back to article So, bye-bye mighty nerd haven Fry’s, took Silicon to the Valley... and now you must die

Store chain Fry’s Electronics announced on Wednesday it was shutting down for good, saying the internet and the coronavirus pandemic together sounded the death knell for the Silicon Valley institution. “After nearly 36 years in business as the one-stop-shop and online resource for high-tech professionals across nine states and …

  1. Horizontal

    Sounds familiar.

    Maplins anyone

    1. tony72

      I was under the impression that Maplins failed mostly because several rounds of leveraged buyouts by private equity firms saddled it with massive debts, which I don't think is the case with Fry's, so a little different situation. It might have struggled anyway, but without the private equity firms loading it with debt and draining it of profits, it might have had a fighting chance.

      1. 0laf

        Maplins owners didn't even try to make money. Even in the closing down firesale everything was 50% more expensive than most online vendors

  2. Brad Ackerman

    Fry's failed because they couldn't be bothered to actually put anything on the shelves, not because of Amazon or direct-from-China. Micro Center has both inventory and tons of customers.

    1. sreynolds

      Costs a lot to have inventory or such a large range when you can get it shipped from the manufacturer or their minions in China directly.

      Bit disappointing that they didn't screw over suppliers, creditors and others by taking equity and/or cash out of the company before sending in the liquidator to give the others pennies in the dollar. Quire unAmerican in my opinion.

    2. chuckufarley Silver badge

      Fry's Failed because...

      ...The three brothers that founded it came from a family of grocers used to buying at the lowest price and selling for anything higher. A case in point is the mysterious 395 MHz AMD K6-3. This was on sale for one weekend at Fry's Electronics in late 1999. They sold out in hours with a price of just under $60 and yet there were only two motherboards in the world that could support the FSB speeds and clock multipliers needed to equal 390 MHz. They were a faulty lot of AMD K6-3 400 MHz CPU's Fry's bought and sold as to customers that didn't know any better. No one knows how many people never returned to Fry's after their new computer's burnt up three months later.

      If you always insist on maximizing profits you are also driving customers away. Always.

      1. jake Silver badge

        Re: Fry's Failed because...

        Wasn't that the 66MHz FSB clocked at 6X, which was a common (and much cheaper) way to get almost identical performance to the 100MHz FSB clocked at 4X? Fry's just called it what it was, 396MHz (not 395!), instead of claiming 400MHz as other companies did ... and trust me, there were a lot more than just two MBs that would support that rate. Yes, some home-built systems burned down, but that was due to the builder's lack of understanding the need for extra cooling ... or the refusal to believe it.

        Here is a little blurb on the situation from 1998.

        Note that I was no fan of Fry's during that era and on, but demonizing them for something not their doing is hardly productive at this stage of the game.

      2. martinusher Silver badge

        Re: Fry's Failed because...

        >came from a family of grocers

        Fry's is a largish grocery chain that you'll find in Arizona and New Mexico (among other places) so this might explain the similar logo. The grocery stores lack the quirky decor of the hardwre chain. Our local one was themed from Alice in Wonderland, Burbank had the crashed flying saucer stuck in the front (adjacent to the airport, I wonder what ATC made of the extra terrisitals?).

        I don't know of any UK equvalent, a large windowless box full of 'stuff' (but in recent years, never what you actually needed). There's a scene in "Galaxy Quest" where the crew is opening some store which is a dead ringer for a new Fry's.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Fry's Failed because...

          "so this might explain the similar logo."

          Daddy Fry sold his grocery chain "Fry's" to the Kroger supermarket chain, and gave each of his three sons a portion of the proceeds. The sons pooled their resources and abilities and opened the first "Fry's" the electronics store. The grocery stores in AZ are leftovers from the original chain.

          I doubt that ATC even noticed. It was lost in the surface clutter.

    3. ckm5

      There was a time when Fry's had everything & then some, even the kitchen sink. With the rise of e-commerce, they started having sourcing issues and that was the death knell.

