On Thursday evening, RadioShack finally reached its years-in-the-making end when it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and said it plans to sell up to 2,400 stores to Sprint. The news should come as no surprise: RadioShack had lost money for 11 straight quarters and, frankly, struggled to stay viable since e-commerce caught on and Apple rolled out the iPhone. RadioShack employees have told dismal tales of stores that stayed open for 12 hours without seeing a single customer, or that did weekly revenue of a couple dollars after someone came in for a watch battery.
When I stopped in at a RadioShack in Manhattan this morning, there was one other customer in the store (who left shortly after I arrived) and three employees. One of them, after I mentioned that I was a reporter, told me that they had only been informed of the bankruptcy that morning and hadn’t really been given any instructions on what to do about it. Another scribbled down the number of a hotline they’d been told to call with questions. “This is the RadioShack Corporation restructuring line,” a message droned when I tried it. “On Feb. 5, 2015, the company and several of its subsidiaries filed for reorganization under Chapter 11 of the U.S. bankruptcy code. RadioShack is open for business and serving customers.”
If RadioShack’s demise was inevitable, it was also mourned. News of the bankruptcy filing prompted an outpouring of memories from one-time RadioShack customers and tech geeks. Motherboard and the Wall Street Journal were among the outlets that crowdsourced eulogies for the embattled chain. “In the ’70s I saved my allowance and bought a crystal radio set at RadioShack so I could listen to the police calls in San Diego,” one reader wrote to the Journal. “RadioShack was the one-stop-shop for everything I needed—PCBs, every type of wire you could imagine, a soldering gun, etc.,” another recalled.
That people’s fondest memories of RadioShack overwhelmingly involve buying parts to fix and tinker with various electronic devices illustrates perfectly why RadioShack is now filing for bankruptcy protection. During RadioShack’s heyday in the 1980s, consumer electronics were still things you could fix with the right parts and some free time. Today? Good luck. Home-built radios might figure prominently in All the Light We Cannot See, but they’re far from a typical purchase. More complicated gadgets have also become harder to fidget with. Since 2008, Apple in particular has marketed high-end devices that are practically impossible to repair yourself. The last time I bought something in a RadioShack was a few years ago, when I needed a new battery for my flip phone and couldn’t find it on Amazon.
According to RadioShack’s announcement, up to 1,750 of the stores it sells to Sprint will be reconfigured as stores-within-stores. The rest of RadioShack’s company-owned stores will close and be expected to clear out their remaining inventory; the company is in talks to sell its remaining assets. RadioShack says it will post a full list “in the near future” of all the stores that will be shut down. Until then, it might be worth checking if there are any electronic odds and ends you want to get on clearance.