Unlettered capitalism: Circuit City has yanked its signs

Eager shoppers swarmed the store in the final days. FILE PHOTO BY HAWES SPENCER

The Circuit City location in the Albemarle Square shopping center has closed, and, according to a witness, the giant letters were removed by crane-carried workers on Tuesday, December 30.

Part of a company-wide shedding of stores announced November 3, the closing of the Charlottesville store and 154 others didn't stop the electronics retailer from declaring bankruptcy a week later. Its stock was trading at 13 cents a share at post time.

Back in the late 1980s, when the Richmond-based company embarked on a national expansion, its branding strategy included making the store entrance look like a giant red electrical plug. However, by the time the local store opened in the mid-1990s, Albemarle's rules on facades in so-called "entrance corridors" precluded the company from using its trademark bright red color; thus, the muted maroon facade at Albemarle Square.

The store apparently didn't seem to affect cross-street rival, Crutchfield.

"Surprisingly, Circuit City was never a serious competitive factor for us," says Crutchfield founder Bill Crutchfield, who opened his store at Rio Hill shopping center in 1993.

"After [Circuit City] opened their Charlottesville store in the mid-nineties, our sales actually increased," says Crutchfield. "After they closed the store a few weeks ago, our sales remained unchanged. I suspect that the Circuit City customer was very different than the Crutchfield customer."

Now, the 28,000 square-foot space stands empty.

"We are actively marketing that property," says Michael Plotkin, an official with Dumbarton Properties, which manages Albemarle Square. Plotkin recalls that earlier a Safeway store occupied the Circuit City spot.

Before creating the large vacancy, Circuit City's local closing sale created a shopping frenzy of sorts, though the Hook's consumer columnist found that the deals may have been less than spectacular.


Correction: The original version of this story misstated the opening chronology of the store. It has been corrected above.

–last updated 5:30pm, January 12

Read more on: Circuit City


I always thought CC was daring to come to Cville and try and compete w/ Crutchfield in the first place. Their products were average at best and their service was always well below average in my opinion. I certainly will not miss them and I'm curious to know what will happen with the space. Aside from ACAC and Outback, that shopping center seems ready for a big overhaul.

The deals were much less than spectacular. Looked at a new laptop for my daughter that was 30% off if I recall correctly. Went to Best Buy a few minutes later and bought the same identical laptop on sale for less money.

I will miss their weekly releases of new DVD movies. They were always a dollar or two cheaper than Best Buy.

Well bye bye to that circuit city store but to bad the prices will not change much around the area. Enless people like shopping at walmart for crappy product even thoe some are ok. An as far as the same product at best buy an circuit city not all products are the same they may look the same but look at the model numbers of the product. Anyways good luck out there to all ya shoppers with best buy. Atleast were I live at there is still competition to bring prices down. People complain about the dumbs thing but I do agree at the service at circuit city It should be better but best buy isnt that great either. Have a happy new year

Minor detail, but Circuit City didn't open in Charlottesville until about the same time Crutchfield opened up their store at Rio Hill, which was around 94 or 95. I recall it clearly because I worked for Crutchfield at the time, and I didn't start until late 92.

No biggy. We don't need anything related to technology around here, only things that TJ used. Never change, never ever.

David D, don't forget about the ABC store. And Lil Dino's, that place makes a nice hoagie.

Circuit City's customer service was comparable to the meat sauce at the Olive Gardens. Those of you who didn't have home cooked Italian growing up or an Italian friend who cooked Italian food won't know what I'm talking about here; let's just say it sucks.... better yet, sucked

An Olive Garden in C'ville would be nice. It may not be real italian but its filling. Maybe they can use CC space!

hey oldcrow, could you identify a food that isn't filling if eaten in sufficient quantities? seems like what you wrote could describe dog $h!t. i haven't eaten at an olive garden, so maybe it did. i think i'll stick with christian's anyway.

What is "real Italian?" Italian food prepared by actual Italians? Go to Sal's downtown and order something not called pizza and then tell us what you think about "real Italian."

So, like Music Lover, I once worked for Crutchfield - in the late 80s and was gone by '92. I am a 'refugee' because I couldn't stand it any longer, and my comments are given without much 'love' or 'admiration' for the founder.

Although the Rio Hill store was a significant retail shift, I didn't have the impression I believe it had more to do with growth in the mail order business and the need to reclaim retail space from the Airport location. I think Bill had given up any real thoughts of moving into major retail (ala CC) when he closed the Orange Park, FL store. The Harrisonburg store was profitable, so it remained as an outlier (I guess everyone on the east coast needs a spot on the I-81 corridor to move used - outlet - stuff), and the C'ville store was there because the company needed a flagship showcase.

What gives this particular store closing such a sweet taste - and I do hope Bill is savoring it - is the failure of CC after they tried to move into Crutchfield's mail-order territory. Crutchfield always occupied middle-tier price-point/product line - better quality service and product than you could ever get at a typical big-box retail, without having to go High-End Audiophile Boutique. CC wanted to move into that territory - and down-market slightly (the price point positions did not match up 1:1, and the quality of staffing was shockingly different) CC was part of the corporate "race to the bottom", where they could skim a larger percentage.

So, CC sent the son of one of their execs (some VP) to be a corporate spy, and try to learn how the operation worked from the inside. He departed us after about 6 months (IIRC), and we all learned what had happened shortly after. That was just an awful feeling for everyone.

