Revisiting Fry’s Electronics a year later

A little over a year ago, I wrote about the decline of Fry’s Electronics. I have to admit that I didn’t expect the pandemic and its related impact, but I didn’t expect Fry’s to continue on its steady coasting path.

I figured they would either rebound over the holidays or fade into history. As you may recall from the updates, they did not make any visible advances over the holidays, dropping the ball on Black Friday/Cyber Monday, but they didn’t disappear altogether.

This weekend I went back to the Sunnyvale Fry’s store, the one I’ve probably been to more than any other. I think this was the first time at least since February, if not before, that I’ve been to a Fry’s store.

I was a bit surprised.

Fry’s Sunnyvale parking lot, November 1, 2020

The shopping cart corrals were empty, but the parking lot had a couple dozen cars. When I walked in, there were a few people around, and I saw a couple of employees. One was working in the repair shop, and two were behind the register counters where one register was open. There was no register line.

Motherboard display, Fry’s Sunnyvale, November 1, 2020

As I made my way to the flash memory section looking for some MicroSDXC cards for my new Jetson Nano development kit, I was surprised to find the motherboard display disassembled altogether. Last time I was there, they had one motherboard in stock, with five pieces on the shelves that used to be here. This time, I saw absolutely no motherboards.

They did have a modest assortment of SD/MicroSD cards, some even priced on the shelf, and a couple of adapters for reading them on PCs. I believe there was one brand name card, a 64GB Samsung EVO of some sort, and a lot of fringe brands (including the Hyundai cards which actually work pretty well).

Computer component station

The stations where you would normally go to talk to a sales associate or get an invoice and/or price match were marked for social distancing, and abandoned. I saw this in components, computers/printers/monitors, and the television section. I will admit I’d feel guilty price-matching at this point, but it seems like it would be a challenge to get help if you needed it. The only employees I saw were re-shelving things near what used to be the computer section.

I didn’t get photos of a lot of the store. There was one desktop and a couple of semi-offbrand laptops in the computer section (on the former Apple islands), and the remainder of the computer display was limited to a couple of monitors and a few open box PC cases (moved from the far end of the store apparently). Car Electronics has been pretty much decimated, along with the bedding and exercise gear displays.

3D printer filament display

A couple of positive surprises were visible though. There was a healthy display of printer filament for your 3D printing needs (pictured above). I’ve bought almost all of my filament from Central Computer, but I would consider trying some of the colors from eSUN here before ordering online.

I also found the “maker” / Raspberry Pi accessory section, also in the aisles where electronic components used to be (and some still are). There was an abundant selection of cheap 120 and 240 gigabyte SSDs, for prices similar to what I’ve paid for used drives on eBay, so I may go back for some of those when my next Rabbit door comes in. It looked like memory and CPUs were in short supply, but there were reasonable (think Best Buy level) stocks of USB flash drives and SD cards.

The one thing Fry’s seems to have outdone themselves on is personal protective equipment (PPE). The front aisle adjacent to the checkout line was half PPE (several varieties of hand sanitizer, including gallon jugs, as well as masks and protective clothing). So if I run out of what I’ve picked up at Marshalls or TJ Maxx, I could probably stock up here.

Where do we go from here?

It’s hard to tell whether Fry’s will improve their rather stagnant effort to convert to consignment models with their vendors. A few stores (including Palo Alto and Anaheim, as well as one in Georgia) have closed, and it looks like the others haven’t improved much in the past year (based on my observation and some social media posts friends have shared with me from other stores).

At this point, for some limited categories, they are a viable option. With the stores being rearranged, you may have trouble finding a “Fry’s Advisor” or the new location for the products you’re looking for, but they have improved on a couple of categories.

I’ll keep you posted on what I hear – watch for updates here if they happen.

See last year’s Fry’s post here — History of Silicon Valley Indeed; is Fry’s Electronics Dying?

And pour one out for Billy, the Fry’s Electronics social media guy. He takes a lot of flak from people wanting to rag on the store, but stays coherent and professional through it all.

History of Silicon Valley Indeed: Is Fry’s Electronics Dying?

Updated 12/23/2019 and 12/27/2019 – see end of article.

