Millions of nerdy kids who grew up in the 1980s could only find the components they needed at local Radio Shacks, and the stores were like a lifeline to a better world where everybody understood computers. But Radio Shack's history goes deeper than that. In the 1920s and 30s, when Radio Shack was young, a much earlier generation of nerds swarmed into these tiny shops to talk excitedly about building radios and other transmission devices. You might say that Radio Shack helped define gadget culture for four generations, from radio whizzes up to smartphone dorks.

Radio Shack tried to bridge the gap into the twenty-first century by carrying Arduino kits and components in some of their stores — and hiring Weird Al to be their pitchman. For non-hobbyists, they had toys, smartphones, headsets, and things like MP3 recorders that only a journalist would really care about (but we REALLY care). Still, what's killing them is the same thing that killed my local science fiction bookstore. People can buy this stuff online — and they can find the communities that these stores once fostered online too. If I want to geek out about science fiction or Arduino, I can chat with commenters on io9 or Gizmodo or hundreds of other online forums. I don't need a local store anymore.


The sad thing is that the companies in line to gobble up Radio Shack's retail outlets are the antithesis of community-creating environments. I've spend some of the most hellish moments of my life in Sprint stores. Nobody ever finds friends or gets good tech advice in a mobile provider retail outlet. I mean, maybe you make really elaborate, high-tech plans about how to destroy them — and that's creative. That's something.

But it's not community.