Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

A primer on the rise, fall, and possible resurrection of Circuit City

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For decades, Circuit City was a popular, near-ubiquitous retailer of consumer electronics and physical media. But industry changes and poor management decisions caused the New York-based chain to cease operations in 2009. Seven years later, the American landscape is still dotted with the remains of former Circuit City locations, betrayed by those unmistakable red entryways. Appropriately, Bright Sun Films has devoted an episode of its webseries Abandoned to the history of Circuity City. Despite the title, this isn’t a video about some random YouTube idiot breaking into an abandoned Circuit City to see what’s still inside. Instead, this 14-minute mini-documentary written and narrated by Jake Williams details the decades-long saga of the electronics chain, from its origins in the late 1940s and its boom times in the 1980s and 1990s to its demise in the new millennium and its current comeback attempt. The video also serves as a handy refresher course on how technology and media consumption have evolved over the years.

The Circuit City story began 67 years ago with Samuel Wurtzel, who founded a chain of appliance stores called Wards to sell television sets, back when TV was still a new technology. The chain thrived, and by the 1970s, it was testing out some electronics superstores under the Circuit City name. That, too, met with success, and the chain soon focused all its energies on the “big box store” concept. Circuit City became the company’s official name in 1984. At the time, the company was truly innovative and changed the way consumer electronics were sold. By 1987, it hit the $1 billion mark in annual sales.


But the 1990s saw the chain outpaced by its chief competitor, Best Buy. Circuit City’s fortunes declined further in the 2000s, necessitating layoffs and the closure of stores and distribution centers. CEOs started resigning as the chain hemorrhaged money, and Circuit City breathed its last in 2009. But the story doesn’t end there. Just this year, two New York retail veterans bought the Circuit City name and announced plans for a re-launch. “Honestly,” says narrator Williams, “I really don’t think this is going to work out too well.” Still in all, he’s impressed that the chain is even getting a second chance. “Usually, the story doesn’t end this way,” he admits.