Revisited 11/1/2020 – see Revisiting Fry’s Electronics a year later

As most of my readers know, Fry’s Electronics has been a mainstay in Silicon Valley culture since the mid-1980s. It’s spread around the country, from southern California to Texas and Arizona and the Midwest and probably locations I don’t even know about. There’s even one in Las Vegas.

The stores have themes, running from the Wild West theme of the Palo Alto location (the oldest continuously operating Fry’s store), to Las Vegas’s obvious Las Vegas Strip theme. The current (and third) Sunnyvale location is themed History of Silicon Valley, with an oscillator on the front, huge sepia photos of the founding people and events of Silicon Valley, and more.

But perhaps, like Halted and Weird Stuff in the past two years, this piece of Silicon Valley history may be coming to an end.

The first store opened in Sunnyvale in 1985, near the current location of Faultline Brewing (just off 101 and Lawrence Expressway). When I came to California just over 10 years later, it had moved to the “chip” themed building on Kern and Lawrence (white walls with black marks like an integrated circuit; the building is now a Sports Basement). Sometime in the late 1990s or early 2000s they built a new, enormous store at Arques and Santa Trinita, just a block or so from the Kern location. It had parking for hundreds of cars, almost a hundred cash registers, a cafe in the middle of the store, auto electronics installation bays on the side, and all in all it was a formidable experience.

I’ve never seen more than half of the registers in operation, but it’s often been crowded, and I’ve occasionally run into old friends and former colleagues… even those who had long since moved out of the area would come back like pilgrims.

Lately the parking lot has seemed impressively sparse, and fewer shoppers on most visits (except around the holidays and major TV-inducing sporting events). The shelves were usually well stocked, and things were often where you expected them.

But things keep changing.

2019-12-22 13.59.06

A Sad Sunnyvale Visit

I went to Fry’s in Sunnyvale last Friday to look for a water filter cartridge. Didn’t think to check stock online first, but once I walked in, I knew I wasn’t going to find it.

The parking lot was the typical empty for a Friday afternoon, maybe a bit more. There were more old guys in the cafe than shoppers in the rest of the store. Lots and lots of empty shelves, far fewer staff than usual, felt like the last days of Orchard Supply Hardware but with fewer people and 10 times the space.

As I walked around, seeing what was left, I got the feeling that they could probably carve the store up… block off half of it and build a new entrance, for an entire second store… and still have plenty of room.

I ended up not finding my water filter cartridge. I did pick up a USB hub and a model train magazine though.

And maybe the strangest thing… As far as I can remember, for the first time in my 22+ years of going to Fry’s (since my friend Ray took me there in 1996 or maybe early 1997), there was nobody at the exit to check my receipt.

What happened to Fry’s?

There’s been a lot of media coverage of this, mostly columnists not entirely unlike me, looking at how the world has changed in the last ten years or so. You usually didn’t go to Fry’s for knowledgeable sales staff (although they’d be happy to read the box to you). Warm inviting environments were not their forte, and the “Fry’s Lending Library” (where you’d buy something to use for a day, or test out something else, before returning it) was definitely not part of their marketing, but a lot of people used that function of their stores, despite the long and drawn-out return process.

You went to Fry’s because if you needed almost anything, from a cable to a capacitor to a chair to a computer to a Coke to a charcoal grill, you could find a variety to choose from. You could pick up a magazine and a candy bar and a soda and a pack of batteries in the long check-out line. And it was almost always good for those things.

The biggest thing that happened to Fry’s was Amazon. And I’d say they started adjusting to Amazon about five years too late.

They acquired Cyberian Outpost in 2002 to build out their e-commerce business, and that went sluggishly. They started doing price-matching to local stores and online stores, but either trained their staff wrong or didn’t train them at all, which meant that even if a 4-port KVM switch was available and in stock 10 miles away, they’d try to match it to an 8-port switch and deny the match (happened to me, and I ended up taking the 10 mile trek).

As time went by, they merged outpost.com into frys.com and made it a better experience, including in-store inventory checking and in-store pickup. They’ve started doing price-matching smoothly and accurately, even to Amazon and Best Buy and Newegg. They even introduced same-day home/office delivery recently.

