The writing on the wall for RadioShack—the iconic, if exceptionally dated, Fort Worth-based technology chain—has been there for more than a little while now. Indeed, it’s more surprising that RadioShack survived and existed through the year 2015 than was yesterday’s news that the chain would be filing for bankruptcy, selling many of its stores to Sprint and/or Amazon, and closing the rest.
The details of the immediate future of the company are still uncertain—RadioShack isn’t confirming the rumors that Sprint will be buying many to turn into retail stores to compete with AT&T and Verizon, or that Amazon may purchase them to turn them into showrooms for their technology products—but the ultimate fate of RadioShack joining Circuit City, Borders, Hollywood Video, and other once-ubiquitous, now-dead retail brands is not.
The reason for RadioShack’s collapse are well-documented (Loren Steffy reported them well for Texas Monthly in December), and fairly obvious: Between competitors like Amazon, Best Buy, and Wal-Mart, a small retail store that sells just some of the electronics products you want isn’t something anybody really needs, and the cultural appetite for remote control cars and speaker cables has been in steady decline.
Still, as geek blog Gizmodo argues, what we lose when we lose RadioShack is something more than just a nerd haven for tinkerers and people who are apparently unaware of Amazon. Writing there, Annalee Newitz opines:
Radio Shack tried to bridge the gap into the twenty-first century by carrying Arduino kits and components in some of their stores — and hiring Weird Al to be their pitchman. For non-hobbyists, they had toys, smartphones, headsets, and things like MP3 recorders that only a journalist would really care about (but we REALLY care). Still, what’s killing them is the same thing that killed my local science fiction bookstore. People can buy this stuff online — and they can find the communities that these stores once fostered online too. If I want to geek out about science fiction or Arduino, I can chat with commenters on io9 or Gizmodo or hundreds of other online forums. I don’t need a local store anymore.
The sad thing is that the companies in line to gobble up Radio Shack’s retail outlets are the antithesis of community-creating environments. I’ve spend some of the most hellish moments of my life in Sprint stores. Nobody ever finds friends or gets good tech advice in a mobile provider retail outlet. I mean, maybe you make really elaborate, high-tech plans about how to destroy them — and that’s creative. That’s something.
That’s a fair lament for a chain who was not only old-fashioned in terms of the products it served, but regarding the sort of community it represented. “Farewell to the 20th century” is a dramatic way to summarize the death of RadioShack, but it’s not exactly wrong.