Tag Archives: Fry’s Electronics

The End of Fry’s Electronics

Oh the stories of Fry’s Electronics.  There was a point in my career when “we’re going to Fry’s” was a legitimate excuse to leave the building for a while.  Our offices at the time were over on Arques Avenue, about where Nuance is now, and Fry’s was across the street and through a parking lot, over on Kern Avenue.

Always Fry’s

That was the second Fry’s location in Sunnyvale, the one with the building painted up to look like a giant computer chip that would later become the location of Weird Stuff Warehouse in the late 90s, the used electronics outlet which finally closed back in 2018. (Some pictures of that here.  I remember seeing an early hard drive the size of a small washing machine there.)  The original Fry’s was across Lawrence Expressway, over off of Lakeside Drive, and the third and final location was in the huge building at 1077 Arques Avenue.

Not that Sunnyvale was the only Fry’s location.  They had a few across the valley, each with their own odd theme.  The one in Palo Alto was made up in an old west style, while the one in Campbell had a Mayan facade, and there were other odd or interesting styles to their stores, which 34 across several states at the chain’s peak.

But I don’t think that Fry’s meant quite as much outside of Silicon Valley.  Here it was an institution both loved and loathed.  In the early days in its first location, a crowded and comically small store… in light of the size of some of their future locations… with shelves practically up to the ceiling tiles to try and cram in as much merchandise as possible.

Fry’s was known not just as a place where you could buy chips and electronics, but also just about anything else that would get nerds in the door.  Their early ads inevitably featured case lot pricing on soda in addition to RAM and motherboard specials.  The joke was that you could buy both computer chips and potato chips there, with the offerings around the checkout line adding up to a convenience store all on its own.

As the stores got bigger, what they carried expanded.  They became the place to go for the release of new titles on DVD and used to stock an amazing array of titles.  I remember the day that the original Star Wars trilogy came out on DVD.  At the Sunnyvale store… by then at the huge third location… there was a continuous parade of nerds (including a few I knew, and myself of course) walking in the front door, following the sign to the pallet of copies dropped in the middle of an open space at the end of an aisle, picking up a copy of the wide screen set (because screw that 4:3 conversion), then turning around to get in the snaking line that led up to the long bank of cashiers.  As I went in to get my copy I had to laugh at so many people… mostly younger men… standing in line with exactly the same item in their hand.

The same went for software releases.  I went there on launch day for a number of titles.  The store opened up at midnight for the release of World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade and had pallets of boxes, both standard and collector’s editions, out in the aisles.  That is recent enough that I have a blog post about that day.  (Same for Wrath of the Lich King.)  Before digital delivery became the default, Fry’s was a good bet for any big release.  They would always have piles of copies.

And for years they never seemed to cull their shelves of older titles.  I used to go up and down the PC games aisle to spot things that were no longer readily available.  They had an array of EverQuest expansions and always a few copies of Total Annihilation or Command and Conquer that were otherwise out of print.  They cleaned all that up about a decade back, but for a while the place was like an archive.

Of course, there were problems.  The complaints about Fry’s could be legion.  The place was big and often crowded on weekends.  The sales staff was not hired for their technical knowledge.  Even getting directions in the store, much less advice about products, was very hit and miss.

There was a period of time when Apple would only see through a series of specifically vetted retailers in the early 90s when the new PowerBook laptops were a hot ticket and Fry’s got deep into the gray market, selling Macs without being an authorized reseller.  Since Apple, like most manufacturers, offered quantity discounts, it was guessed that Fry’s was buying excess from a certified reseller, but since they were not the first party purchaser there was some question as to whether warranties and such would be honored by Apple.  At the time I worked at a small authorized reseller across the street from the Sunnyvale Fry’s (second store) and we used to grumble about this shady practice and moan when somebody came in and wanted us to price match Fry’s.  Somehow they managed to sell at less than our cost. (The margin on Macs was razor thin. We needed to sell you a SCSI cable to make any money on the deal.)

Then there was the legendary return counter, the caprice of which was manifest.  Some days it seemed that you could returned used gum because you didn’t like that the flavor had gone out of it, while at other times you could come close to a fist fight trying to return an item still sealed in the box with the receipt.  A friend once bought a motherboard at a discount because it had the “returned item” sticker on it… Fry’s would just put returned items back on the shelf with a small discount, rarely ever checking to see if the item was still good… only to get it home and find that the motherboard inside was an old 386 model and not the current generation Pentium he was expecting.  When he tried to bring it back, explaining the issue, the person at the counter accused him of trying to scam the company.  In fact, they had been scammed by the first person who returned it who probably told them it didn’t fit in his case or was the wrong chip set or the like.

It was pretty much holy write never to buy an item at Fry’s that had the “returned” sticker on it.

