Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Sold Pork Chops”

A guest blog, by Chuck Ritley

If you’ve been to California you’ve seen one of the Fry’s Super Stores. They’re fun to shop, with a huge selection of electronics. Or maybe you bought from their web site?

PorkChopsHere’s a little story. When I moved my family to The Valley, there was a Fry’s Supermarket less than a mile away – walking distance. Smaller than Safeway or Alpha Beta, with good prices and open 24 hours a day, so groceries were close to home.

Fry’s, a family-owned company, had about 10 of these stores in The Valley, and several brothers and sisters ran it. Back in the 70’s, one of the siblings was also a computer fan, and decided to test out a new section in one Fry’s market, down on the Lawrence Expressway. And this section was to be stocked with stuff for true computer aficionados, in between the grocery aisles. It soon became a favorite destination for all computer nerds.

I heard about this, had to see it, and one Sunday, since we needed stuff for dinner anyway, I loaded the family into the Jeep and headed for the Lawrence Expressway.

ChipsArriving at the “new” Fry’s was pure heaven for a computer nerd. Oh, it was still a true supermarket, but there were aisles full of “stuff”. (Bear in mind there were no ready-made PCs. Whatever you needed, you made.) And Fry’s had bread boards, wiring, chips, power supplies, connectors, memory, resistors, CPUs, and tools. Anything you needed to build your vision. (I never ran into Steve Wozniak, but I have no doubts that he was a frequent visitor.)

The family went separate ways. My wife had a grocery list, my youngest son found the aisle with comic books, while my oldest son started perusing the electronic stuff. (This should have given me a clue that he would soon be drawn to computers.) I marveled at a Zilog Z80 – although I wasn’t quite sure how or what I would do with one. But I did find a memory chip that I needed, and put it in the cart.

We left for the day with enough stuff for an evening barbecue: ground sirloin, buns, salad stuff, gallon of milk, 2 comic books, and a 2 mb memory chip. And then went back to search for my oldest son, still perusing the logic section.

So it was a fun stop.   But also a go-to late-evening stop for Valley denizens who were inventing the next generation of electronics. Because it was open 24 hours, at 2 to 3am it was haunted by garage inventors who needed a power supply, bread board, or a handful of connectors. Why wait until the next day? And to fuel these up-all-night pioneers, Fry’s had the junk foods needed to keep them going. Stuff like high-caffeine sodas and Slim Jims. Remember Jolt Cola?

Many years later, I walked into a spanking new Fry’s store near my home. Boring! Just another big PC store.    And a boring crowd debating which mouse was better and asking for the free Windows T-shirt.

Much time has passed, and Fry’s has 2 kinds of stores now: food markets and computer bazaars. But I often wonder. What ideas were born in that one old Fry’s on the Lawrence Expressway? The Altair, the Adam, or the PET computers? Did Steve W. come by for solder and a Jolt Cola? Did some guy tired of floppies come up with the Quantum, Maxtor, or WD hard drive? Or the Hayes or 3Com modems? Did Adam Osborne stop by during a long night of development? But like the apricot orchards, it’s long gone.



This guest blog was submitted by Chuck Ritley, an adjunct professor of computer science with several major universities in the San Antonio area.  

Here are the links to the other blogs in this series:

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 1: “The Way It Was”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 2: “First Wave of Characters”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 3: “Evolution of the Geek”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 4: “When Giant Sold Pork Chops”

Reflections of a Valley Guy – Part 5: “Mr. Yee and the Albrae Street – Taiwan Connection”