Think back to your formative years on computers. If you’re anywhere close in age to me, then these years span a wide timeline of operating systems from early memories of basic commands in Windows 3.1, ending during the time of Windows XP. I have lots of early computing memories which beyond screeching dial up noises involves going to stores like CompUSA, Best Buy, Microcenter, and on one occasion a trip to Incredible Universe. Unfortunately, these stores only served as walled gardens for me. While they provided lots of interesting things to look my reliance on my parents for money, as they didn’t believe in an allowance, along with their reluctance to buy unnecessary but “cool” items such as a graphics cards and more RAM meant we usually didn’t leave with much. By the time I was able enough to keep control of my own money Fry’s was the new game in town, and often the cheapest by far. The PC components were not the only attraction Fry’s also carried a really cool selection of items, including brand-new tech along with individual parts and tiny components including many that you would only otherwise find at a store like Radio Shack. Outside of the obvious Electronics and Appliances, the store also carried oddities like a copious amount of snack foods, and soda, a seemingly endless number of magazines, tons of “As Seen on TV” products, closeout deals on things like cheapo record players, and best of all it was cheap! The snack foods, and bulk discounting are likely related to the Fry family’s start in retail with the Fry’s Markets grocery chain.
The family’s history in grocery retailing meant Fry’s knew how to set up deals. Especially around the holidays, when the store was set up in a demo heavy Incredible Universe style. The stores undoubtedly resembled their former competitor. It was (excuse the pun) “Incredible” that Fry’s could pull off three stores throughout the Houston area whereas Tandy failed with one. While I can’t find anything confirming it outright gossip from the time makes it seem that the Houston Incredible Universe location was a possible contender for Fry’s to purchase when they bought multiple other IU locations, but they ultimately backed away from the deal. Rather than focus on one central store, Fry’s decided to build multiple in the suburbs. The first location to open was the oil themed, I-45 and West Road location. Opening in 2000, it took the place of a former Builder’s Square home improvement store with what had been the garden space being enclosed by Fry’s. The exterior was renovated adding fake oil derricks added to each side. The next location would be the Space Station themed Webster which opened in 2004 and was located very near to NASA Mission Control. This location featured a faux Space Station inside. The final location would be Stafford which would open in 2006 in a very plain and bland building. The theme was “history of Houston” and the store featured large print-outs of photos sourced from the early 20th century showing typical scenes of Houston.
In 2019, I started to hear rumors that Fry’s was on the brink of shutting down. By this point in my life I hadn’t been to a Fry’s for few years, having moved on to Micro Center. The rumors ranged from people saying that Fry’s was about to lay off all their staff and liquidate, to the slow Sears style burnout that we ended up seeing. Thankfully I was able to document this downfall through three visits within over the course of three years. Fry’s is a private company and we likely won’t see much explanation behind their downfall for years to come. It’s a sad situation to have a store with such fond memories attached just slip away without much notice. However, given their stocking situation I had no business at these stores outside of taking photos.