Closure of Barnes Radio Service: End of fix, don’t toss, era
Barnes Radio Service — which has been selling and fixing radios and televisions in Reno for 91 years — expects to close its doors at the end of this month, signaling the end of an era in which people actually paid to repair electronics rather than tossing them in the trash.
The closure means those with old-school radios or electronics will have to go outside of the area for repair work.
James Barnes started the business in 1922 in his garage, only two years after the first commercial radio broadcast in the United States. He moved it to a spot on West Fourth Street a few years later.
The growth years for the firm, however, came after Barnes moved the business to the corner of South Virginia and Taylor streets, in the middle of today’s Midtown District.
“He started in sales after he built this building in 1940,” recalls Jim Barnes, the son of the company’s founder and its present owner. “At that time the business had the front half of the building. Then in 1947 they took over the present location, at 18 Taylor Street (just off South Virginia) in the back half of the building.”
The advent of television brought a fresh wave of business to the company.
“When TVs first hit in the 1950s we had about 25 to 30 dealers selling TVs and servicing them,” says Barnes.
But repair of car radios always was the cornerstone of the Barnes Radio Service business.
“We did car radios quite a bit,” says Barnes. “It was the biggest part of our service up until about ‘88 or ‘89. That’s when the manufacturers started cutting out the service information to the dealers because the units were getting so expensive.”
That decade also marked the start of the rapid advances in technology that hurt Barnes Radio Service — the advent of big-screen televisions, CD players, DVD players and more.
Says Barnes, “Now I wouldn’t even fool with these. Technology is changing so drastically and so fast it’s awful hard to keep up with it. If I had gone to school, even a year ago, everything I had done would have been obsolete by now.”
In fact, he stepped away from television repair entirely about 15 years ago, and he doesn’t think much of the new technology.
“When people bring it in for repair I say there’s the best place for it: The garbage can. Because you can’t even get parts and if you could it would probably cost you more than it did to buy it. That’s why some of the newer stuff has gotten to be throwaway.”
But some customers treasure the old stuff. One of his last customers has Barnes making sure a Magnavox console that he sold to her in 1962 is in good order. It came equipped with an AM/FM radio and turntable for records.
Even at 51 years old the unit, which is built like a piece of furniture, still produces great sound. The original owner is giving it as a present to her daughter.
But fewer people want to maintain classic electronics.
“People aren’t restoring the old things anymore,” says Barnes. “There are people who are doing it, but there are very few around anymore.”
And Barnes’ colleagues in the business have given up, too.
Dave Walker, the owner of Walker Electronics, sold his iconic shop building at 917 Wilson St. in the Wells Avenue commercial district to Haberae Investments Inc., which is redeveloping the neighborhood. That ended a 56-year run for Walker in the building.
Even the Western Historic Radio Museum in Virginia closed its doors last year after nearly two decades of preserving broadcast history.
Barnes personally remembers much of that history.
“I started fooling around with the stuff back in the late 30s when I was about 7 or 8 years old,” he says. “I’ve grown up in the business and have been working here way back in high school and college.”
But now, at 81 years old, Barnes thinks the time is right to move on.
“I’ve been ready for awhile, and the wife has been after me to call it quits. She wants to do some traveling because our kids are up in Washington and over in Georgia,” he said. “If people kept their old sets I don’t know what they’re going to do. Because I’m calling it quits.”
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