Also, more interestingly, when set against the now-infamous popped credit bubble, is the Puritan Morality Tale that emerges. Back then, Bill pursued a rather thrifty policy of not carrying inventory on credit. I don't know if policy this is/was maintained, or for how long, but it acted as a sensible brake on over-expansion - the 'leverage' which allowed for the over-expansion of an operation like CC wasn't there. Credit (leverage) driven over-expansion will emerge as the real story of the "Fiscally Conservative" Trickle-down era - a magic trick based on misdirection and deceit, not clever financial engineering or real growth. Bill was highly resistant to that (in his business practice, if not his low-tax GOP politics), and I hope he is enjoying the downfall of the hare.

Today, Crutchfield is still there, and I'll bet they get market share gain out of CC's demise, although I'd imagine their numbers are down just like everyone's. I believe 'we' continued to expand through the last big recession in 90-92, but the Consumer Confidence Index suggests this one is harsher. I hope Bill Crutchfield is enjoying this, he should!

And, for those who complained about the draconian zoning controls applied by the county - this is why we need those ordinances - these unsightly big-boxes far outlive their "businesses" and we have to continue to look at them. Good for the county - they've been vindicated in preventing that ugly giant red plug from appearing. That whole shopping center is dying. One hopes that will give pause to approval of more shopping centers further up the road, at least in Albemarle.

Crutchfield Refugee, I may be wrong, but I don't see the closing of our local Circuit City sending a great deal of business in Crutchfield's direction. I suspect Best Buy on the other hand will most likely see record sales for 2009 in the local store.

I don't think it will send retail business their way; I think it will send online business their way.

Doesn't appear as if Best Buy has seized the moment. Drove to Best Buy today at 11:30 a.m. and they were already sold out of several items in their Sunday paper advertisement. They should have known they would be selling more of each item simply due to Circuit City closing. And you would think the local Best Buy management would have anticipated this as well. I won't keep driving to Best Buy if they keep selling out of items the first hour or two into a 7 day sale.

best buy sucks and you need to know that their online web site and in store web sites are different. You will see something online and go to the store to buy it, they will show a different price, you will say you saw it on the web site, they will bring up the (in store) web site and say "show me" you will not be able to find it. They will tell you the sale must be over then when you go home and check online the lower price will still be there.

Somehow this is not bait and switch because of some ultra fine print although they have been sued by a few states for the practice. I won't shop there anymore because of this.

Ramblin Man....Your story is exactly why the Circuit City store will be missed. They have that new ONE PRICE PROMISE which makes all of the online pricing and in store pricing the same. I've noticed a change in the level of service in my local CC, a simple change in management has done it some good.

Take the expired signs down asap. They are blighting and not selling anything. The Albemarle Zoning DEPT, should mandate that all similar properties follow the same rule. Our county is looking CHEAP!

I would have to agree with Rambo on this one. Not only do they sell out of stuff quickly but their customer service is in my experience cocky and rude. The first time I ever stepped foot in Crutchfield in Rio Hill Shopping Center, I didn't want to leave. The staff was friendly and very helpful, and the prices where the exact same as Best Buy and sometimes cheaper. Their selection was also prime-time. I don't mean to advertise it's just you do a customer right you got ten behind him the next time he comes you know what I'm say'n?

Rambos, the local Best Buy cannot control how much product they receive. They get what the vendors give them, and the vendors are not going to increase shipments because a local competitor shut down.

I think it was a little silly to complain about the closeout prices to be "not that good." I was at ccity on the last day it was open, and on the last day, they put every remaining item in the store to 25 cents. I got a computer monitor, mp3 player, and several cd's. It's not ccity's fault that their customers aren't the brightest... they all got so excited that they bought all the laptops and tv's at 20% instead of waiting for them to drop to 50/70/80. I guess it was just a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Would you walk into a Sears and say "This fridge is only 10% off, I'm not going to buy it because it should be 20% off"? Complaining about discounts not being as low as they could is lame.

quote: "...the local Best Buy cannot control how much product they receive. They get what the vendors give them, and the vendors are not going to increase shipments because a local competitor shut down."

It's a scary thought to think you might actually believe this. If the local Best Buy store wants 1,000 42" 1080p Sony televisons, Best Buy corporate knows that Sony would be more than happy to manufacture and ship them. On a much smaller scale, the local Best Buy management should know that the sales of the weekly DVD releases are going to double since Circuit City went under. The local manager can adjust their shipments to get more each week.

Now as far as the intelligence level of Circuit City customers, there's a lot to be said about the employees too. I'm willing to bet the average IQ of a Circuit City employee in 1995 was 25 to 35 points more than that of a 2007 employee. This happened when Circuit City laid off the intelligent workers and started replacing them with minimum wage employees. If you worked there very long I am sure you would agree with me on this point.

Circuit City in general was a nasty little place to shop. The merchandise was indifferently displayed, if it was organized at all. When the business transitioned away from commissioned salespeople, the clerks actually seemed to disappear when you'd walk into their departments -- the inference being is that they're getting the same $7.25 an hour whether they help you find a product or not.

My first experience with a Circuit City, in Richmond, was lousy. Bought my first VCR at a store on Broad Street in the West End, and the salesman was an ass from green light to finish. Had I not been so eager to get home with a VCr to watch movies, I would have walked off gthe salesfloor.

Later, moving to Charlottesville, I practically rejoiced when Best Buy opened on the site of the old Mt. Vernon Motel.

On the rare occasions when I happened to visit the local CC, usually en route to the Plan 9 store to browse CDs, I was always reminded that nothing had changed.

Now, it may be that most retailers are essentially contemptuous of their customers, but Circuit City was open and brazen about it.

The outcome speaks for itself.