Lost Hobby Shops: Tandy Electronics at Christmas
The last Tandy stores were closed or rebranded quite recently in Australia. But many will remember Tandy as the place they got their first R/C car…among a wide variety of other electronic gadgets and toys.
Tandy was truly a great destination for Christmas toy shopping back in the 1980s and early 1990s.
Well, Tandy is now gone in Australia.
After almost 40 years, the final stores operating under the Tandy logo were closed or rebranded sometime in 2010/11 or so. From a peak period in the 1980s when the chain boasted some 400 franchises around Australia (at one point there were 5 stores within a 40min drive of my home!), it seems they were unable to keep up with the shifting preferences of consumers in the technology marketplace.
[ You can read a bit about what happened on the Tandy (Australia) Wikipedia entry, but in a nutshell: by the early 2000s the Australian supermarket chain Woolworths had become the parent company of both Tandy Australia and it’s once bitter rival, Dick Smith Electronics. After cross-pollinating the product lines between Tandy and Dick Smith for several years, Woolworths decided to consolidate all the stores under one brand. And they chose to go with Dick Smith, thus ending the era of Tandy in Australia. Oddly, Woolworths later decided to sell Dick Smith off anyway. Dick Smith stores continue to operate to this day, and I’ll probably write a separate piece on them later…Edit – Dick Smith has now disappeared also]
Tandy first set up shop in Australia in 1963, as an outpost of the US electronics retailer Radio Shack. For most of the year the stores sold Hi-Fi equipment and switches and sprockets. But from about 1978 onward Tandy also became known as a part-time toy retailer offering a range of interesting electronic toys and novelties at Christmas time, many of which were unavailable elsewhere.
To kick things off, here’s a rare newspaper ad from 1979, for a Tandy Christmas sale, showing the basic range of cars they had at that time…
Perhaps you needed a parent who was inclined to visit a geeky electronics hobbyist store like Tandy from time to time. This was certainly true of my Dad – a bit of a tech geek who loved keeping an eye on their catalogues (which were delivered by mail) to see what new electronic gadgets they offered. Inevitably, I became as familiar with Tandy’s toy range as any actual toy store, and would keenly await their Christmas releases each year.
Luckily, I’ve actually kept a lot of the old Tandy catalogues we gathered over the years. So what better way to reminisce about the best days of Tandy than to scan some of their old Christmas sale flyers.
The oldest (Christmas) one I have is for this Tandy Christmas sale from 1979…
No toys on that cover though. And in fact an LCD calculator was considered a hot item!
It wasn’t really until the 1980s that Tandy’s toys began to get top-billing among their product line-up. And by the late 1980s, they had a tendency to use photos that depicted children or families around a Christmas Tree, surrounded by presents on Christmas morning…with all the presents being Tandy products.
This of course meant showing images of Christmas present bonanzas, the likes of which many kids could only dream about.
Here’s one from Christmas 1988…
I used to look at this and think “…imagine getting a Red Arrow [the large red buggy], a large slot car set, a Porsche racer, radios, experiment kits, other toys, all at one Christmas…”
Well to be honest, these images are not as exciting today as they once were. Many of the items shown are boring, outdated technology (AM radios, anyone?). But even so, I can still recall my 10-year-old self yearning for some of the Christmas present tsunamis depicted on these old pages.
Case in point, when Tandy began releasing a special toys-only catalogue in 1988…
Once again another lucky family has seemingly bought nothing for Christmas other than toys from Tandy, and this time it’s the expensive Robie Jnr robot, the stunning Golden Arrow buggy, a talking teddy, musical toys, touch-pad learning toys, chess games, LCD games and more. There’s probably AU$1000 worth in that photo alone (and if you converted the prices to today’s money, the sum would be even higher).
The next year, 1989, was a similar story (they even used the same two kids)…
This time the Golden Arrow buggy was joined by the huge Wild Horse truck, the Fire Fighter boat, and loads more fun stuff.
But in fact, the one Christmas flyer that caught my attention more than any other as a child, was this one from 1987…
Clearly it’s Christmas morning, and it looks as if the parents have just wandered downstairs to find that the kiddies, including their not-yet-walking toddler (?), have woken up early and ripped open all the presents. The two older girls seem fairly pleased to have opened up a yellow 4×4 Off-Roader, a Turbo Beetle (the red one just behind the baby), a Lamborghini racer, a Wild Champ buggy (on the sofa), a Robie Jnr robot, a talking teddy, and a lazer gun, among about 20 other electronic items and toys.
Ridiculous though it may have been, this photo was truly the stuff of Christmas dreams for me, in an age when getting just one of those cars or toys meant a pretty fun Christmas. Way to go Tandy, making everyone else’s Christmas morning look like crap compared to your fantasy promos.
But even these images were nothing really, when compared to walking into an actual Tandy store back in the day, and seeing all the Christmas R/C cars and other electronic toys.
In some years, they offered such a wide range of R/C cars that they were priced at $10 intervals all the way from about $10 right up to $110. Then there were the big ticket items such as the Golden Arrow and Red Arrow buggies, priced far beyond what most parents could afford.
Seeing them all displayed on their boxes at the front of the store – where you were welcome to test drive the display model for each and every car on offer – was a store trick that I never saw any other toy shops do. Or at least, they never did it quite as well. All those large R/C cars and other vehicles lined up gave Tandy stores a unique allure like no other. If I was out shopping with Mum, and we had a large shopping trolley filled with groceries, it was still impossible for her (even with the trolley’s squeaky-wheel inertia and her desire to get the ice-cream home in time) to prevent me from being sucked directly into a nearby Tandy store, tractor-beam style…
Of course, I’ll be posting many more scans from Tandy catalogues in the future, as I profile different cars they sold there.
And since this blog has previously been contacted by former Tyco staff and former hobby shop owners…if anyone out there is a former Tandy store owner/staffer and has any old store catalogues from the 1980s or early 1990s, or any old photographs of Tandy toy displays from that era (especially during Christmas), please post a comment and get in touch! Overseas contributors with old pics are also welcome (e.g. Tandy UK, Tandy Canada, Radio Shack USA, etc etc).