      I used to stop by the Palo Alto store a lot, but I haven't been there in a while, didn't know it was closed.... Wonder what I'll do if we ever have in person meetings again and I have time to kill....

      P.S. The only MicroCenter in Silly Valley closed about 10 (?) years ago....

    4. diodesign (Written by Reg staff) Silver badge

      Not entirely mutually exclusive

      Why not both? Lack of inventory and the rise of Amazon, Aliexpress, etc.


      1. Brad Ackerman

        Re: Not entirely mutually exclusive

        Amazon and AliExpress should affect both Fry's and Micro Center equally, and yet as far as I know no Micro Center location is even remotely struggling. There are areas where both Fry's and Micro Center had stores within a short drive (e.g. Houston and NE Atlanta exurbs); in every case the former stopped restocking the shelves two years ago, and the latter is still in business and full of customers. Best Buy is also doing quite well, even in the market segments where it's easy to buy online.

        There are certainly other things Micro Center does better (more name-brand maker stuff instead of clones) or differently (no white goods) that could have an impact, but with 98% of their shelves bare (look at the Swift On Security thread for some more recent pictures) the real mystery is why it took them so long to turn off the lights.

        1. jake Silver badge

          Re: Not entirely mutually exclusive

          Fry's empty shelves were caused by them attempting to convince their vendors to sell their products on consignment. The venders said "I don't THINK so!". Fry's stubbornly held out, with predictable results.

    5. Ghostman

      Two years ago I quit going to Fry's since the employees seemed to have no time for customers. The managers were more interested in moving product from place to place, usually in the wrong place and price point.

      I once stood in line asking a question to the cashier, no one would stop running from place to place and check on some components (M/b, case, processor, memory, video card, NVME, around $600 worth).

      She kept saying she didn't know about those items and I kept asking her to call someone from tech, or a manager. Her response was: I think they're busy right now. Wouldn't call anybody up front.

      I stood still and blocked the line until she did. Manager would call back and say handle it and hang up.

      I would get her to call back. Same thing. Got her to call back and I answered the phone.

      He started to cuss out the cashier and was surprised when I told him to shut the F up.

      I let him know that I had waited in the tech department for someone to write up an order and confirm that the items were in stock. I WOULD get them myself but they are in a locked cabinet. I could still get them if you don't mind me getting the bolt cutters out of truck and opening up the cabinet.

      He didn't seem to like that idea and he wouldn't meet me at the cabinet, but would send a tech rep when they got through with the item on hand. I guess he forgot you can see into the in store cafe from the front registers.

      I left the registers and went toward the Tech area, went past the unmanned register, waved my empty hands at the security cameras, and went out the alarmed emergency exit.

      1. ckm5

        You have more patience than me - I'd never wait, esp since 1/2 the stuff was repackged returns and generally retail-ish price. When it became possible to order stuff and get in a few days, I stopped buying there and just stop there to kill time.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          You had to look for the colored dots. I think all they did with a return was put a colored dot on it, if it came back again, then they knew there must be something wrong with it. Given that they charged the same price for new items and for the returned items, I quit going there for stuff. You never knew if it was new or returned until you actually got there and saw it. If it was something that was in a locked cabinet, then you didn't know until after you bought it.

      2. Shadow Systems

        At Ghostman, re: Fry's idiots.

        You have my sympathies. Here, have a pint on me in comisseration. *Taps rims*

        The Sacramento area store lost me after wasting an hour of my time ignoring me standing at the tech sales island where you had to get the item printout to take to the cashier island up front, pay for it, at which point the item retrieved from secure storeage.

        I tried to get a sales droid from the next department over to get a tech to the station, but dispite the promise I'd get met by one, nobody ever showed.

        I went to the cashier's island & asked to buy the item. She called her manager whom said I *HAD* to get the printout from the tech sales station first.

