Liquidated at Circuit City

A young single father's career in retail electronics is stalled before it really gets started, as Circuit City closes stores.

Editor's note: This is part of a series of stories about the recession's effect on the tech industry.

Note: This article has been corrected to reflect that Ultimate Electronics is not going out of business, as previously stated.

When Circuit City management told employees to arrive at their respective stores one hour before opening in early November, everyone knew something was up.

Except T.K. Campo.

The 21-year-old wasn't able to go in early, and arrived at his job stocking shelves at the Scottsdale, Ariz., store to find his fellow employees just standing around, looking generally shocked and upset--and, conspicuously, not working.

That's when he got the news. "They told me we were closing down. From then, there was this giant, somber mood throughout the whole store. Everyone was going to lose their jobs, and people were really upset. At least one person was crying."

TK Campo Circuit City
T.K. Campo

Campo's store was one of the 155 stores that Circuit City announced it would be closing to get the struggling retailer back into good financial health. Overall, 17 percent of the workforce was to be cut. Just a week later, the chain filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The recession has claimed hundreds of thousands of jobs here in the U.S., but unemployment is having a secondary effect on retailers. It has killed consumer confidence, and hawkers of expensive gadgets like Circuit City, and Tweeter , have been hit hard.

As disappointing as it was for Campo to lose a job that he liked, this 21-year-old has more responsibilities than most of his peers working retail. He's a single father who recently won joint custody of his 2-year-old son. Campo is also putting himself through school, studying math with hopes of becoming a high school calculus teacher.

But his priority right now is making his child support payments.

"I can always take little break from school, but (working is) always to provide more for my son," he said during a telephone interview. "At Circuit City, I would have been able to move up, and eventually get more money. But that opportunity's kind of gone now."

Campo has been working at the Scottsdale store since May--he'd been laid off from his previous job as a line cook after he went on disability leave with a broken arm. But he took a liking to his work stocking shelves at Circuit City, updating prices, and interacting with customers. But most of all, he enjoyed his 40-some co-workers.

"I befriended just about everyone that works there. For the most part, everyone that's left is a tight group."

Over the past month the group has found more ways to bond since the news of their store getting shut down. Knowing that there is a definite end date to their employment, the store "became this relaxed environment," Campo said. If they can't help a customer, nobody stresses out. Some phones go unanswered, and just "general messing around" ensues.

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But they know they still have work to do.

The liquidators--the company that bought up the store's debt and inventory--came in a few days after the announcement, put up store closing signs, and changed all prices to the MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price), then marked them down a bit more.

Once the signs went up, a frenzy of bargain hunters descended on the store. But not everyone liked what they saw.

"Some (shoppers) got rude, some got really nasty," Campo recalled. "Some people would come in and tell us we deserve to lose our jobs because they're not happy with our prices, and unhappy we couldn't alter prices or return things anymore that had been purchased after liquidation. Some were unsure what to do if they had purchased (extended) warranties. I don't know...it seemed like some people enjoyed being unpleasant to us. There wasn't a lot more we could do for people."

During the holiday season, stress levels tend to run especially high, which likely added to the customer frustration. Campo said his store doesn't update inventories anymore, or even get shipments, and they definitely don't try to find a product for a customer at a nearby Circuit City branch.

"We're technically competing with each other now," said Campo. That means getting rid of all the store's current inventory as fast as possible. "That way the liquidators can close us down faster. The longer we're open, the more money they can lose."

Campo, luckily, has already procured a new job, as a prep cook at a wine and coffee bar, which he's working simultaneously with his Circuit City position. Though he would have liked to have stayed in electronics retail, he found it impossible in his northeast Phoenix suburban community.

The local Best Buy isn't hiring, and another regional chain, Showcase Home Entertainment, is also going out of business. Looking for work in another industry was Campo's only option.

"It seemed easier since I have experience outside the field," he said. "But I'm worried for all my friends I've made."

There's a sign posted that says "6 days left" hanging in the store, he said. "In a week...I hope my friends have new jobs lined up."

Next in the series: Talking Apple in the land of foreclosures

About the author

Erica Ogg is a CNET News reporter who covers Apple, HP, Dell, and other PC makers, as well as the consumer electronics industry. She's also one of the hosts of CNET News' Daily Podcast. In her non-work life, she's a history geek, a loyal Dodgers fan, and a mac-and-cheese connoisseur.

 

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