Electronics have changed our lives over the past decades, but what about life for those who are in the industry? Many electronic stores have failed despite the technology boom, or they’ve been forced to adapt to new business models. Take Radio Shack for example. The company now pushes cell phones more than electronic parts.
One electronics store, however, has persevered since the early 1970s, and has no plans to change its original mission statement. Ra-Elco has remained a staple electronics parts store since Ray Gunnell first established it in 1972. Now retired, his son, Robert, has owned and operated the store with his wife Christine since 2007.
“We cater to the customer who needs that hard-to-find part,” says Gunnell, noting that his 2,000- square-foot store houses over one million different parts. “When people have looked everywhere else and can’t find it, they come here. A lot of times we have it, and they say they’re going to try us first next time.”
Ra-Elco (contracted from Ray’s Electronics Company) offers businesses and individuals wholesale prices, carrying stock replacement semiconductors, capacitors, resistors, circuit boards and more. The store is one of the few where someone can purchase vacuum tubes, which haven’t been made in the United States since the ‘’70s
Many local inventors rely on the store when prototyping. “If someone has an idea that they want to develop, we know engineers and can talk to them because they’ve been buying from us for years and years. We’ve sold a lot of things to Hill Air Force Base. One of the engineering departments from a university came in and bought some things and said one of the DC cooling fans was going to go on a NASA space shuttle mission.”
Most businesses benefit from a strong economy, and Gunnell admits that people rely less on his services when money isn’t so tight. Cheaper electronics made the repair industry practically unnecessary, but when the economy nose-dived in 2008, people began to repair electronics rather than purchase new ones. As the economy is recovering, Gunnell has seen the repair trend stabilize and has accounted for a more than 35 percent increase in his repair accounts since.
While technology has become a larger industry, the parts part of is has shrunk in size to the point of being “so small you can hardly solder it. Circuit boards aren’t really made by humans anymore, mostly made by robots,Gunnell says.”But we give great referrals for repair work. We do know who does what in this town. If people try to take on the task themselves, we can give good guideline.”
Ra-Elco is located at 2780 South Main Street in Salt Lake City. Hours are 8:30 am to noon, and 1pm to 5:30 pm M-F. Saturday hours are, 10 am -1 pm, except for the summer months when they close up shop on the weekends.