        I shouted at him at his perch in the security cage behind my cashier "I've been TRYING to do that for the past HOUR. I've been IGNORED. Either she-" pointing at my cashier "-gets to ring it up here or YOU'VE just told EVERYONE IN THE STORE TO DROP IT AND LEAVE."

        He didn't appreciate the Drill Sargent projecting bellow that could be heard a few time zones over, so demanded I leave.

        I gave him The Finger & went through the emergency exit doors right beside the island. Yes it was petty, but at that point I was so pissed off it was either that or leap over the counter to beat him like a cheap punching dummy.

        Fry's was awesome back in the day, but now not a single fuck will be given as they crash & burn.

    6. andrewj

      On top of that, the last time I was in Palo Alto Fry's (before it closed in 2019) I waited over 10 minutes at the checkout for no person to appear to ring the item up. No, I am not exaggerating - everyone in the line was incredulous. I left and never went back.

  3. jake Silver badge

    IMO, Fry's failed in 1996 ...

    ... when they started treating their customers like criminals. Nobody I know shopped there after that. Frankly I'm surprised it took them this long to realize they were dead.

    SpeakingTyping as a guy who had shopped[0] at the original Sunnyvale location from the year dot ... and lived down the street (kinda ... just down Alma) from the Palo Alto location when it was built.

    [0] If I couldn't find the part used at HalTec in Mountain View, I trundled down Central Expressway to HalTed. If they didn't have it used, I went around the corner to Fry's and purchased it new.

    1. Marty McFly Silver badge

      Re: IMO, Fry's failed in 1996 ...

      Spot on. They insisted on searching customers on the way out the door.

      Sure, Costco does it. Costco is also a membership business, and agreeing to be searched is part of the membership agreement. Fry's is not a membership business.

      They have no legal right to review a customer's receipt AFTER the transaction has concluded. The items purchased have become personal property and they are carried on my person. If there is a concern about the transaction it must be addressed at the time of the transaction (cash register) not at the exit to the store.

      Cool store to shop at, but that pissed me off. That was 20 years ago and I never went back. Frankly I thought they folded a long time ago. Good riddance.

  4. cd

    Last year I spoke with a clerk at another retail outlet who once worked for Fry's. His claim was that one of the brothers had money-handling issues and possible substance issues as well, so the stores got ignored. He said that his store's manager pleaded for more stock and support but that the top people were often MIA for long periods.

    I really liked Fry's for being different and comprehensive. When the shelves started being empty and the employees started looking unwell it made me sad. So much potential and convenience, and they are the last place, not that Radio Shack was great but now we're down to the delivery truck to get some simple small things.

    I wonder if the new Gamestop regime might consider a synergy buyout/resuscitation.

    1. ckm5

      i'm not surprised. Ive also heard that the crazy decor was done by a family member (wife?) of one of the founders who wanted to be a set designer....

    2. Jakester

      What Is There To Buyout?

      What is there for a group like Gamestop to buyout? All that is left is a damaged brand and empty buildings. The closest Fry's to me was 138 miles away. One a trip to Las Vegas a couple years ago, I made a stop at that Fry's. About half the aisles had only totally empty shelves. The software aisle had hundreds of boxes of software consisting of three brands of antivirus software - nothing else. The only aisles still fairly well stocked were the discrete electronic components, such as resistors, capacitors, LEDs, switches, transistors, ICs and other misc components. After seeing that, I no longer made any purchases from their website. I now rely on Newegg, TigerDirect, for computers and computer components. I do use Aliexpress for miscellaneous items not readily available locally, but the wait is long.

  5. fidodogbreath

    RIP Fry's

    Fry's in Roseville, CA opened with great fanfare ca. 2007, but had huge swathes of empty shelves as far back as 2015-16. Pity. It was a good store when it first opened. -- in contrast to their other Sacramento store, which was a dimly-lit dump.

  6. RM Myers

    Fry's Online

    They used to have some good sales on software online, usually requiring a @#$% rebate (I hate rebates!). I never had any real problems with them, but their reputation for customer service (or lack there of) was widely known.

