I can remember saving my allowance and drooling over the pulp Olson (Olsen?) Electronics catalogs of surplus goodies some 55 years ago. One of my early purchases was a tape recorder head, electrolytic capacitors, and resistors that I married with a 3 or 4 stage CK722 transistor amplifier using information gleaned from the CK722 application manual. I then added a Pittman clear plastic hobby DC motor for a drive and built all on a wood breadboard. I immediately got my first big lesson in EMI control. The amplifier and motor were not compatible! I subsequently went through the Allied Radio Knight kits -- ACVTM, RF generator. Only later graduating to a Heathkit oscilloscope, distortion analyzer, and hi-fi amplifers. Yes, those were the "good old days." I learned a lot from those hands-on mistakes.
"Yet this week's announcement it was launching RadioShack Labs to give startups a direct path to its base of 2,000 stores is more than just a step in the right direction, it's a realization the creation of tomorrow's next big thing is where it needs to go. Radio Shack will partner with PCH International to provide innovative startups a pathway to consumers through a direct-to-store channel featuring both marketing promotion and a strong retail and online presence."
I still have my 75 in 1 electronics project kit from Radio Shack, which my nephew is presently using. I also enjoyed building their electric motor and lie detector kits as kid. The motor worked fine, though it was wound quite inexpertly. I refuse to say whether the lie detector kit worked. :) I also always looked forward to getting their flyer in the mail and seeing what new kits were available and also looking at their general product offering like stereos. They were always labled "Good", "Better", and "Best". Best meant more expensive speakers with walnut grain enclosure. They had the Clarinet series, with names like Clarinet 50 or Clarinet 60. A higher number might mean more components, like Tuner, tape deck, and record player all in one. Cool!
Here is the little Micronta multimeter which I still have:
And below is a power supply kit that my cousin designed for me to build. For Christmas he gave me the schematic, bill of materials, and parts. The transformer is definitely Radio Shack as it is an Archer. I'm not sure about the other parts. I think the enclosure was from Radio Shack. Did Radio Shack ever sell carbon comp resistors?
I hope Radio Shack doesn't have to close any additional stores. It is nice to have a place where you can actually walk in and browse electronic components.
CEO's, Technology and Government have conspired to kill off not only Radio Shack but many other store fronts. Radio Shack no longer carries surplus parts at discount prices but CEO's manage to price their products like their items are made of gold. The Internet, credit card issuers, and shippers have created a source stream that puts parts at your fingertips, often overnight, at prices that should make Radio Shack beancounters blush with embarrassment. Local government inventory taxes force merchants to limit their stocks to minimize annual lability, onerous state sales taxes further cut the budding engineers purchase power and when you heap on the state plus federal income taxes on income used to purchase your parts you suddenly realize the fact that over 50% of what you are paying for the part is going to government. (8% sales tax, 3% annual inventory tax, state income tax of 8% and 20% plus Federal income) Eliminate the parasites which do nothing for Value Added to parts then store fronts in your town might stand a chance. Until then expect simple economics to drive down prices via any legal path.
I loved Radio Shack as a kid. They seemed to have an unlimited selection of cool tech and elecronics kits and toys and, like many I'm sure, my first electronics kits and tools came from them. My first two computers were TRS-80/Tandys, in fact.
But they started to lose me when I had to argue with them about giving over my phone number on every purchase, no matter how small and even when paying with cash. And in the late 80s I discovered, via the back pages of electronics magazines and Compuer Shopper, the world of mail order and the realization that buying stuff at Radio Shack was actually really expensive. And then, of course, places started setting up shop on the Internet...
And in the 90s Radio Shack really started losing their way. Anything of interest to EEs started being relegated to drawers in back (if stocked at all) as their focus shifted to cell phones. And forget getting any kind of real help from the Shack Droids who replaced the knowledgeable people who used to work there. They know how to activate a cell phone and that's about it.
Radio Shack's big problem is their breaking a decades-long chain of being known as the place you could go and find what they need. After all, that's why my mom took me there. She knew nothing of the stuff I was getting interested in, but she knew Radio Shack. But just about the time many of us were having kids ready to be introduced to our fun hobbies, Radio Shack demonstrated they were no longer the place to get the supplies to make it happen. They've rightly earned themselves a reputation as being understocked, over priced, and staffed by unknowledgeable clerks, and with so many excellent sources available online, they won't be able to come back from that.
In a way, I'm sad that I can't take my kids to a place to see all the cool stuff I got to when my mom took me as a kid. But, I can sit down with my kids at the computer and browse even more stuff, ask questions and get competent answers, and get all the parts I need for my projects without feeling like I got fleeced. So there's that.
Lafayette and RS (which used to say "Division of Tandy Corp." in large letters on the sign), staring across the parking lot at each other, in the same strip mall in Lynnwood (suburb of Seattle).
It was pretty great for the wirehead kids like me, because we could get nearly everything we needed by visiting both stores in the same trip.
Downtown, near the Seattle waterfront, was a store called Radar Electric Co. Their claim-to-fame was several rows of discount, overstock or discontinued items in what we called "looney-bins" near the entrance. I remember getting RCA triode tubes for $3 and Darlington transistors for 10¢.
Radar moved out into the boonies to an industrial park and became a wholesale-only company in the late 90's, and now I think they only sell cable and connectors (wholesale).
I don't honestly know if the maker movement will have this kind of impact. In my generation's case, most of the impetus came from the space-race and the Apollo program - all of us wanted to be the engineers or astronauts that went to space.
Radio Shack was pretty good for parts in the late 70's, mind you in those days most hobbyist activity was with transistors, standard TTL and one of the popular then-new microprocessors.
Today there are just too many components for any storefront to stock. Just look at the bewildering variety of packages for even basic devices such as 74HC series - there is DIP, SOIC, TSSOP, Micro-BGA and more. Whatever any store may have in stock is almost guaranteed to be not what you need.
Most hobbyists are afraid of surface mount anyway (needlessly I might add) so despite the STEM push hobbyist activity for the future will likely be with preassembled items such as the Makerspace stuff.
As for myself it's Mouser at #1, followed by Digikey, ALL Electronics (always some real gems there), Parts Express and MCM Electronics for audio and service/repair parts and Antique Electronic for guitar amp and tube related stuff.
Sadly, despite 30+ years of buying from Jameco I tend to avoid them, their catalogue is not comprehensive and their website is so bad it's nealy impossible to find a component that's not in the catalogue, even if they have it.