A Brief History of Defunct Electronics Chains in the Form of Old TV Ads

Vintage TV spots for long-dead gadget merchants? They're not just goofy, nostalgic, and entertaining--they're insaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaane.

By  |  Monday, November 10, 2008 at 5:59 pm

ComputerLand (died circa 2000, I think–there may be some stray franchises still using the name, but the ComputerLand site hasn’t been updated this century)
ComputerLand was the first megachain devoted to computers, and probably one of the first that advertised on TV–back when computer stores had to begin their pitch by explaining why anyone would want to buy a computer. As the chain did in this 1980 ad for an Atlanta location, which shows the Apple II and TI 99/4.

Nobody Beats the Wiz (died 2003)
I was always fascinated by east-coast retailer Nobody Beats the Wiz’s name, since it included the “Nobody Beats the” part and was therefore its own tagline. Here’s a 1986 ad, apparently with a voice over by Tiny Tim.

Here’s a 1991 one for Star Trek! On laserdisc!

Here’s an endearingly goofy one from 1994 (although that laugh at the end is downright creepy):

Here’s one as part of a Seinfeld episode:

The Good Guys (died 2005)
This west-coast chain emphasized the quality of its service–hence the name. I remember it mainly for a shopping experience in the 1990s when a clerk tried so hard to sell me an extended warranty that I warned him I’d walk out the door if he mentioned it again. He did, and I did. Good Guys died in slow motion: Its stores were bought by CompUSA in 2003, which closed them in 2005, rebranded some of the consumer-electronics sections in its stores with the Good Guys name, and itself collapsed in 2007. This 1994 ad is…unusual, at least.

CompUSA (died 2007, reborn 2008)
I couldn’t find any examples of old CompUSA TV ads, but that’s okay–the chain did most of its advertising on the radio, with spots featuring “Bob” and “PC Modem” (Thom Sharp and Jack “Mr. Carlin” Riley, respectively). They were genuinely funny. Besides, CompUSA didn’t quite die–it bounced back as a regional chain owned by TigerDirect. One that’s still doing TV spots, with production values that might lead you to think they dated from the 1980s, if it weren’t for the products mentioned.

Tweeter (died 2008)
I’m not positive if this was a TV spot or what, but it features Tweeter spokesman Chris–whose accent reveals Tweeter’s Boston-area origins–taking on Wal-Mart mano a mano. (Ad circa 2006; Tweeter shutting down as we speak; Wal-Mart still in business last time I heard.)

Crazy Eddie (died 1989 and 2005)
And of course, no retrospective of ads from defunct electronics retailers would be complete without some Crazy Eddie. Ideally, a lot of Crazy Eddie. (I stuck this stuff at the end, out of chronological sequence, so we’d end with a bang.) Take it away, Jerry Carroll

And hey, how about some Crazy Eddie outtakes?

I never set foot inside a Crazy Eddie store–I was just transfixed by its ads. Apparently, it’s just as well that I never did business with the guy.

Watching all these commercials, I’m struck by the uniformity of message: Almost all of them claim unbeatable prices, amazing selection, or expert service–or all three. Many of them involve Santy Claus, reminding us just how seasonal a business consumer electronics is. The production values are almost always cheesy, cheesy, cheesy. Mostly, it’s the products that change.

I cheerfully admit that the selection above skews towards chains I shopped at, which means it emphasizes those that did business in  New England. Got any memories about merchants I didn’t mention?



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17 Comments For This Post

  1. wendell Says:

    How could you possibly do such a roundup without including the Mother Of All Defunct Electronics Chains TV Ads: Federated Electronics, aka The Federated Group, featuring Shadoe Stevens aka Fred Rated.

    It started as radio commercials he did as part of a DJ gig in L.A., which led to him being the voice for the chain at all the CA radio stations where they were advertising, and when Fed started doing TV, he did the commercials cheap and wacky. Since he and Crazy Eddie were on opposite coasts, he could steal the ‘price smashing’ schtick, but he did much more, getting into experimental video while getting noticed a lot by Holllllywood. At its peak, Federated was all up and down the west coast.

  2. Ralph Riccardi Says:

    I see you saved the best for last. Crazy Eddie Antar. Jerry Carroll, an awesome talent. the link is pretty factual, but these commercials stand on their own as rare but often imitated art. Insane!

  3. jmanley Says:

    Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Circuit City has been getting hammered for years. Best Buy offers better pricing, selection and service in a physical store and Internet stores offer infinite selection and better prices. This is just another example of a bad company that can’t survive a downturn.


  4. kevin Says:

    Incredible Universe was purchased by Fry’s. http://www.frys.com/

    The CEO is notoriously frugal, you can still see IU trucks being driven around town here in San DIego.

    Another chain in San Diego was D-O-W DOW.