    Oh well, I can always go to the local Micro Center to avoid the Amazon's of the world.

  7. Boo Radley

    A Must See Destination

    Whenever I traveled into Houston, I always made it a point to visit Fry's. They had practically everything electronic under the sun, plus hot Asian guys to ogle.

    Their sales staff though, could be really hit or miss, especially in later years, when it seemed they no longer cared who they hired.

    My last trip there was two weeks ago, and many of the shelves were bare. I really wish I'd known it would be my last visit, maybe I'd have bought more goodies.

    RIP, Fry's

  8. Boo Radley

    Treating Customers Like Criminals

    I totally forgot about the receipt checkers. I hate stores where they expect you to show your receipt upon exiting. Fortunately there is no law that says you must show your receipt to them, and knowing that they were just doing their job, I always politely and with a smile said "No, thank you" to them. No one ever chased or harrassed me over my failure to show one, unlike at Walmart

    1. Marty McFly Silver badge

      Re: Treating Customers Like Criminals

      My one and only visit to Fry's. Long line waiting to get receipts checked. I walked right past it and loudly stated "It is an illegal search, folks" as I walked out the door with my purchases. I never glanced back to see how many people followed me.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Fry's closing represents the change from Hardware to Software

    As an old-time hardware engineer in Silicon Valley, I see the closing of Fry's as representative of the transition from hardware hacking (in the good sense) to software hacking (also in the good sense).

    When Fry's started up over 35 years ago, the Homebrew Computer Club was still active. I remember going to Fry's on my way home from work to pick up parts for projects to work on in the evening.

    But Fry's had a downside, too --notoriously bad customer service. I taught classes in introductory computer skills at a job-training center in the 90's and I would tell my students not to shop there except in the company of someone who knew something about computers.

    The last time I went to a Fry's was well over a year ago, and I was saddened to see the empty shelves --it was clear that Fry's was moribund.

    It's passing and that of other companies such as Radio Shack represent the end of an era.

  10. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Fry's used to be a regular point of call when I was in the Bay area, if only as a way to while away some evening time keeping jetlag away. The Palo Alto store was more oriented towards computer stuff, Sunnyvale was more along the ones of a Dixons/Comet (for those on this side of the pond). In the 90s they had lots of computer and electronics stuff that couldn't be found in high street shops in Europe, other than places like Tottenham Court Road but over the past 10-15 years, though, that changed and buying in the US also stopped being significantly cheaper. Saving 50% made it worth the trouble of transport, short guarantees or the need to swap the wallwart PSU, but with only 10% difference it wasn't worth the hassle. That, and the empty shelves and unhelpful staff described above made my visits shorter and less frequent.

    Still, it's a rather sad sign of the end of a general era. Weird Stuff warehouse went a few years ago, Halted (HSC) has gone, others like HRO seem to be closing stores.

  11. Brew

    Fry’s Was Joke Even At Height

    Used to go to the Campbell store in the 90’s. Fry’s somehow became the go to place for computers with a sales staff that knew nothing about computers. I remember store employees used to stand around the front entrance smoking cigarettes because that was their rest area... that place was a joke even at its height...

  12. Zarno

    It was always a gamble, the house of cards fell apart.

    Friend in CA dropped this name when he posted about the closing.

    "Ausaf Umar Siddiqui"

    Seems there was writing on the wall for quite some time.

    Their décor reminds me of a quirky little college town café I used to frequent, that had C-band dish segments hanging from the ceiling.

    Pint to go with the chips. Hah. Chips from Fry's, maybe I should have got my coat...

  13. MasterofDisaster

    a next chapter?

    Hoping at some point to learn why the past few years they had cavernous stores with virtually nothing in them. Hard to imagine there isn't some dirt to be shared on money laundering or similar; how else did they stay afloat this long? On the other hand, Macy's seems to be doing the same trick :)

  14. This post has been deleted by its author

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