But the parking lots are more empty than not, the stores are hollow echoes of their past glory, and experts as well as fellow customers are having trouble seeing hope for Fry’s Electronics’s future.

Where do they go from here?

We know the Palo Alto store is closing (due to a lease not being renewed), and there are reports of low stock and low staff around the country leaving many fans and shoppers dubious.

Aside from that, spokesmen for Fry’s say they are rebalancing, restocking for the holidays, adjusting inventory, and otherwise laying in for the long haul. It is true that, from Thanksgiving night through Epiphany, Fry’s does tend to pick up in pace, so it’s entirely possible that the next month will see a restructuring and new life.

At this point, we’ll have to wait and see if Santa brings a new life to Fry’s Electronics this Christmas season.

Where can we go from here?

On the upside, two other mainstays are holding up fairly well.

After an early morning fire in April 2019 destroyed their Sunnyvale location on El Camino, Central Computer (another 1985 Silicon Valley classic) is opening a new Sunnyvale store over near where HRO (and Disk Drive Depot and Action Surplus and the original Fry’s store) used to be. Signage and social media say it should be open by the end of the year. In the meantime, they have locations in Santa Clara, San Mateo, Fremont, and San Francisco.

And after formally going out of business in January 2019 after 54 years, Halted/HSC was bought by Excess Solutions, and they’re settling in nicely at the 7th St and Alma location in San Jose. You’ll find classic Halted stock and some of the classic Halted staff alongside the surplus gear, furniture, office supplies, and components that Excess Solutions has been known for.

If you’re looking for a smaller component source, Anchor Electronics is still around  in an industrial part of Santa Clara.

And assuming Fry’s doesn’t close down their Sunnyvale store before then, you can look forward to the return of the Electronics Flea Market on March 14, 2020, in the side parking lot at Fry’s Sunnyvale.

All may not be lost, but it seems like it sometimes.

What do you think about the state of electronics retail in Silicon Valley and beyond? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.

December update 1 (Sunnyvale)

With the predictions of increasing stock and even a Black Friday extravaganza, I went back to Fry’s on Black Friday (November 29, pictured above) in the hopes of more signs of life. There were over 20 customers in the store, which is more than my previous visit showed, and I believe they had about 5 registers open (out of 64?).
The fryshelp Twitter account continued to respond promising conversion to the consignment model, and more stock “soon,” but it wasn’t looking promising. And the one item I needed that day, canned compressed air, was nowhere to be found.
I returned the weekend before Christmas, which in years long past would’ve been a crowded experience. I found fewer than 20 patrons, probably half walking out empty-handed.

2019-11-29 10.39.31

They had consistent stock on shopping baskets with trash bags, used to capture rainwater from roof leaks, and a few things were abundant (gaming chairs, signs for their “no credit required” leasing partner), but otherwise it didn’t seem much different. The computer/monitor/printer section was decimated, networking aisle was barren, and there was no sign of change otherwise.
And the Fry’s twitter accounts were slightly more pragmatic but still not really giving hope.
20191222 fryshelp
I’ve heard from friends that this is still happening in other locations around the country, so we’ll have to see if anything changes in 2020.

December Update 2 (San Jose)

After Christmas I went out to check on the Brokaw (San Jose) store, having seen a photo on Instagram that looked less despondent. Initially it didn’t feel as empty, but once I got walking around, it was.

The Apple section had one machine. The computers/monitors/printers section was mostly barren. And lots of shelves were empty. The cafe had an empty (and apparently unplugged) cooler case and one worker. Two registers were open, and they were moving fairly quickly although there was a short line waiting for them.

HSC Electronics will be halted early next year

Update: The HSC folks were out with a stand at the Electronics Flea Market in Sunnyvale this morning (March 9, 2019). Signs and flyers noted that they’ve sold the store to Excess Solutions of San Jose. Should be interesting to see how the inventory is integrated.

Halted Excess 2019-03-09 07.40.42

Update: HSC closed this past Saturday, January 12, 2019. There was an impressive crowd, cake and coffee, and last minute deals. Best wishes to the owners and employees for success in their next stages, whether retirement or different work.

