CompUSA's Shutdown and a Little Nostalgia

The chain began as SoftWarehouse, where the hands-on help and advice were tops.

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I feel wistful that CompUSA is going out of business. The shutdown doesn't directly affect me. The company had already closed its stores near us, as it struggled to regain footing in the tough market for retail electronics. And it's easy to see that a shop focused on PCs and PC parts would face fierce competition from all the other retailers now in the market, including office, discount, and electronics big boxes.

But what seems to have killed CompUSA was the Internet. I now do almost all my shopping for PCs and PC parts on the Web. The selection is vast and the prices low. Still, and in a touch of irony that comes too late for CompUSA, online superstar Dell is now moving to retail stores to sell its computers.

CompUSA was still SoftWarehouse, a single store in the Dallas suburbs, when I found it in the mid-1980s. A local PC columnist had written that it was the one store that allowed shoppers to read the manuals for software before buying. The company would open one box of software for perusal. And all the employees must have spent downtime reading the manuals. Their advice helped get me started with PCs. They knew their stuff.

That had changed long before CompUSA's final demise. Clerks there didn't know much more than those at Circuit City or Best Buy do. Now we just hope for a bit of last-minute comparison pricing at the store. We do our research online, which has its advantages. But gabbing at SoftWarehouse was fun.