Whatever happened to: The Stereo Store?

When I was a young kid, I dreamed of having a BIG, powerful stereo. I wanted a HUGE rack system: tuner, dual cassette, amp, equalizer, turntable, and big speakers. My friend’s dad had one. Each component was a different brand, the best of the best, the state of the art. It was big, it was loud, it looked cool, and was expensive!

I was 9 and this was 1981. No way my parents were buying a rack system for my birthday no matter how much I begged. Something about my brother and sister & putting food on the table. I had a little boombox that I played my cherished cassettes on but I wanted a STEREO.

Nothing used to piss my dad off than my frequent disappearances to the Electronics Dept. of any store we were in. He also loved those trips to the record store followed by the quick trip to the local stereo store. The local shop was great. If the record store was my temple, the stereo shop was the shrine next door. Big rack systems on display. A turntable wall. A wall of cassette decks. One of tuners and amps. Equalizers, headphones, wires, accessories. Eventually, those new inventions call “CD Players” made their way in. You could touch everything, you could test everything. The dude behind the counter knew you by name and would always show you what was new and what was cool (just like the record store). Even though I never bought any equipment, I always bought blank tapes. I figured that I was at least doing my part, showing the owner that I was going to be a loyal customer when I got older.

My dad finally got so sick of going to the stereo store (he was a geek and had no interest in music, it’s true!) that he paid for half of my first stereo. It cost $180 and it was beautiful. Made by Sharp, it was an “all-in-one” system, a bookshelf system. It had a digital display for the tuner (I thought this was cool as shit), a dual cassette deck, Dolby sound, and a turntable. It was all black, very Metal! A few years later, I got a single tray CD player (another Sharp) for Xmas.

I kept that stereo for 20 years. Slowly it had started to die: each cassette deck died separately, the motor on the turntable went, the tuner only got 1 station. The CD player was fine but it was time. My half, my $90 in 1981, had been well spent. The day it totally died, I cried. My wife thought I was nuts. I did what any man with a shred of dignity would do: I took some pictures with it and of it and then I lovingly boxed it up and put it in storage. How could I throw something so special away?

The search began…..

It started and ended at Best Buy. I picked up a Phillips 3 CD shelf system for my apartment, it had a tape deck and a tuner. I think it was $150 and I got it on sale for $100. I bought it on a whim, on sale, and it fit nicely into a small area so my wife and daughter were happy.

It lasted 3 years of daily use. The CD changer totally died and then the tuner started to go. I have spent the last year searching for a new stereo and using a small boombox and my PC for CDs and sportstalk radio. I found out that stereo stores are gone, washed from the landscape by the tidal wave of “big box” retailers. I did research and found out that most electronics companies had gone the way of mini-systems, micro-systems, and home theater sets. Gone were the rack systems, gone were the huge speakers, gone were the dual cassette decks and turntables.

Gone were the specialty stereo stores!

You can buy components at Circuit City or Best Buy but no one there knows about stereos. I’m 34 and I know what I want, I don’t need some teenager asking me what a turntable is. That’s when you know it’s time to go. The selection sucks as well. Back in the day, the local stereo shop had unlimited variety. If they didn’t have it, they could get it quick. The people working there KNEW their product, the could recommend options, and help you personalize your system. When I was a kid, I dreamed of the day I could walk in a shop and just buy it all. Now I had the money to do it but there is no place to go. You can do it online but that’s no fun. I need to touch, listen, see the lights blinking, put in my own CDs to test it. I need the experience but there is no place to go!

I finally broke down and bought another Phillips shelf system. Again on sale, again fitting the needs of price ($100 on sale from $150) and space (same size as my last Phillips). It was also bought on a whim, this time at Target, and my wife and now 2 kids are glad to hear me stop complaining. I needed something, I needed some sort of system. I figure this can get me through until I can buy components and build my dream system when I find that stereo shop that I know is out there.

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