Nowadays, when I need a part for my gaming rig or a new music track to listen to, I need go no further than my personal laptop, which is stored conveniently in my living room cabinet. With a few clicks, the product in question will soon be leaving the nearest Amazon shipping facility or downloading to my personal device. But there was once a time when purchasing such a luxury would entail putting on my shoes, exiting my domicile and transporting myself to the happiest place on Earth: the local Best Buy.
I’m not sure it’s even possible to overstate my onetime love for this mainstay of 90’s commerce. While I can’t recall my first visit to a Best Buy, I do know that throughout the decade I spent several hours wandering the aisles perusing the many things that had a tendency to catch my eye. This store had everything that a teenager/early 20ish male with a small pocket of disposable income could ever want. There were rows and rows of CD’s near the front registers. If you got tired of looking at those, a few paces put you in the middle of the video game consoles, games and overpriced accessories. Just to the left of those was shelves full of DVD’s, both new and classic. To the right was a section of PC games (boxed! The kind you can only get if you order the “collector’s edition” today) Further on, you could wander in front of the many TV’s and stereos on display and on the last leg of your journey was the PC department, chock full of desktops, peripherals, and even upgrades.
As a high school student, I mostly purchased out of the CD or DVD sections. My part-time fast food job did not allow for many higher-level aspirations. When I got to college, I bought a $200 bubble-jet printer from Best Buy so I wouldn’t have to walk to a computer lab to print off my assignments. That little Canon bubble-jet was the first non-impact consumer printer that I’d ever seen. I was mesmerized by how quiet it was (relatively speaking) and by the quality of the output. As a senior, one of the guys in my building and I took a day trip to a bigger, better Best Buy in Indianapolis (about an hour and a half drive) so he could buy a brand new VooDoo II video card for his desktop. He wanted to play Quake II on max settings. Although we never checked ahead of time, we assumed that the card would be sold out at the local store. Maybe we just wanted an excuse to take a road trip. After I got my first “real” job, I headed off to Best Buy to buy my first “big screen” TV, a 32’’ Sharp CRT style heavy monstrosity. I remember the blue clad sales kid, who was probably about five years younger than I was, asking if I wanted to finance it or if I was “one of those rich guys”. I paid cash. It was only $350.
The only time I ever attempted to attend an early black Friday sale, it was to Best Buy. I literally watched them open the doors to a mad rush of deal shoppers. I went in, watched a few people sprint to where they thought their item of choice would be (they had re-arranged the entire store layout overnight – sneaky Best Buy!) and left without buying anything. I subsequently swore off Black Friday shopping until the online version became available.
I saw many video games for the first time on the shelf of a Best Buy. Neverwinter nights, Star Wars Galaxies and Lord of the Rings Online: Shadow of Angmar were titles that I remember either browsing past or curiously inspecting before setting them back down. The latter two, in particular, were confusing to me as I had been raised on Atari, Apple II, Nintendo, Playstation and MS-DOS gaming and I did not yet understand the concept of a persistent online world, nor why anyone would ever want to visit one.
After I got married and had kids, my propensity to do any shopping outside of the home dropped dramatically. Early on because: have you ever tried to just “browse around” any place with a couple of curious, handsy, hungry or otherwise grumpy toddlers in tow? And later on because we got busy running around doing other things and simply got out of the habit. In my most recent trip to Best Buy, I was disappointed that the experience is not the same as it used to be. The PC section has been mostly replaced by tablets and chromebooks, the most boring of all computing devices. Movies are now purchased as downloadable codes on little credit-card-sized chunks of plastic. The CD section is greatly reduced and I’m not even sure if the PC games section still exists. The distribution of entertainment has changed drastically over the last twenty five years, and Best Buy has had to adjust in order to stay relevant.
I’m impressed that Best Buy has been able to stay in business while other retailers have become extinct. I hope they continue to thrive, because I’d miss seeing that big yellow tag dotting the shopping landscape. But for me, the excitement has been replaced by a more subdued, sterile experience.