Bedlam breaks out at Circuit City

Best Buy mega-stores Circuit City to oblivion and pandemonium ensues at the hapless retailer.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

After Best Buy mega-stored Circuit City to oblivion, the hapless retailer has quickly gone to pieces.

On Friday, Circuit City said it was liquidating all of its stores. Then, on Saturday, there was a big liquidation sale at my local Circuit City--up to 30 percent off. The checkout line was almost as long as the lines you encounter on a typical Saturday at Fry's--the mostly California- and Texas-based sprawling electronics warehouse. (The line actually snaked to the back of the store.)

Understand that I'm not giving Fry's any backhanded praise. Fry's is so big, so unwieldy, and, in some respects, its sales policies so lax that, as a rule, I avoid it (unless I need a nuts-and-bolts item like a Torx screw).

But Fry's is still a going concern. Circuit City isn't. The store that I visited on Saturday had been taken over lock, stock, and barrel by the liquidator. I interviewed (very briefly because she was on checkout duty) the "store manager" who said that, as of Saturday, her new immediate boss was the person from the liquidation company. That person, in effect, was now running the show, she said.

My local Circuit City (in southern California) on Saturday had lines inside as long as Fry's--though that isn't necessarily a compliment
My local Circuit City (in southern California) on Saturday had lines inside as long as Fry's--though that isn't necessarily a compliment Brooke Crothers

Inside, it was close to pandemonium. (The manager would not let me take pictures inside the store.) Consumers swarming everywhere: every one of them with at least a few breathless questions and scant employees to provide answers. And consumers seemingly snapping up anything that wasn't nailed down. (I've never seen so many HP wide-screen monitors in one checkout line.)

One male employee in the section I was browsing, spent most of the time I was there (about 15 minutes) pleading ignorance and searching for a manager who never (apparently) materialized.

A female employee I talked to outside (she was on break) said no one knew it would happen--until it happened.

What was ironic (and sad) was that I had been to this same Circuit City a few weeks before and an employee had boasted that this store would not close (in the wake of the limited nationwide store closings Circuit City had announced in November) and would be around for a long time.

My take as a consumer? The sheer scale, selection, organization, and relative attention to display detail that one senses at Best Buy proved to be a huge disincentive for going back to Circuit City--and CompUSA for that matter. Statistics don't lie. I have been to Best Buy dozens of times in the past two years. I've been to Circuit City--even though it's closer--maybe six times, and always as a last resort.

Ask your casual consumer, who is familiar with both stores, why Circuit City failed and the answer is often summed up in two words: Best Buy. Others will say Amazon--but that's another story.