I opened the store in May of 1996. A bit of advanced math shows that 2021-1996 = 25, and no, I didn’t use a calculator thank you very much. I remember spending part of my 30th birthday setting up display racks and organizing inventory prior to opening. I was excited. I was terrified. I was an idiot who had no idea what he was getting himself into.
It’s May, 1996 and I have been married for less than 5 years and have a daughter (Hi! Cora) who is 9 months old. My son (Hi! Sage) does not even exist yet, much like my sanity ever since opening. Stamps cost 32 cents, a gallon of gas is $1.23, and Bill Clinton is president. The Chicago Bulls were just beginning their 2nd 3-Peat and Tiger Woods made his professional golf debut (How did that work out by the way?) The Unabomber was finally arrested in Montana, DISH network begins service and Braveheart wins the Academy Award for Best Picture. The point of this trivia collection? This was a long ass time ago.
Since then, I’ve moved the store twice- once, about 50 feet from the original location at 99th and Ridgeland in Chicago Ridge, and a second time to the Palos Heights store we’ve been at for the last 12 years. I have moved my family twice as well in that time, from my first apartment in Blue Island, to a townhome and then a house in Orland as my family grew.
My “9 month old daughter” will be 26 in August, my son will turn 24 two days after that (it’s really convenient that way- you only need to have one party and they split a cake every year. My son was really born in November, but he doesn’t remember so we just moved it up to save some money).
The Computer Landscape was dramatically different in 1996. 36 million Americans were using the “Web” at that time, all of them with those obnoxiously loud dial-up modems we loved so much. “Get off the Phone! I’m on the internet!” “But I need to make a call!” The Palm Pilot, the Web Cam, WebTV, the USB Port, Craigslist, and Windows 95 all showed up that year.
So, what did the opening of “Computer Greeks’ look like? Well, it wasn’t called that at first, as I opened as a franchise of a now long defunct computer software resale store. They proved useless, so we left them behind much like Crystal Pepsi, The Betamax, and the Microsoft Zune.
I had a larger store back then to provide enough room for all the Software we carried. For those of you who don’t remember, Software was all of the Games and Productivity Programs that used to come in big boxes you could hold and read about to see if you wanted to buy them. The stuff you just download now. Pretty much like Video Stores were, but for Computers. We carried some Computers and Hardware back then, but 95% of the store was Software.
Today, I can fit our entire Software Inventory onto one rack, and most of it is old games I will never sell but can’t bring myself to get rid of. How things have changed.
Now, we have wall to wall Desktops, Laptops, Parts, Cables, Printers, Monitors, Accessories, and spend all of our time either fixing or building or setting up systems. I wanted to play video games for a job and instead ended up having to do real work, often 7 days a week for very long days for 25 years. Great idea 1996 Steve! You dumbass.
I often get asked what has changed the most over the last 25 years and really there are a few things that stand out. 1- High Speed Internet- We had Dial-Up internet service at the store for the first several years, even when our focus started to shift towards hardware and repairs. I can remember driving repairs to my home to work on there, because we couldn’t get faster internet at the store yet. Now everything is online and instant. Wonder where Blockbuster Video and Half of the Retail Businesses disappeared to? That would be because of High-Speed Internet. 2- Computer Prices- The average cost of a new computer in 1996? Over $3,000, and that’s in 1996 money. You’re talking around $5,000 in today’s dollars. That was like trying to buy a used car. If I told you back then fixing your computer would run $700, you weren’t happy, but it was a lot better than having to buy a new one. Today, spending $200 for a repair makes people think long and hard about just getting a new one instead. Disposable Computers. Amazing difference. 3- Me- In 1996 I was a kid. Yes, I was 30 and a functioning adult, but I didn’t have a clue. My dad had just passed away in January, and that was what prompted the desire to change my career path and open the store in the first place. It was a terrible risk to take and not a kind thing to ask my wife (Hi! Steph) with an infant at home to have to worry about on top of everything else. I was fortunate that the store did well enough to survive for all of these years and often through dumb luck rather than any credit I can take for it. My brothers (HI! Toby and Phillip) came to work with me shortly after we opened as did 3 of my cousins over the years, with one having made such terrible life choices that she’s been with me since she was 15 (Hi! Kelly). I’ve been very fortunate to have had everyone who worked so hard and still work so hard to bring us this far (Hi! Chad).
25 Years is a long time and without meaning to be a downer- it’s been difficult and taken a toll. Ups and downs and good and bad, the relationships that have suffered are my biggest regret. That’s another big change from 1996- sadly, one I never expected, but I told you I was an idiot.
Think about where you were 25 years ago. Jobs you’ve had, family and friends that have changed, places you’ve lived. I’m sure my experiences aren’t anything unique in the grand scheme of things and in all honesty, I’m amazingly fortunate to not be sitting here talking about the business I opened long ago that closed after a year.
And for all the things I would love to do differently, somehow keeping the lights on for a small family business in an industry that has changed as much as any ever has is still an accomplishment to be proud of.
Thanks to everyone who worked for Computer Greeks (I think I got all of my shout outs in) and anyone who has passed through the doors over all these years. Without you, the customers we’ve had, no one would be here to read this tedious post. See- more regrets.
Enough with the past. Here’s to the next 25 years but seriously, if I’m typing out a “Thoughts for Thursday” in the year 2046 when I’m 80 years old- something will have gone seriously wrong.
Sincerely- Thank you all, Uncle Steve