Inside computer stores from the 1970s and 1980s

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In the late 1970s and throughout the 1980s, if someone wanted to buy a personal computer, they had to go to a local computer store to physically check out what was available. Once there, customers typically encountered a dizzying array of incompatible platforms with widely varying capabilities.

Depending on the era, think of computers with brand names like Apple, Atari, Commodore, Osborne, Texas Instruments, Radio Shack, Tandy, IBM, NEC, Sinclair, Panasonic, etc.

In today’s world of online ordering, smartphones, tablets, and the two major desktop computer platforms (Mac and Windows), it’s hard to imagine what the computer stores of the 1980s looked like exactly. , with all their varied wares. So I did my best to track down snapshots that give insight into what it was like to visit one of these stores back in the day.

While searching, I found a number of international photos, which give this slideshow a slightly global flavor, but the rest are from the United States. And technically, a single photo is from the 1970s and gives a glimpse into the dawn of the computer retail store.

After you’re done reading, I have a question for you oldies: If you’re old enough, what are your memories of buying computers in the 1980s?


The front window

(Credit: Christopher Grabinski)

Imagine walking down the street in the 1980s and being greeted by this beautifully arranged scene of Radio Shack TRS-80 computers. This is exactly what the photographer encountered in a computer store in West Germany in 1984. From left to right we see a TRS-80 Model III, a Model 4, a Model 100 (in the briefcase travel) and a Model II, as well as various Tandy brand printers next to them.


The computer store

Seller and customer looking at computer

(Credit: George Birch)

In this gorgeous photo of the Los Angeles computer store from 1977, we get a rare glimpse inside a computer store at the dawn of the personal computer era. Here we see a teenager playing Star Trek on a then brand new Apple II (possibly built from a kit, as it’s missing its logo badge) as shop owner Dick Heiser looks on. In the foreground are a pair of Cromemco joysticks, which were used to play Space War on S-100 bus machines.


computer earth

Computer store

(Credit: ComputerLand)

During the 1980s, ComputerLand reigned as one of America’s most successful computer store chains. Here is a rare photo of an interior of one, circa 1983, which includes IBM PCs, a few DEC Rainbow 100 machines, and a wall of software and removable media for sale. There’s also an Osborne 1, one of the first “portable” computers, sitting on a desk near the man standing in the back.


Computer store in Japan

(Credit: Katsumi Kasahara)

In this 1982 photo taken in a computer store in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, Japan, we see a cramped interior stocked with typically Japanese computer products. For example, the machine in the foreground is the Matsushita JR-100, an inexpensive machine with 16K of RAM and a rubber chiclet keyboard. Several other home PCs line the walls as customers look on.

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The IBM PC is here

IBM PCs

(Credit: IBM)

In this 1981 photo from an unknown computer store in the Boston, Massachusetts area, we see a display displaying the new IBM 5150 personal computer, released in August of that year in the United States. Next to it we see a precarious pile of IBM PC manuals and software boxes, along with a few printers.


UK computer store

(Credit: HMV)

Computers entered the retail entertainment scene in the early 1980s, as seen in this photo of the interior of British retail giant HMV’s store on Oxford Street in London. Among the movies and music you could typically buy from the store, customers encountered a wall display full of personal computers such as the Atari 400/800 computers, Sinclair ZX81, Dragon 32, Oric-1, and BBC Microcomputer.


ComputerEarth up close

Man sitting in a computer store

(Credit: George Clark)

In this snapshot from the late 1980s, we see the interior of a ComputerLand store in Tallahassee, Florida. In the foreground is Dr. Tom Mason, who was a professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana. Behind Mason on the desk we can see (from left to right) an obscured Tandy Color Computer 3, a Tandy 3000 and a Tandy 1000. ComputerLand allows customers to try out the machines in the store to get an idea of ​​what they would like to purchase.

Editor’s note: This story was first published on November 12, 2015.

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