Lance Wilson walked into the RadioShack on Brentwood Boulevard and made a beeline to a tall metal case at the back of the store.
He rummaged through a couple of shallow drawers and, within seconds, found what he needed: a 22 picofarad capacitor.
Wilson’s hunt this week for just the right electronics bit illustrates both the rise and fall of RadioShack, which on Feb. 5 entered bankruptcy with a plan to liquidate itself.
For decades, RadioShack was the go-to place for buyers of diodes, resistors, cables and other electronic components. When the retailer introduced its TRS-80 home computer in 1977, RadioShack helped usher in the digital age.
However, the explosion of online commerce, the so-called the Amazon effect, eroded the venerable chain’s bottom line.
The Fort Worth, Texas-based retailer was left with a small customer base — electronics hobbyists, mainly — and items that didn’t cost much. A 22 picofarad capacitor, for example, goes for about a dollar.
Wilson, 53, of Grubville, said he is an electronics hobbyist loyal to RadioShack but admitted he has strayed. At times, he said, he buys online. Wilson, an IT worker at BJC HealthCare, went to the Brentwood store because he couldn’t wait for delivery of the capacitor that goes in the remote monitor of his home’s outdoor wood-fired furnace.
“I want it now,” he said of the tiny part.
RadioShack Corp. now plans to close or sell all 4,000 stores nationwide during its bankruptcy.
Hedge fund Standard General has offered to buy approximately 2,000 stores that it wants to operate with wireless phone giant Sprint.
That bid is worth $200 million. If another company offers a competing bid, an auction for those stores will be held on March 23.
Meanwhile, GameStop Corp. is planning to acquire 163 leases for its Spring Mobile wireless stores. Those stores are among the 1,100 that the retailer said it will close in February. More closures will follow this month.
Of more than 40 company-owned RadioShacks in the St. Louis area, 30 will close by the end of March. The Brentwood store is among about a dozen expected to remain open.
REAL ESTATE RUSH
Commercial real estate experts said the closings will have little effect on the region’s retail market. Combined, the closed RadioShacks have less than 100,000 square feet of space in a market of about 150 million square feet.
Adam Glosier, director of retail for Gateway Commercial Real Estate, in Clayton, said most empty RadioShacks are unlikely to stay dark long.
Frozen yogurt shops, cellphone stores, fitness gyms, stockbroker outposts, mattress stores and, especially, quick-serve restaurants will quickly replace the RadioShacks, the experts said.
Gone in some strip center locations will be lease provisions that allowed RadioShack to exclude competitors, such as a cellphone store, from occupying space nearby, Glosier said. Despite those provisions, RadioShack was a coveted tenant back in the day, he added.
“They always paid good rent and had good credit,” Glosier said. “Everybody wanted RadioShack.”
Gateway Commercial reported that 7 percent of the region’s retail space was vacant at the end of 2014, down 1.4 percentage points from 2013. With little construction underway, the retail market will remain tight, with rents edging up as a result.
Today, the area’s retail market is healthier than it was at the end of 2007, when the vacancy rate was 10.7 percent at the start of the Great Recession. Grubb & Ellis reported that speculative construction in 2006 and 2007 had produced a flood of vacancies.
Josh Hibbits, a principal at NAI Desco, in Clayton, said last week that high revenue potential will make RadioShack locations inside the Interstate 270 loop especially attractive to new users. Retailing is strong in the mid-county area, where store building is occurring along Hanley Road, he noted.
But the store closures affect more than just real estate.
Nothing could save the RadioShack jobs of Jeff Guilds and Dwight LeSeuer, who worked at the Hampton Avenue store that closed last week.
LeSeuer’s RadioShack career lasted only seven weeks. Guilds spent about three years as a RadioShack manager at several stores.
LeSeuer, 46, said he has a plumbing and drywall contracting business to fall back on. Guilds, 33, said he will concentrate on building a credit counseling business to support his wife and two dogs.
Both said they would miss their RadioShack customers, many of them senior citizens who relied on store employees for advice in buying batteries and electronic gadgets.
“You become their personal assistants,” Guilds said a few days before the Hampton store closed. “They’ve been crying on us.”
Reuters contributed to this report.