  5. Rich Says:

    What about SUN TV and Appliances, and their subsequent death, rebirth and final demise.

  6. John Says:

    A small correction: It’s “Fretter,” not “Fretters.”

  7. thespiritdog Says:

    Brings back fond memories, those Crazy Eddie commercials. If you lived in the New York area back then, you must remember the other electronics store that was kind of in direct competition with Eddie, Battling Barry’s House of Audio.

    I can’t remember if Barry had any TV spots or not.

  8. Mike Says:

    Here in the Seattle Area, we didn’t get many of those – Good Guys arrived here just in time to win a few customers over, then go belly up. Computer City was big, as was CompUSA… Long before BestBuy ventured up here, we had a chain of Future Shop stores. They’re still around in Canada, but the U.S. stores lived a very short, fast lifecycle. I went into their stores a few times, and they just felt really, really sleazy. Never actually bought anything…

  9. Jim Says:

    Original San Diego regional chain Dow Stereo which was acquired by Tweeter hosted the USA debut numerous new products. Including “Sony’s first HDTV for the North American market was designed and developed at the Sony Technology Center in Rancho Bernardo. The sets started rolling of the assembly line at Sony de Tijuana Este in Tijuana late last month. Debuting at Dow Stereo/Video and selling for $8,999, the 34-inch wide screen is the industry’s first HDTV to use a picture tube instead of a rear projection system. Sony says the set quadruples the apparent picture density of conventional TV broadcasts. ”

    Also, “When the first high-definition TV sets in the country went on sale in San Diego in August at Dow Stereo/Video, Allan Farwell was one of the first in line to plunk down the $5,500 for the 56-inch Panasonic set, which was developed at Panasonic’s research and development center in San Diego and assembled in Tijuana”

  10. Gary Pillon Says:

    In Michigan, two strong regional chains went at each other for years.
    I was doing sound on Ollie Fretter commercials back in the early ’70s. The successor company, ABC Warehouse, still features the owner, “Gordie”,
    At the same time, the Mondry brothers expanded Highland Appliance, hiring Doner advertising to create a quirky, consistantly funny, big-budget style. These ads had contextual tag lines that have lasted, like “Any second now”
    and ’50 watts-per-channel, babycakes”

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  12. Joe Snow Says:

    You didn't get a commercial from Savemart. They starred Don Adams from Get Smart and the tagline was Get Smart, Get Savemart Smart. I haven't been able to find any of the commercials so I wish you better than I had in digging one up. Maybe someone has one on an old VHS recording from the 80's they could upload to Youtube?

  13. odocon Says:

    What about leos Stereo

  14. pamela Says:


  15. Quincy Says:

    So while the East coast had Crazy Eddie's, those of us here on the West Coast had Crazy Gideon's which retired it's business in the year 2010.

    Crazy Gideon's was known as "The 99-cent Store of Consumer Electronics." Owned by Gideon Kotzer, known for doing his own TV commercials . Crazy Gideon's has commercials in the middle of the night where Kotzer yells about how he's crazy and his prices are crazy, and he smashes TVs or pretends to be dragged off to the mental institution by a busty nurse and a cop. "they stock them deep and sell em cheap". Just say "830 Traction Ave" to someone in L.A., and most likely they will know what you are talking about. Crazy Gideon's was the king of effective advertising. No matter how ridiculous looking the commercials were to some people, they were unforgettable and easily implanted into your brain.

    If you were looking for a 10 year old 20" t.v for $30 Crazy Gideon's was the place to go. They sold nothing cutting edge there, and everything was pretty much close out material that other stores couldn't sell. Crazy Gideon's made its money by flipping product. They purchased close out items and sold them to the public. They were the salvage yard of home electronics. All of their merchandise was awkward, outdated, covered in a thick grime and looked as if they had been stolen for re-sell..

    As you would enter through the door, to your left under a blue tarp, unfortunately it became too easy to be aware that they have a poorly partitioned section for adult DVDs. I'm talking about eally old porn (from the early 90's?), bland, low-production titles. The staff at Crazy Gideon's was inadvertently offensive and seemed creepy yet friendly. Gone but not forgotten!! Many people who have been scorned and ripped off by this thief of a store and poor excuse for a company are delightfully dancing with joy over it's retirement. Many are crying "Good Riddance Crazy Gideon," but your commercials will always be "Gone but not forgotten!a"

  16. Carson Destiny Says:

    Old TV ads or should I say classic ads are worthy of one's time. Actually, I prefer old ads than some of the ads today because the former is more enticing and realistic unlike today wherein some ads are really deceiving.

  17. meetoo Says:

    I didn’t see anyone mention the electronic chain called “Tarts” in the Charlotte NC area. They went under in the late 80s if memory doesn’t fail me….

    I looked up the name but couldn’t find anything listed about them anywhere on the web…Anyone here remember them, also?

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