Gadgets — right now
AVON — There were no cell phones in 1986, and home computers were little more than glorified typewriters. But the Vail Valley still had a strong lure. That’s what drew Mindy Feldman and then-husband Gary here to try their hands at a new business venture.
The Feldmans had several times come from their home in South Carolina to ski Vail. One year, Mindy told Gary, “Find us something to do so we can move.”
That something turned out to be a couple of business opportunities in Eagle-Vail — either the local Radio Shack franchise or a card shop. Not knowing anything about the electronics business, the Feldmans picked Radio Shack.
Now, nearly 30 years later, Mindy and Gary remain business partners, but Mindy runs the Radio Shack store. Still, 30 years is enough — she’s trying to sell the store by March 31. If it doesn’t sell … that’s when her voice trails off.
“It’s time to move on,” she said. “It’s time for someone in their 30s to take over.”
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That’s about how old the Feldmans were when they took over the store. The couple had a young child and put in a lot of hours at the store before and after the move to Avon in the late 1980s.
“I was breast-feeding my daughter at the time,” Feldman said. “I’d have to take a break between customers to take care of her.”
The store was bustling back then. Compact discs were muscling vinyl records out of home collections, home computers were drawing a growing number of hobbyists, and people always needed speaker wire and various gadgets. Also, people buying then-new homes were looking for the latest wireless home phones.
“It was the best time to be in the electronics business,” Feldman said.
Times got even better in 1990 or so, when a representative from AT&T stopped in the store with a new product — a cellular phone. It was big — about the size of a man’s shoe. It only worked in a few places in the valley. And it was expensive — $900, in an era when the U.S. average price for a pound of ground beef was 99 cents.
The phone representative told the Feldmans they might sell one cell phone a month. But the devices were soon moving quickly.
“We sold dozens every month,” Feldman said. “The Realtors all needed them.”
The electronics business is very different today, of course. Cell phones can be purchased at grocery stores. In music, the compact disc is nearly obsolete. And people tend to buy their electronic gear from big discount stores or the Internet.
Still, the little storefront in Avon perseveres.
On a recent visit on a weekday afternoon, a handful of people came into the shop. All left with something.
“Our business is the right now,” Feldman said. “We see people who want to get something and don’t want to wait.”
The store sells a lot of batteries, and people come in for memory cards for their cameras and other devices.
A lot of the store’s customers are visitors. They aren’t going to wait for an item they’ve left at home.
“We wouldn’t be open if people remembered everything,” Feldman said.
Today, the store survives with a slim staff. Mathias Brown said he enjoys working at the store, especially when someone has a technical question.
“You’re constantly solving problems, all day long,” Feldman said.
And Feldman believes the store could have a bright future, in the right hands — perhaps another version of Mindy and Gary Feldman, circa 1987 or so.
“A mom and pop could do it,” she said. “You could add cell phone (screen) repair — that’s huge. You could add computer repair.
“The store shouldn’t close,” she added. “But I’ve done my part here.”