The Ghosts of Businesses, Present and Past

This afternoon, I purchased a Wii console at Toys R Us as a Christmas present for my 4 year old daughter (and me). On the way home, I decided to stop by a Circuit City and look for a game or two to go with it. My intention was to spend a small amount of money as a token effort to help Circuit City out, as they are currently operating in bankruptcy. I first set foot in this particular Circuit City one week ago. I was interested in two things: Wii gaming consoles and video cameras. They had no Wii consoles (only games and some accessories). One video camera caught my eye, and I wanted to know what type of connecting cables it came with. The young man that helped me out happened to be carrying around a small laptop computer and he began to look for the video camera in the database. But as he searched, the query of the stock number or model number came back as unknown. He tried this several times, and each time, the result was the same. I could tell that the young man was frustrated by this. I thanked him and told him I would do some on-line research on my own. This afternoon, as I walked to the front of the store with two games, I was unsure where the checkout was located. By happenstance, the same young man asked if he could help, and he rang me up on a nearby register. I don’t know what the future holds for Circuity City. I am inclined to think that the future is not bright, given the current economic situation. But I think the young man that helped me out twice in the past week is gaining valuable business experience with customer service, inventory, and supply chain. I wish him well.

Being in this particular Circuit City made me a little bit nostalgic because the store occupies space that became available when Tower Records closed shop. And so this led me to think about some of the stores that have gone out of business here in the Washington DC area, either because of bankruptcy, acquisition, or downsizing.

  • Raleigh’s, which closed in 1992. My father bought all of his Hart Schaffner & Marx suits from Raleigh’s, and I purchased five suits (totaling $1000) during their going-out-of-business sales.
  • Computer Literacy Bookstore. The store I went to was in Tyson’s Corner and was probably the most comprehensive computer and engineering bookstore that I have ever seen. I was crushed when I went there one day, probably in late 2001, to find it vacated.
  • Hecht’s, which was a popular department store. Begun prior to the Civil War, they were re-branded to Macy’s in 2006.
  • Tower Records, which closed retail operations in 2006. Shortly after starting work after college, I remember making trips to the Tower Records store near the campus of George Washington University and the Foggy Bottom Metro Station.
  • CompUSA, which still exists but with a much smaller footprint. I recall purchasing Microsoft’s FORTRAN compiler¬† – for $300 – sometime around 1990 from the store in Tyson’s Corner (now closed).

Of the businesses on this list, I was a fairly steady customer of Tower Records and Computer Literacy Bookstore right up until their closure. For the other businesses on this list, my purchasing patterns had changed over the years and, at the time of their closing, I was not a consistent customer. But I was saddened by their closing nonetheless. Very recently, we have seen the demise of the local chain Champion Billiards and Barstools, and the national chains Linens ‘n Things and Tweeter. I am sure that there are many others.

Who knows what the future has in store (no pun intended) for Circuit City, the Big 3 car companies, or your and my favorite businesses? I suspect that many more – some expected, some not – will be experiencing an unfortunate fate.

Please feel free to share your personal stories about your experiences with businesses of the past.

One Response to “The Ghosts of Businesses, Present and Past”

  1. Eugenia Colon says:

    Bruce,

    Love your reflections on these businesses. I didn’t know the history of Hechts and I too was a big fan of the GWU Tower Records. Miss them both. I trust you’re correct — we’ll be seeing more closings — but let’s hope for better days. Gina