If you’re of a certain age, you’ve likely gone through a period where you spent an unholy amount of money on stereos. Yes, we wanted it loud, but we also wanted accuracy and clarity. Everyone was an audiophile, be it for the stereo in the bedroom or in the car.
This time of year always reminds me of those days.
Growing up, the Christmas break was reserved for a family trip to the Holiday Inn in Fargo, a few hours south of Winnipeg. Several afternoons were devoted to shopping at the nearby West Acres Mall, which has dozens of American stores selling goods so sought after by Canadians.
While my mother was shopping for clothes and white goods, I spent hours in the Team Electronics Store looking at the hi-fi gear of my dreams, all of which were in her fantastic glossy catalog.
At home, when the teachers were having one of their professional development days, a group of friends and I drove into town, where we spent much of the day touring as many stereo stores as possible. We would pose as customers looking for new gear (especially speakers) and ask the sellers to demonstrate the gear using our favorite albums. Not only was it consumer electronics education, it was super cheap entertainment too.
Team Electronics is long gone and initially transformed into a computer retailer called FirstTech before closing completely in 2012. So are many of the local stereo stores that I used to visit frequently. Some were independent of Ron’s stereo and television …
… while others had a bigger footprint. I bought my first stereo (a 12 watt Sansui receiver, an Akai turntable, and some no-name speakers) from one of Krazy Kelly’s locations.
When I arrived at 102.1 / The Edge in Toronto in 1986, the station had a long, long list of audio retailers doing commercials. Almost every weekend there was a remote control from a retail store selling audio equipment for the home and for cars. The brand new CD needed speakers to reproduce that crystal clear digital sound. Nobody kept the factory radio that came with their car. And there were always better speakers than the ones you had.
Things have changed drastically. Money that would previously have been used for a pair of cute Altec lansings is now earmarked for a PS5 or a new smartphone. Smaller businesses focus on flat screen TVs for home theaters.
Many medium-sized domestic chains have been put out of business by American big-box stores that consume each other. And the remaining independent retailers are constantly adjusting their product lines to attract customers and maintain margins.
Here are some electronics retailers that have disappeared from the Canadian countryside.
With branches in Alberta and Ontario, Hi-Fi Express had a vision of being a truly national chain but fell victim to competition. The company went out of business in 1983 after a round of vicious price cuts.
Majestic Sound Warehouse
The Ontario franchise retailer was close to what we see today at Best Buy, but devoted entirely to audio and video, and eschewed products like home appliances. Do you remember the big lion head logo? You did well in the 80s and became a public company. However, in the 1990s, the chain was attacked and shut down by competitors such as Future Shop and 2001 Audio Video. Speaking of …
Future Shop was founded in Vancouver in 1982 by an Iranian entrepreneur named Hassan Khosrowshani, and just eight years later it was the country’s largest consumer electronics and computer retailer. The company went public in 1993 and two years later reported sales of more than $ 1 billion. There were some difficult times after a management change in 1997 and an unfortunate foray into the United States, but Future Shop recovered, operating 83 stores and five Computer City stores.
The margins on consumer computer equipment made the computer businesses unprofitable and closed in 2001. There was an attempt to buy chapters but that failed and a month later the chain was sold to Best Buy for $ 580 million. The two brands worked side by side until 2013 when Best Buy began closing Future Shop stores and converting others into Best Buy locations. Until the end of 2015, Future Shop was just a memory.
A & B sound
Founded in 1959 in Richmond, BC, A&B grew into a power plant across western Canada, stretching from Victoria to Winnipeg. Not only did they sell electronics, they built a reputation as a chain with some of the lowest CD prices.
A & B was so aggressive with these prices that Vancouver at times had the lowest CD prices in the country, deterring even America’s Tower Records, which had thought of settling in the city. In the 2000s, the CD market collapsed. A home electronics price reduction strategy against the newly merged Best Buy / Future Shop turned out to be fatal for the bottom line and forced A&B to file for bankruptcy. The last shop in Abbotsford closed in late 2008.
This needs some explanation. For decades, Radio Shack was the place where you opted for everything from electronic raw parts to massive Mach One speakers with their 15-inch woofers. If you were on a budget, the Realistic and Optimus private labels usually offered decent quality for a low price. Kids who deal with electronics couldn’t wait to read the bold catalogs listing individual resistors for the wondrous TRS-80 PCs.
At one point in time, there were nearly 900 Radio Shack stores in Canada and about 10,000 worldwide. When operator InterTAN (a spin-off from Texas-based parent company Tandy Electronics) got into financial trouble, the rights to the Radio Shack name were sold to Circuit City, another big box that will soon be doomed electronics retailer.
Circuit City ran the Canadian chain as Radio Shack until 2010. A lawsuit resulted in Circuit City’s businesses being branded as The Source. Shortly before Circuit City went under, the chain was sold to Bell Canada, which now operates the 400 stores as “The Source” to sell a variety of house brands (Nexxtech, anyone) as well as Bell cellphone services.
The Sony Store
Long before Apple ran its own business, Sony did the same. Sony found that the range of products (audio, video, headphones, PlayStations, cell phones) was big enough to fill entire stores and did well for a while. However, after years of losing market share to competitors like Samsung and LG and falling profits, Sony decided to close the 14 remaining stores in early 2015. The announcement came on the same day that Target announced that it would close all 133 Canadian locations.
2001 recording and stereo center
Trick question, that. The company started out as a record store on Dovercourt Avenue in Toronto in 1971. Expansion in the 1970s resulted in a name change in 2001 Stereo and Video Center. After selling vinyl records in 1984, the company became Audio Video in 2001. They are fine today.