Electronics retailer Radio Shack, which has been circling the drain for quite a while now, finally did what everyone expected it to do, and declared bankruptcy this week. If you’ve been in the hobby of model railroading for a while, you’ve almost certainly purchased something there that you needed for your railroad—some solder, a spool of wire, Cinch-Jones connectors. How will we survive in a post-Radio Shack retail landscape?
Radio Shack was the place I went to for bridge rectifiers to convert American Flyer engines to DC. I bought my first multimeter there in 1987, and my first Arduino there in 2011. They had Forrest Mims books to teach me the basics of electronics, and TRS-80 references to teach me the rudiments of programming. Once upon a time, any hobby activity involving electricity also involved Radio Shack.
But over the years, that’s changed. The parts and tools sections at the back of the store have steadily shrunk. Employee knowledge of electronics has dwindled into unhelpfulness. (I can read the package all by myself, thank you very much.) Meanwhile, mail-order places like DigiKey were stepping up their game, and new players like SparkFun, Adafruit, and Evil Mad Scientist have arisen to serve hobbyists and educators with innovative products, excellent service, and awesome online tutorials.
How has Radio Shack responded to changing markets and fresh competition?
“Can I interest you in a new cell phone today?” asked the clerk at the register, for about the hundredth time.
“No thanks,” I replied, dumping a handful of parts for a throttle project onto the counter. “I’m building my own.”
Electronics has been a growing part of my railroading life in recent years. Radio Shack’s role has almost entirely vanished. I’m going to miss them, a little.