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January 24, 2008
3 Min Read
If you remember the tech world before the Internet destroyed (I mean, democratized and improved) everything, then you're probably nostalgic for the days when audio electronics was hot.Me, I don't remember the original Radio Row, which reached its zenith in post-World War II New York City, in the neighborhood where the World Trade Center once stood. But I am old enough to have spent more time than I care to remember on 45th Street in Manhattan, where Harvey Electronics has had its flagship store for some 40 years. Until next week.
In the 1970s, Harvey's -- I add the possessive, which is not technically part of its name, because that's how everybody refers to it -- had a separate parts store across the street, which was a really fun place where you could buy transistors (remember those?) and get the Allied catalogue. That outpost was shuttered long ago.
Now, rising rents and poor sales, not to mention a setback in the form of a recent financial reorganization, have sounded the death knell for the 45th Street store, which will lock its doors for good on Jan. 31.
Don't cry for Harvey's just yet, though. The chain has a bunch of other stores, including a location at 19th Street and Broadway, which is where former 45th Street customers are being referred. Harvey's also owns a Bang & Olufsen store in Manhattan, and one in Greenwich, Conn.
Which kind of makes my point. Namely, that electronics retailing, as far as selling amplifiers and speakers in bricks-and-mortar stores, is dead. Harvey's is trying to remake its way in the Internet era as an installer of high-end multimedia systems. The anchor of such setups is obviously high-definition video and surround-sound audio.
Stereo, not to mention vinyl records spinning around on turntables, is a quaint vestige of the past. (I think I have four turntables in various states of disrepair, including a Dual, which worked until the motor quit on it recently. I intend to fix it.)
Today's independent electronics retailer has permanently given way to big-box stores like Best Buy, much as neighborhood booksellers have ceded that marketplace to Barnes & Noble. That, plus no one reads anymore. Similarly, few people much care about high-end audio; most are quite content with the iPod listening experience.
Lest you think I'm bashing digital players, I will point out that you can hear bass lines we never knew existed back in the cardboard-speaker world of analog audio. Now I finally understand why McCartney was hailed for his skills with the Hofner.
Anyway, I'm not saying the present state of affairs is all that terrible, though I admit to being consistently cranky about it. I mean, shift happens, and this isn't the end of the digital transformation by any means. But the closing of Harvey's 45th Street store is a milestone worth noting, if only because so few people will take any note of it at all.
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