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 what was available. Once there, customers typically encountered a dizzying array of incompatible platforms with widely varying capacities.
Depending on the era, think of computers with brands 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 just two major desktop PC platforms (Mac and Windows), it’s hard to imagine what the computer stores of the 1980s looked like exactly. – with all their various goods -. So I did my best to find snapshots that give a glimpse of what it was like to visit one of these stores at the time.
While searching I found a number of international photos, which give this slideshow a bit of a global flavor, but the rest are from the USA. And technically, only one photo is from the 1970s, and it gives a glimpse into the dawn of the computer retail store.
Once you’ve finished reading, I have a question for you old timers: if you’re old enough, what memories do you have of buying computers in the 80s?
1. The front window
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, Model 4, Model 100 (in the travel case ) and a Model II – with various Tandy brand printers next to them.
(Photo: Christophe Grabinski)
2. The computer store
In this beautiful photo of the Los Angeles computer store from 1977, we get a rare glimpse of the interior of a computer store at the dawn of the personal computer era. Here we see a teenage boy playing Star Trek on a then brand new Apple II (possibly built from a kit, as he’s missing his badge) while store owner Dick Heiser watches. In the foreground are a pair of Cromemco joysticks, which were used to play Space War on S-100 buses.
(Photo: George Birch)
During the 1980s, ComputerLand reigned supreme as one of America’s most successful computer store chains. Here’s a rare photo of an interior, circa 1983, that features IBM PCs, a few DEC Rainbow 100 machines, and a wall of software and removable media for sale. There is also an Osborne 1, one of the first “portable” computers, sitting on a desk near the man standing in the back.
5. The IBM PC is here
In this 1981 photo taken at an unknown computer store in the Boston, Massachusetts area, we see a screen showcasing the new IBM 5150 personal computer, released in August of the same year in the United States. Next to it, we see a precarious stack of IBM PC manuals and software, along with a few printers.
7. ComputerLand up close
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 professor of computer science at the University of Illinois at Champaign / Urbana. Behind Mason on the desk, we can see (left to right) an obscured Tandy Color Computer 3, a Tandy 3000, and a Tandy 1000. ComputerLand let customers try out the machines in the store to get a feel for what they were looking for. would like to purchase.
(Photo: George Clark)
Get our best stories!
Sign up for What’s up now to get our best stories delivered to your inbox every morning.