Best Served Cold?

I'll admit, when Circuit City proposed, and then shoddily implemented, something called Divx, as an alternative to the just born and still struggling DVD format, I did wish things upon them that only Johnny Carson's Carnac the Magnificent could have imagined. You know, things like "May the fleas of a thousand camels nest in your shorts." Divx discs were designed around the rental model, except without the hassle of a return. Buy them for $4 and you could watch them for 48 hours after the first play. You could buy a few more days at a later date, or convert them to "silver" for some other higher price. In the end though, they would be unplayable landfill. Of course such Tom Foolery required a dedicated Divx player which, if you were foolish enough to buy one, would now join the discs at the landfill. I've never seen such corporate "hey-that's-a-great-idea-nah-forget-it"-ism before. In about six months, Divx had come and gone.

But Circuit City lingered on and, despite my personal boycott, prospered. Until recently that is. Last week, right after announcing they were closing 155 stores, they also decided that entering chapter 11 bankruptcy protection would be a good thing as well. But while for the briefest of moments, I experienced a mild sense of vindication and satisfaction, truth be told, the last thing our hobby needs is the reduction in the number of places competing for our business.

Granted, Circuit City is manned by vultures sales associates who want to establish up front that you're buying the installation, setup and "calibration" or additional warranty for the product that comes with a free trip to Jamaica for the vulture sales associate that is the number one seller of Mitsusonic flat panels in the tri-state area. And granted they helped lead to the demise of high definition music by mixing SACDs with the DVD-Audio discs in the same bins, didn't know where they were when you asked, didn't know what they were if they did find them, and certainly didn't know the differences between the formats or what you needed to play them. If pushed, they would venture "a Divx player???"

But still, if you did your research in UltimateAVmag or Home Theater magazine, Circuit City had what you wanted if what you wanted was a flat panel TV. And if your wireless router got fried by a power surge, you could always pick up a new one from Circuit City (and a better surge protector) that day and be back in business. There is definitely a need for brick-and-mortar stores. Most of the high-end "stereo shops" of the world are gone, and I don't relish seeing the low-to-mid-market stores like Circuit City meet the same fate.

Circuit City is not going out of business, they are reorganizing and hopefully will come through it mostly intact. But if consumers know about their chapter 11 status, will they be reluctant to pick up that extended warranty? What about picking up gift cards for a store that, whoops, might not be around after the gift is given? I don't think things will be that bad, but that's just mostly wishful thinking on my behalf. Only time, and the books, will tell.

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