Is Fry’s the Real “Best Buy?”

January 15, 2010 at 9:15 am in Shopping, South Bay

IMG_1762I always want what doesn’t exist.  In this case, it was an old, and possibly discontinued, model of a small electronic appliance that customers seem to prefer over the newer models.  However, after some online searching, I found that the item indeed exists, only at Fry’s Electronics.   I didn’t know anything about Fry’s, except that I pass by the one on Route 1 in Manhattan Beach every so often, and one time a passenger in my car cheered when she saw the place.

So I made it to Fry’s yesterday, and was quite pleasantly surprised.  IMG_1764The look of the store can be described as Trader Joe’s meets The Dresden Room.  It’s a throwback that includes fake Tiki torch chandeliers, fake black rock walls, and an outdoor pond/fake rock garden.  With toned-down lighting and signs, and an army of sales people (almost all male) dressed not in colorful short-sleeve polo shirts but old-school white dress shirts with ties, Fry’s seems the antithesis of its competitor Best Buy, as well as other popular big-box chain stores such as Target.  According to Wikipedia, the Manhattan Beach Fry’s has a “Tahiti” theme, joining other Fry’s theme stores in our area, such as Alice in Wonderland (Woodland Hills) and the Industrial Revolution (City of Industry).

The array of big-screen tv’s, GPS units, computer supplies, Xbox and Wii games, and more left me happily glazed over.  Down one aisle, the latest and slimmest Motorola and VTech cordless phones.  Along another aisle, the most electric shavers and hair trimmers that I have ever seen.  Around a corner, Elvis bobbleheads above a box of … umbrellas?

But Wikipedia also references a possible dark side of Fry’s, including some dubious consumer practices (such as taking payments to let customers cut the line on Black Friday), a high-profile lawsuit from famous celebs over use of their image, and even an illegal kickback scheme involving Fry’s vendors and gambling debts.

So what’s the deal, folks?  Is Fry’s a beloved, quirky California-based institution that some of you have enjoyed for a couple of decades, or just another evil corporate chain in retro trim?  All I know is, I left the place with a new old model and a wry smile, and that never happens at Best Buy.

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