They don’t sell too many radios any more, but Radio Shack is still hanging in there…just barely.
Radio Shack filed for bankruptcy earlier this month. Store closures were expected and the hammer came down on Feb. 9: the chain will be closing a whopping 1,784 stores by the end of March, including 162 by mid-February. But the chain has so saturated the company that even with that many stores closing—one of the largest in retail history—there will still be 2,513 stores left open.
The company was founded as a mail-order business in Boston in 1921 by brothers Theodore and Milton Deutschmann as a ham radio supply company. By 1960, it was a nine-store chain.
The 2015 bankruptcy is not the first time Radio Shack has been in trouble. In 1962, the company was selling $14 million worth of radio gear, as well as speakers and antennas, but was still losing money. The hobby goods company Tandy bought Radio Shack, closed the mail-order business, and reduced the store’s inventory from 40,000 to 2,500 items. It saved the company, and allowed for rapid store growth.
The chain grew fast in the 1970s, in part because of its “free battery card,” entitling customers to free batteries once a month, as well as being a principal retail supplier of those looking to get in on the CB radio fad.
As of the last few years, electronics weren’t the company’s biggest source of revenue anymore (long ago overtaken by “big box” retailers like Circuit City and Best Buy). More than half of its business came from the sales of cheap cellular phones.