About 8 months ago, I wrote about the closure of Weird Stuff Warehouse in Sunnyvale, California. Well, Halted Electronic Supply/Halted Specialties Company/HSC Electronic Supply will joining Weird Stuff in the history of Silicon Valley in just about 6 weeks.

Halted History

Halted has been in business for 54 years now. The Homebrew Computer Club often visited back in the day (including both Steves). I wasn’t around the Bay Area for most of that time, but got an introduction early in my time here, in the late 90s.

Around the turn of the century, Halted had three locations, with the main one being in Santa Clara on Ryder St, just off Central Expressway and Lawrence Expressway (near the Sunnyvale Frys, the pre-1996 Weird Stuff, St John’s Grill, and Ham Radio Outlet among others). Gradually the remote locations closed, and the Ryder store was left.

Halted was known for components of all sorts, books and magazines for people who made things from those components, antique radios, tools, legacy computer components, and all sorts of other things. It wouldn’t be unusual to find people in the store with ham radio transceivers on, students buying components for an electronics class, people reminiscing about the radios they used to listen to during the war, and random bargain hunters looking for computers and electronics to mess with at home.

They also had a well-known parking lot sale every September, where cases and crates and pallets would come out of the warehouse, hot dogs and donuts would be put out for sale, and you could get some incredible deals on things you’d forgotten you needed. And you could also find them at the Electronics Flea Market sometimes, with a truck full of carts from the store.

The New York Times had a feature on Halted in 2009, revealing and even foretelling the greatest strength and weakness of the business at that point. Continue reading

Weird Stuff Warehouse closed this weekend

I probably should’ve had more of a teaser title, but it’s still a bit of a shock, so you get the bottom line in the title. After 32 years, Weird Stuff Warehouse is closing this Sunday.

Updates at the end. This post has been updated multiple times since publication.

Also see the unfortunate news from Halted here: HSC Electronics will be halted early next year

If this is your first time here, please do take a look around. I’ve written about gear I’ve bought at WeirdStuff, but there’s a lot more here, from system builds and hardware, Psycho Overkill Home Office technology, and then there’s rsts11travel which breaks out my travel and related adventures and discoveries.

Maker:0x4c,Date:2017-10-14,Ver:4,Lens:Kan03,Act:Lar01,E-Y

For techies who’ve lived in or heard of Silicon Valley anytime in the last 30 years, you probably already know Weird Stuff Warehouse very well.

Ars Technica wrote about them in 2013. The Six Fifty posted last year. Atlas Obscura got a post just last month apparently. You can see an archive of people’s Weird Stuff posts on Instagram here.

And over three decades after they opened up, serving businesses that wanted to get rid of no-longer-needed stuff as well as individuals who “needed” that stuff, Weird Stuff Warehouse is closing its doors at the end of business on Sunday, April 8, 2018. Continue reading

First look: Satechi’s Type-C Power Meter

My friend John Obeto pointed out some pre-release coverage of Satechi’s new USB-C power meter a week or so ago. I’ve had a number of different USB-A (standard port) testers and meters for a while, but with more devices coming into rsts11 headquarters with Type C connections (including the XPS 13 9350 and XPS 15 9550, Apple’s 12″ Macbook, the ASUS Zenpad Z10 from Verizon, and the Nexus 6P by Huawei and Google), I’ve wanted to look at power consumption beyond what an A-to-C adapter could reveal.

For those of you new to USB-C, it’s designed (in part) to be a universal connector for power and data, incorporating high speed data in a connector shared with Thunderbolt 3 (40gbit capability), a reversible connector like Apple Lightning, and some daisy-chaining capabilities like Thunderbolt 2. The standard allows for up to 100W of power, although the highest powered adapters I’ve found are 60W. The Dell Thunderbolt 3 docking station has a non-standard option beyond this; when you’re connected to a recognized Dell device it will bump the power up to 130W just like the stock XPS 15 adapter.

But the catch is that USB-A power supplies are generally limited to 2.4A at 5V, with some exceptions for Qualcomm Quickcharge and Samsung Adaptive Fast Charging and the like (which can go to 9V or 12V on compatible devices). So most USB-A power meters will only show/handle 2.4A at 5V, or 12 watts. My smaller USB-C devices easily pull 15W whereas the XPS 15 should pull a lot more than that. Continue reading