I have lived through a number of electronics revolutions, or maybe a better term to use would be “evolutions.” I remember when our neighbors, the Clintons, got the first color television set in the neighborhood. It was a big heavy piece of furniture that came complete with a record player and a rack that held drinking glasses. The Clinton house suddenly became the most popular destination around. We all marveled at how green the grass was and how blue the sky looked on Bonanza. Now we could finally tell what color the uniforms were on Star Trek, and Batman, well that was another story altogether.
Buying a TV was like buying a car or a house back in those days. It was an investment that you kept for years and years. You had to continually fiddle with the knobs and the antenna and if something went wrong with it, you opened up the back, looked for the burned out vacuum tube and took it to the tube testing machine up at the corner 7-Eleven. If the tube was bad you bought a replacement for a couple of bucks, went home and plugged it in and you were back in business. Then there was the first portable transistor radios that only got AM and ran off of that little square 9 volt battery. It was a St. Louis tradition at the time to take the thing to the Cardinal’s ballgame and listen to the play by play from Harry Carey and Jack Buck even though you were right there watching the game. Row after row of fans with radios stuck to their ears. (Nobody had headphones)
Things are a little different today. Now we have high definition plasma screen TV’s, computers, satellite radio, I-Pods, Blackberries, and home theatre systems. Where do you go if you are in the market for one of these gadgets?
Below are the top 5 in St. Louis:
Best Buy and Circuit City: These two giant chains both have six locations in the greater St. Louis area. Best Buy was the first to locate here and the rumor was that they would be hurting for certain when their even larger competitor Circuit City came to town. After all Circuit’s buildings were in the shape of a giant electric plug. Who wouldn’t be intimidated? The fears seem unfounded though, as most of the people I have spoken to prefer Best Buy. Best Buy has a greater selection of small ticket items like movies and CD’s and Circuit City seems a little stodgy and formal to the younger crowd. Best Buy also seems to have a slight advantage in the price department. (about 20 dollars on a digital camera I recently purchased)
Circuit City however, is a little better as far as the sales staff is concerned. They are older and more experienced, where it seems that most of the staff at Best Buy are techno-geeks who are still in High School. So if price is a strong motivating factor and you want a good service plan, don’t buy that new TV at Wal-Mart. Both Best Buy and Circuit City are good bets.
The other big box electronics chain in St. Louis is Ultimate Electronics. Their claim is that since their salesmen are commissioned, they are far more knowledgeable than those at Best Buy and Circuit City. They are also more high pressure and the prices are quite a bit higher. Maybe that’s the reason they just closed two of their newest stores and only have three left in the St. Louis market. The stores are huge though and well designed and with everything on display and working you can “try before you buy.”
Well, what if you ARE the techno-geek? What if you’re in the market for some smaller electronics like a cell phone, answering machine, or radio? Maybe you’re right in the middle of building a Tessler Coil? Then one of the area’s fifteen Radio Shacks is the place to be. A few years ago the company had some problems with their signature brands (remember the Tandy computers?) but their quality is supposed to have improved. If your going to buy a component that will set you back a few bucks, though, it’s still better to go with a name brand like Sony, etc.
Uncle Leonard’s TV is now just Leonard’s TV. Uncle Leonard passed away a few years ago. He was selling TV’s and stereos almost before there were such things. The store has been at 6800 Natural Bride on the city’s north side since 1949. Uncle Leonard was a local TV celebrity who was renowned for making some of the worst commercials ever to show up on his own TV’s. Standing in front of one of the first big screen models (a Curtis-Mathis) he would yell at the screen: “Just like having the 50 yard line in your own HOME here!” At one point he even did commercials for the local Wendy’s Hamburger franchise. “Just like having burgers in your own HOME here!” Currently Leonard’s has one of the largest selections of big screen TV’s in the area and stocks over 28,000 video titles.
If your tastes run a little on the higher side, you need to check out Hi Fi Fo Fum on Big Bend Road near Richmond Heights, slightly outside of the city limits. If you have $20,000 to blow on a home theatre system, this is the place to go. They are also the best place to buy a car stereo and have it installed. They consistently rank #1 in the RFT newspaper poll as the best electronics store in St. Louis. The company has been at the same location for 47 years. According to CEO Ron Bliffert, the odd name comes from their mascot. (a large ear wearing headphones with an antenna sprouting out of his head) The ear’s name is Hideton Finster Forbush Fum. All that wouldn’t fit on the sign, so they shortened it to Hi Fi FO Fum. “We know how things work and how to explain how things work, and we will make sure that you end up with a system that does what we promised and leaves you money for gas to get home.” That pretty much says it all.