cord was on sale.

Brancaccio: And you would go with your family when you were little?

Hall: Oh, yeah. My dad would make up a random excuse — you know, new TV remote or something — and we would all pile in the car. And it was just this awesome experience. Because it was such a big store — it’s like a Costco-sized warehouse of technology. Everything was on display for you to touch, which isn’t true, I think, even at modern electronic stores. You can’t really actually physically pick something up and mess with it the way that you could at Fry’s.

Brancaccio: I remember it for it being a watershed moment in my relationship with my son, Nick. I don’t remember how old he was, say 12, and he had brought a list of components so that he could build, essentially from scratch, a gaming computer. And this is something I could not do but he could do. So he’s leading me around looking for the graphics cards and the power supplies. And I realized, “OK, he’s in the driver’s seat now.”

Hall: Yeah, yeah, it’s interesting. So I’m probably about the age of your son, I turn 30 this year. And when I was growing up, that was my first experience building a computer was going to Fry’s with my older brother. And he got all the parts just there right off the shelf, and we went home that day and built a computer. And I think that being able to go to a store that carries all of this sort of niche stuff that you need to do that really opened a lot of people’s eyes. I mean, my brother, to this day, he’s an engineer at Amazon. And I don’t think he would have been if he hadn’t wandered through Fry’s and seen all the cool tech that was there when we were kids.

Brancaccio: What do you think? Should we be ashamed that a retail space was important to us like this? I mean, if we’d been saying, “Yes, we went with our family to a national park,” that would be more defensible.

Hall: It’s funny, I’ve been weighing that. And it’s a thing that I deal with a lot in my job as a product reviewer. But I think that a lot of us saw things and discovered possibilities in that retail space that made it something a little bit more than just a place you’d go and buy things.

Marketplace is on a mission.

We believe Main Street matters as much as Wall Street, economic news is made relevant and real through human stories, and a touch of humor helps enliven topics you might typically find…well, dull.

Through the signature style that only Marketplace can deliver, we’re on a mission to raise the economic intelligence of the country—but we don’t do it alone. We count on listeners and readers like you to keep this public service free and accessible to all. Will you become a partner in our mission today?

Your donation is critical to the future of public service journalism. Support our work today – for as little as $5 – and help us keep making people smarter.