Then there was the time somebody gave me a gift certificate to Fry’s, which practically took a DNA test to redeem.

But for all of that I generally enjoyed taking a trip to Fry’s.  I always favored the Sunnyvale store, which had everything from chips and components to phones and appliances, plus whatever was the fad of the day, from drones to hoverboards to anything else that was momentarily hot.  Over the years I bought many things from Fry’s.  I built several PCs out of their stock, bought controllers and games for our Wii, grabbed cables and presents and updated video cards at need.  It was the place to go if I was working on something over the weekend and needed some strange connector or a way to mount a SATA drive externally to try and rescue some data for a friend.

Over time though things began to change.

The valley used to be full of places that sold computers and electronics, from once ubiquitous Radio Shack to Best Buy and Micro Center and the once mighty CompuUSA.  But online began to fill a lot of that niche.

I would be hard pressed to recall the last piece of Windows software I purchased in a physical box.  Maybe WoW Legion?  Digital has take over on the PC front pretty much completely for me.  The last PC I built has a DVD/BluRay drive, but it rarely gets touched.  I keep my Civilization II disk in there, as that is the only game I play that needs to go find the original DVD… wait, that is a CD… in order to launch.

And then there is Amazon.  I built my last PC almost entirely by ordering through Amazon as the price advantage was significant.  I also bought that copy of WoW Legion through Amazon back when they had a 20% discount on physical pre-orders.

The last time I can recall going to Fry’s was before Thanksgiving in 2019, when I went to the Campbell store, which is closer to our house, to find a specific item I needed.  They didn’t have it.  In fact they barely had anything at all.  Considering it was the ramp up to the holiday shopping spree the shelves were quite bare.  The once amazing video aisle had been consolidated down to two and a half shelves of leftovers.  It was a place that looked like it was getting ready to shut down, not one braced for Christmas shoppers.

That was before the pandemic was even being speculated about.  Since then business tanked as we all stayed home and ordered online.

Fry’s had an online business as well.  They had bought another online retailer and consolidated them into their fold, but I was never keen to use them.  The reputation of Fry’s did not encourage me to trust them unless I could hold the product in my hand before I bought it.  If I wanted something from Fry’s I’d go there in person.

But I have been very few places in person over the last year.  It was a bad year for physical retail unless you sold toilet paper.  Now I wonder if Fry’s had that on the shelf somewhere?

So it was a bit of a shock, but still unsurprising, that it was announced earlier this week that the entire chain was shutting down.  Their web site was replace by this message:

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. (“Fry’s” or “Company”), 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. The Company will implement the shut down through an orderly wind down process that it believes will be in the best interests of the Company, its creditors, and other stakeholders.

The Company ceased regular operations and began the wind-down process on February 24, 2021. It is hoped that undertaking the wind-down through this orderly process will reduce costs, avoid additional liabilities, minimize the impact on our customers, vendors, landlords and associates, and maximize the value of the Company’s assets for its creditors and other stakeholders.

The Company is in the process of reaching out to its customers with repairs and consignment vendors to help them understand what this will mean for them and the proposed next steps.

If you have questions, please contact us using the following email addresses:

  • For customers who have equipment currently being repaired, please email customerservice@frys.com, to arrange for return of your equipment.
  • For customers with items needing repair under a Performance Service Contract, please call (800) 811-1745.
  • For consignment vendors needing to pick up their consignment inventory at Fry’s locations, please email omnichannel@frys.com.

Please understand if we are a bit slow to respond given the large volume of questions. The Company appreciates your patience and support through this process.

Sincerely,

Fry’s Electronics

So it goes.

I will miss having a store like that close by, though the Campbell store actually shut down in November 2020, surprising me by lasting that long.  There was never a store quite like it in the valley and, given the real estate prices, I doubt there will be again.  But change has been the way of the valley all of my life.  When I was born there were still huge tracts of active farmland here.  Now it is a sea of industrial parks and campuses and over priced suburbs.

No Crusade at Fry’s

I was at Fry’s the other day looking for, among other things, a copy of The Burning Crusade expansion for World of Warcraft for my daughter’s account.  She decided she likes blood elves during the 10 day trial of the expansion.

In the past Fry’s has had stacks of the expansion on the shelves, including collector’s editions.

But there was not a copy of The Burning Crusade to be found.

This is an unusual state of affairs at Fry’s.  The shelves still have several old EverQuest and EverQuest II expansions despite the fact that later cumulative expansions are next to them on the shelf.  Fry’s is the only place I know where you can still find a copy of Total Annihilation: Kingdoms on the shelf.  I was frankly surprised not to find a copy or two of Tabula Rasa.  They have a lot of shelf space and an aversion to throwing anything away.

But no Burning Crusade.

