The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

12 stores that were essential to your childhood that don’t exist anymore

As RadioShack announces the closing of more than 1,000 stores, it reminds us of other retail spots that have disappeared completely. (Craig Warga/Bloomberg)
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Bad news for AV junkies and ’80s babies: RadioShack, that hallowed purveyor of all things electronic, announced today that it will close as many as 1,100 stores in the U.S. It’s not exactly a death blow to the chain, which still has more than 4,000 locations. But it certainly seems like a scenario we’ve seen play out before.

Consider the slow death of Blockbuster, which shuttered 164 stores in a six-month period in 2006 … and then promptly described the mass-shutdowns as a move toward a leaner, more Internet-friendly company. (“Netflix hasn’t ended retail stores’ reign,” read one less-than-prescient headline in the Connecticut Post.) And even if RadioShack does come back from this latest round of closures, many customers don’t see it that way. Twitter is already in mourning mode. In the comments section on our site and elsewhere, readers wrote in with loving recollections of their first stereo systems and high-school RadioShack jobs.

It’s a pattern that’s become more familiar with each successive, Internet-mediated bankruptcy: Blockbuster, Moviefone, Borders, Circuit City — the resounding outburst of regret and nostalgia is never enough to keep these places from disappearing, but it is a reminder of other (simpler? friendlier?) times. To wit:

1. Moviefone, a call-in film-listing and ticket-buying service, reached millions of weekly users at its peak. It shut down everything but an app and Web site last week.

2. Blockbuster couldn’t outlive competitors like Netflix and Redbox; all but 50 of its trademark blue and yellow stores disappeared in January. “Everything’s closing,” the Post’s Monica Hesse wrote at the time. “Beloved haunts of suburban youth, fading into memory.”

3. Filene’s Basement reigned for more than a century as America’s first bargain clothing store — and the favorite haunt of deal-savvy shoppers. It closed in early 2012, to the sadness of many.

4. Chi-Chi’s, a sort of cheaper, cheesier forerunner to Don Pablo’s, sold its remaining restaurants to Outback Steakhouse in 2004. The chain previously suffered bankruptcy and one of the county’s worst hepatitis outbreaks, from which several people died.

5. Howard Johnson’s, that orange-roofed “premier slice of Americana,” now only operates two locations — in Lake Placid, N.Y., and Bangor, Maine. You may recall seeing the once-ubiquitous hamburger and fried-chicken joint in a pivotal episode of “Mad Men” (another beneficiary of our nostalgia complex!).

6. Tower Records sold vinyl, then tapes and finally CDs — but the national 46-year-old chain couldn’t make the jump to digital. It closed in 2006. “There will never be the same sense of wonder on iTunes,” the Post’s Paul Farhi mourned at the time.

7. Circuit City, at one time the country’s No. 2 electronics retailer, closed its doors in 2009. While company officials blamed the recession, Circuit City also fought the same industry changes that RadioShack struggles with now.

8. KB Toys, the beloved mall toy store of suburban kids everywhere, shuttered hundreds of stores in the early aughts before going under for good in 2008. Now it’s notable largely for its relationship with Mitt Romney’s Bain Capital, which came up a lot in the 2012 campaigns.

9. Discovery Zone was universally considered the coolest place to throw a kids birthday party until it went out of business in the late-’90s. The facilities, of which there were a few hundred, basically looked like a McDonald’s fun zone on steroids.

10. Sam Goody, a music and entertainment chain, went the way of the cassette tape after a larger company bought it out in 2006. Most locations have since become F.Y.E. stores.

11. Ames, once the country’s fourth-largest discount chain behind Wal-Mart, Kmart and Target, closed its last stores in 2002.

12. Borders bookstore chain imploded in 2011, succumbing to “web-savvier brands like Amazon and B&N.” “There is no other future for reading but a digital one, and getting misty about the decline of tangible books is an exercise in futility,” NPR’s Rachel Syme wrote.

Of course, few people “get misty” about Borders because they’d rather slog through the slush to pick up a novel they could get more cheaply, and no less corporately, online; they miss Borders because they miss the time their dad took them to the local store to look at graphic novels, or they used to browse the new releases after a tiring shopping trip. Browsing Amazon on your laptop just doesn’t have quite the same, easily fetishized appeal.

RadioShack, at least, is not gone yet — you might as well drop in and buy some component cables while you still can.