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.
So the question is "Radio Shack: Still Relevant for Neighborhood Engineers?".
The answer is No and they haven't been for a long time. Unless you want to buy a cell phone and stand around for 45 minutes waiting for the clerk to setup your account then there's probably not much for you at RS, at least not for the engineering gang. I worked at RS back in high school and long gone are the days of restocking those clear blister-packs onto pegboard while drooling over 4004 CPUs and expensive Monsanto red LEDs. Maybe long gone too are the days when kids really enjoyed building, experimenting and learning about electronics; now it's just about loading the most current game app on their Smartphone.
Here's a secret that maybe some of you don't know about, those customers that showed up only once a month to collect their free battery - jokingly they were referred to as "Shack-ee's"
Mine go back to the mid-'50s forward. I had the pleasure of shopping regularly at both the ORIGINAL Lafayette store (100 Sixth Avenue in Manhattan), and their Newark NJ store on Central Avenue (not far from NCE, where I got my BSEE a few years later). By 1961, I was at MIT, and often walked across the Mass Ave bridge to the Radio Shack "mother ship" at 732 Commonwealth Ave. There were MANY "surplus" shops both in the Boston area, and of course the old "Radio Row" in Lower Manahattan. My friends in junior high and I would often take the bus from NJ into NY and spend an entire day hitting them all, from Lafayette to Harrison Radio and the uncountable number of surplus outlets on Cortlandt and Canal Streets. Later on, in grad school in the Chicago area, I frequented the Allied Electronics "mother ship" on Western Avenue. I still have "inventory" in my basement workshop from all these places!
I now live in Atlanta, and have multiple RS stores near my home and my office. Like others, I find they rarely have what I need on hand (even though the items show as 'in stock" at that particular store on the RS Web site); thus, it's only when I need something RIGHT NOW and it's a fairly common item that I even bother. I find more stuff I need at Home Depot than RS!
MB asked: Are you referring to Apple or, for example, test-equipment companies that build all the features into an instrument but some are locked?
I'm primarily referring to Apple and smart phones in general, and to most automobilies sold in the USA. But at a level down I'm also referring to FPGA vendors who do not document their programming bit streams so you're forced to use their software to design your hardware, which has set back FPGA software technology for decades, particularly in Reconfigurable Computing.
GPUs used to be in this category, but some vendors have started to document their GPU instruction sets. Notably and very surprisingly, Broadcom has just released documentation for the VideoCore IV GPU used in Raspberry Pi's BCM2835. This is great news for Makers and STEM.
Martin, if my crystal ball were all that clear I would be posting this from my private island in the Caribbean after making my fortune on stocks and racing.
But if you want a guess, I would say that the current interest in technology will fade once the IoT is established as it did after the moon landing and something more in the arts area will rise to soften the hard edges of modern life. Music, perhaps.
Yes this "Maker" deal will be around for awhile, and the "high school STEM" push will be even bigger (I personally believe encouraging anyone to go into engineering as a career in THIS economy almost borders on fraud but it's not going to be up to me to make the call, and nobody listens to me much anyway). It's not just Arduino and Raspberry, it's also Parallax and Adafruit, and with the emphasis on robotics there should also be stepper motors and servos, bearings and timing belts and pulleys and miniature roller chain and sprockets, with enough variety to subsume much of the McMaster-Carr online catalog on these topics (miniature drive components, they don't happen to break it out as a separate section though). I live within a short driving distance of the San Fernando Valley, and All Electronics over there seems to be trying to fall into this model a bit (with the occasional slipup, they got hold of a quantity of Nidec BLDC motors with internal controller chips but their catalog naively classified them as "stepper motors" which spread quite a bit of confusion for awhile). It would take a substantial capital commitment to get there, but if RS doesn't do it it will just be Heathkit or Edmund Scientific (another name mostly from the past, well known for "science project parts") or someone else.
As we unveil EE Times’ 2015 Silicon 60 list, journalist & Silicon 60 researcher Peter Clarke hosts a conversation on startups in the electronics industry. Panelists Dan Armbrust (investment firm Silicon Catalyst), Andrew Kau (venture capital firm Walden International), and Stan Boland (successful serial entrepreneur, former CEO of Neul, Icera) join in the live debate.