ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

Mom and Pop —

I got this back in February from a guy named David, and David was entirely right.

I was just discussing with my co-worker that most of the good old mom and pop computer stores are now gone (having presumably been killed off by the Internet and online shopping).  Granted I’m in Albuquerque, NM and we didn’t have many to begin with but I’m sure it’s happened everywhere.  Anyhow, I definitely think it’s a worthy topic to examine.

At this point in the US, the computer store is the electronics chain big box store, with little exception. Best Buy, Microcenter, Fry’s, even Wal-Mart, Staples, Sears. If you want a washing machine at the same time as you get your laptop, or the idea of picking up a few ties and a Hawaiian shirt along with your hard drive excites you, boy are you in luck.

But obviously this wasn’t always the case – at one point computer stories dotted the landscape and had no other little clone friends dotting other parts of the landscape. I’m sure they hung out and chatted about the ups and downs of computer store ownership, but each one had its own place and its own unique character.

Most people agree that one of the first biggie computer stores was The Computer Mart, run by one Stan Veit.  Stan died earlier this year. (That obituary/rememberance is worth the read, by the way.) From that mid-1970s start, computer stories started appearing in greater numbers, selling off these awesome new machines to eager and money-waving hands. They were stumbly, strange, unique, fun, and individualistic. They hand-lettered signs, proudly put up baggies with software in them, and waited for the customers to come.

I wish they’d taken more photos of them.

There’ll always be a few of these stores around – either a community will be unwanted by the chains or the store will do things at a certain price for older equipment that enough customers will want to go there first for repairs. But the days of a vibrant, center-of-everything show of the latest and greatest coming down the way are over for them.

So thanks, David. I’ll get on it.

Categorised as: computer history

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  1. Chris says:

    It wasn’t exactly a mom-and-pop operation, but I even miss being able to buy software and PC parts at CompUSA, which recently closed most or all of their brick and mortar stores in the U.S.

  2. Chris M says:

    I used to work for a mom and pop computer shop as a tech. The place started off in the mid 70s as a computer manufacturer. They built industrial S-100 computers and peripherals. In 1984 they became a retail store selling PC clones. They are still in business… barely.

    We had quite a few customers with older machines. 8086/286 class machines were still coming in for service quite a bit in 2000, after that it trailed off, but one came in once in a blue moon. Most were owned by older folks who used the machine for 1-2 tasks and were resistant to change (I never understood people’s obsession with Wordstar!). Word got around that we fixed older machines, and many 5+ year old PCs would pop in to be repaired. Later on, data transfers from obsolete media also became quite common. We had an impressive inventory of obsolete storage devices, old computers, and old software my boss (a packrat) collected through the years. Last time I was there, they were the last place I could think of that would service a Windows 9x machine, so that tradition still lives on.

    You could likely make a documentary on the whole subject. My old boss alone could provide an interesting perspective on the growing personal computer industry from the manufacturing, marketing, and retail point of views.

    Of course now even dedicated big-box computer stores are rare. The closest one to me is a Microcenter 20 miles away. I miss the days of Computer City and CompUSA where they would have boxes upon boxes of PC inventory stacked up on shelves, shopping carts filled with new PC setups and lines at the check out.

  3. Decius says:

    I recently went into a small brick-and-mortar store, looking for a full set of components. They only had full systems available. I don’t think even the big stores will stock or even order motherboards, heat sinks, or power supplies.

    Somewhat less recently, I needed a non-programmable calculator with log and inverse log functions. The only places I could find one in the greater OKC area were campus bookstores and the electronics section of a KMart.

  4. robohara says:

    Yukon Software — a mom and pop software store, owned and run by my mom and pop.

  5. Val says:

    I saw a bunch in Toronto. Maybe they’re still there because it has streetcars that still run down the middle of the street.

  6. Rose says:

    I’ve noticed that a lot of the ones in Brooklyn have faded awnings where the subsequent owner/renter didn’t both taking down the Computer Store signage, and so both are visible.

    I’ve left NYC, but I had on my list of possible projects: Find as many of those as I could, photographing the storefront signs and surroundings. I wish things had worked out for doing that, but alas. If you’re curious, a ride down 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, from way down borough up toward foofyville, will show you scads of them on both sides of the street.

  7. K.C. says:

    Funny. I got my (professional) start in computers when my dad started selling XT clones out of our garage in ~1986. Later, we opened a small computer shop called “Simplified Computer Systems” in Charlotte, NC. That ran until about 1993.

    Working for Simplified Computer Systems at the age range of 12-19 years old, I obtained my customer service skills and all the computer / troubleshooting / engineering experience that led me into my career afterward.

    I hadn’t really thought much about that time since. Thanks for reminding me. I will thank my Dad next time I talk to him.

    – K.C.

  8. kevin says:

    i’ve been surprised to find that there are quite a few independent computer shops in the places i’ve lived in LA over the last year or so. they tend to be primarily repair shops (cleaning off viruses is widely advertised) and there is overlap with mobile phone shops.

    my guess is that these shops primarily serve the immigrant communities of the area and can advise people on the services, software, and hardware that is of special interest to folks who’ve recently arrived to the U.S. it’s common to see skype and yahoo logos in the window, for example. they also seem to be owned+operated by people who can speak spanish and/or korean alongside english.

    i’m loving all these images and will contribute some of my own next time i’m nearby one of these shops.