Thought Leadership

OFF-TOPIC: End of an era

By Colin Walls

In 1986, when I started my job at Microtec Research, I visited the United States for the first time. Specifically, I went to Santa Clara, California – Silicon Valley. During that stay and numerous visits in the years that followed, I got to know the area quite well. I always enjoyed the vibe – the feeling that I was in a place where stuff happened. This was evident in many ways: the company names on the office blocks, the buzz in bars and restaurants, the give-away newspapers, even the shopping …

I always enjoy perusing shops when I am abroad – even “boring” shops like supermarkets are an interesting perspective on a society. During the early years of my visiting the US, the global branding that is now so common was in its infancy. For example, I had young children at that time and I could guarantee to find unique things for them that they would never see at home. But Silicon Valley had even more to offer. At some point I was after an electronic item and a colleague told me “You should go to Fry’s – you’ll love it”. They were right.

I can think of nothing that encapsulates my perception of Silicon Valley better than the Fry’s Electronics stores. All the stores were enormous and stocked just about anything that you might describe as “electronics” [along with a large stock of candy etc. and a good selection of magazines]. If you wanted an electronic device, that was the place to go. If you wanted to build something electronic, they would stock the parts you needed. Every time I visited the area, I would go to one or other of the Fry’s stores – even if I did not really need anything.

I was quite shocked, though mostly saddened, to see the news this week that Fry’s are no more. I have not been to one of their stores for a few years and, reading the news, I think that I am glad, as I can enjoy the memory of them in their heyday.

There were other Silicon Valley retail icons, like Computer Literacy Bookshops and Egghead Software, but they disappeared a while ago. Although Fry’s held on longer, all these retailers were the victims of online shopping. Part of me is sad, as browsing stores could be a magical experience, but another part of me just loves the fact that I can buy almost anything I can imagine with just a few clicks.

Sorry Fry’s. You had your day and added to our lives in interesting ways. But those days are past.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at