The day before yesterday I entered a Circuit City. I don't recall the last time I'd been in one — I'm more of a Best Buy man myself, although only when I must; I tend to purchase electronics almost exclusively online — but the uniform red-and-silver trimmings were just as I remembered from a few years ago. The store itself was staffed entirely by children, but then again I was in a college town. A few glanced at me as I walked through the vestibule and between the beige plastic shoplifting sentries, then returned to their business.
I was there to buy something into which to plug an iPod, a gift for some friends I've been staying with over the last few days. Nothing fancy. Just something for the living room better than the little alarm clock that had been hauled in from the bedroom.
My affinity for online purchasing was such that I considered actually just having something overnighted from Amazon, but I'd been enjoying the benefits of suburban life while I could experience them and thought browsing through a store sampling sound systems might be a nice change of pace, especially for something as subjective as speakers.
It could have been. I quickly learned, for instance, that the iPod-only speaker docks available for $80 or so were sonically inferior to the slightly more expensive generic shelf systems that just happened to have iPod docks built in. It stands to reason: a bigger speaker tends to sound more full than a smaller one, at least when you're talking about cheap ones. (There's no replacement for displacement. I don't think that actually applies here but I like the way it sounds.) There just weren't that many different iPod docks on display. Maybe half-a-dozen.
I ended up bringing home a Sony shelf system that wasn't actually up for display, completely obviating the benefit of trying it out before I bought it. It was between the Sony and a unit from Sharp. While I didn't actually try them out side by side, I kind of think the Sharp sounded better — but the Sony looked much classier (if you ignored the unlacquered plywood on the back of the speakers).
It was all so dreary. There's a certain excitement to a big box store. Despite my love of Brooklyn and its small shop culture, there's no denying I get a kick out of walking into a great big warehouse and knowing I can walk out with something adequate right then and there. (And there are plenty of big box stores in Brooklyn like Costco that I frequent, so don't give me any guff. I can like both!)
But there was something sad about Circuit City — this one, at least — that made all the recent concern of its financial woes apparent. It's just not a nice place to shop. The products offered are mediocre, in general. The employees were perfectly nice, but completely unknowledgeable about the products they sold. If it weren't for convenience, I can't imagine a single reason why I'd want to shop there in the future. It may have taken a few years, but I suspect the rest of the country is starting to discover the same thing.