As a technology writer for the Silo, I am always focusing and thinking about the evolution of technology. I write about how computers and video games have changed over the years, but of course, many other things change around us and the one I have been thinking about a lot lately is shopping. (ED. This article was originally posted and printed Summer 2011 but today we have a update to share with you: Consumers Distributing is back and based in Vancouver! They just followed us on Twitter )
When I was a kid, I remember getting the Consumers Distributing catalog and taking it into my room to read thoroughly. Of course, I tended to go directly to the toys section and more specifically I looked at the video games and computers. I dreamed about the day I would own some of these items, and I patiently saved my pennies from my job as a paper route carrier. Life can be tough when you are 12.
Started in 1957, Consumers Distributing tried to save costs for consumers by creating a warehouse like environment that allowed them to operate in smaller locations. Customers would typically shop through a catalog (which they could take home or use in-store) and fill out a request form. This form was taken to the counter where a customer service representative would go fetch your item(s) and ring up the sale.
At its peak the chain would grow to 243 outlets in Canada and 217 in the United States. By 1996, however, the customers were fading as frustration grew with items being out of stock (or, more accurately, the customer perception was that items were always out of stock). In 2006, the company appeared to emerge from bankruptcy protection but little has been done to revive the stores to the way they once were.
Even though the end of the chain could be considered a failure, the evolution of the concept continues to this day. Stores like Home Depot and Costco operate in a warehouse-like environment, there are just no catalogs.
Retail giant Hudson’s Bay Company also thought it was a pretty good idea since they purchased and ran a competitive chain of stores called “Shop-Rite” that were open from 1972 to 1982. At its peak, Shop-Rite had 65 stores in Ontario before conceding defeat to Consumers. It wasn’t the competition that was really the problem, it was the concept.
With the recent closing of the retail operations of Blockbuster and Rogers Video, we are seeing another step in the evolutionary process. Decades from now, people will probably think it was quite strange to obtain our movies from a retail store because everything will be digitally beamed into our homes and the physical disks and tapes we use now will be completely gone.
My friend Dave Thielking is a lot like me and he remembers the days when we were kids flipping through those catalogs. So when he obtained some old catalogs I knew we could work together to put them online and share with our other friends who remember the old days of shopping and the great toys and items we wanted to save our pennies for. The result is a new website called the Consumers Distributing Archive and you can find it at http://www.cdarchive.ca.
We are never going to be able to stop evolution – of any kind – but it doesn’t mean we have to like it, or that we can’t go back to the way things were even just for an afternoon or two. For the Silo, Syd Bolton.
Syd Bolton is a writer emeritus for The Silo and is Canada’s Top Video Game collector and the Curator and Founder of the Personal Computer Museum. Learn more at http://www.pcmuseum.ca or www.sydbolton.com. Twitter @sydbolton