Which strikes me as a bit odd.  You cannot use Wrath of the Lich King unless you have Burning Crusade already.  You can get BC as part of a World of Warcraft Battle Chest, but if you have the original box (which is still on the shelf) your options are somewhat limited.  I ended up just upgrading her account via the account management page, since the iMac she plays on already has both expansions installed. (If your account has one of both of the expansions you cannot play on a machine that lacks them.)

Now, I did not go out and scour local electronics stores to see if anybody else was stocking Burning Crusade.  But, as I pointed out, Fry’s does not pull anything off their shelves unless somebody gives them a refund, so I suspect that I would find the same situation at other major chains.

I cannot decide if this is a serious blunder or a very shrewd move on the part of Blizzard.

It seems awkward, not being able to just buy the first expansion off the shelf since you must have it for the second one.  On the other hand, more cash probably goes into Blizzard’s pocket if people upgrade via the account management page, and if you’re buying the expansion but don’t want the Warchest version, you probably already have an account.

Part of me suspects that Blizzard isn’t quite sure what to do with a game with more than their usual single expansion.

No Shortage of The Wrath of the Lich King

As was the case with the release of The Burning Crusade back in January 2007, Wrath of the Lich King was available in huge quantities at my local Fry’s.  I dropped by on my way to the office to pick up my copy of the expansion, along with a copy of Kung Fu Panda/Secrets of the Furious Five.

Fry’s seemed to have cut back on the number of Collector’s Edition boxes they stocked, as they still had copies of The Burning Crusade Collector’s Edition sitting on the shelf up until last week.  There was only one pallet of WotLK CE’s visible when I was in the store.

Of course, arriving at the office, I had to open the box to see what it contained.  Contents:

  • Game install DVD with activation code
  • Expansion Set Game Manual (33 pages, of which 13 are credits… a lot of people worked on this!)
  • Two 10 Day Guest Pass Keys (destined for the recycle bin)
  • Blizzard Entertainment Product Catalog

The catalog was easily the biggest thing in the box, which I found odd for a company with essentially three game IPs, two of which are years out of date: Warcraft, StarCraft, and Diablo.

But I had not considered the World of Warcraft spin-offs.  They include:

  • WoW Novels (StarCraft and Diablo have them too)
  • WoW Strategy Guides (Is the game so complex we need a hard copy Atlas?)
  • WoW Manga
  • WoW Miniatures Game
  • WoW Original Comic Series
  • WoW Board Game (StarCraft too)
  • WoW Trading Card Game (10 different flavors, plus a treasure chest set with dice)
  • WoW Action Figures
  • WoW Wall and Daily Calendars
  • Talking (?) Murloc plush toy
  • Life Size Frostmourne replica sword
  • WoW T-Shirts
  • Carrot on a stick key chain
  • WoW Custom Statues

The last one intrigued me.  A company called FigurePrints will, for $130, make an up to 8″ tall statue of your character with its current equipment.  They are worried about such an onslaught of customers that there will be a lotto for the privilege of getting to pay to have you character created.  And they are probably right to worry.

I wonder why the company making the custom guild shirts does not have a similar plan to get you a custom picture of your character or if such a feature is being planned?  That would seem to be a more reasonable path.

And with all this, no animated series.  Maybe after the movie version of the game.

Anyway, still hours to go before I can get home and install it.  I’ve heard that there are some non-functional disks out there. (Earl seems to have gotten one.)  We’ll see if I am on that list.

No Shortage of The Burning Crusade

At least not in Santa Clara County California.

I drove over to Fry’s in Sunnyvale at 11:30am to get a case for a new cell phone and to see what the supply situation was for The Burning Crusade.

I wish they would let people take pictures in the store, because I could have shown the huge piles of copies right where you walk into the store.  A 50″ project TV was next to that display running the demo reel for the expansion.  Walking around the store I counted no less than four pallets of boxes on the sales floor in addition to the shipper displays that were around the store.

If no place else was, Fry’s was ready for the launch of The Burning Crusade.

In the presence of so many copies, I weakened and picked up a copy for myself at the full retail price of $39.99.  I’ll be pissed at myself if the price goes down in the next few weeks.  Given how many copies there were in the store, that might happen.

When I checked out of the store, the cashier laughed when he saw the box.  He explained that people had been lining up since Sunday to get their copy of the game while here I was at 10 minutes to noon on the big day and I just walked in and picked up a copy.

I did not see anybody else walking out with a copy either.  I compare this to the biggest sales day I have ever seen at Fry’s, the day when the original Star Wars Trilogy came out on DVD.  On that day there was an ant-like stream of young-to-middle-aged men walking into the store, to bins in the DVD section that frantic employees kept refilling, and then snaking into line at the cashiers, all with the very same item in their hands.

How did stock look by you?  Did you get a copy?