A model for the future of brick-and-mortar hi-fi stores

Brick-and-mortar audio and home theater shops have been on the wane, but Northcoast Audio in Eureka, Calif., is bucking the trend.

Northcoast Audio also sells home theaters. Chris Larsen

Chris Larsen started Northcoast Audio in 2010 because he loves selling hi-fi and home theater gear. He also loves living in Eureka, a town of 30,000 people in California. It's five hours north of San Francisco, and seven hours south of Portland, Ore. Larsen admits, "We're about three hours away from anything." Which makes it only that much more remarkable that Northcoast Audio isn't the only place to buy hi-fi or home theater gear in Eureka, Larsen faces competition from another brick-and-mortar shop! That's incredible, Circuit City is gone, Best Buy's future is uncertain, a lot of much larger cities don't have even one physical audio dealer, but Eureka has two!

Talking with Larson I was impressed with his passion for the job; he really loves his work. He sells only gear he likes, and he has to really believe in it to put it in his store. To keep expenses down he runs the store by himself, but Larsen's installer handles the bulk of out-of-store work.

Product lines run from mid-fi to high-end, and you can buy a nice little hi-fi for as little as $500 at Northcoast Audio. Larsen stocks some of my all-time favorite brands, including Magnepan , Dynaudio, Audioengine , NAD, Rega, KEF , and Parasound, as well as Panasonic, Samsung, and Sony TVs. Larsen will match Internet pricing on anything he sells, and unlike its Internet competitors, Northcoast Audio lets its customers hear a range of products in comparison to each other. They deliver and hook up gear and provide one-on-one advice. Setting up a hi-fi or home theater can be confusing and complicated. Unfortunately, Larsen's commitment to customer service is becoming increasingly hard to find.

Northcoast Audio has an impressive selection of speakers Chris Larsen

I sold hi-fi in New York City for sixteen years, had hands-on experience with most of the products I sold, and listened to the gear not only in my store, but in my customers' homes. So when a customer asked about how a speaker would sound in his tiny East Village apartment, I could draw on my experience to provide an answer. If you're lucky enough to have a good local dealer, treat it as a valuable resource.

Northcoast Audio can't be the only small town, brick-and-mortar audio dealer out there. If you have one, tell us about it in the Comments section below.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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