WICHITA — Another chapter in Wichita business is coming to a close.
Don’s TV & Video, which the late Don Shaw opened as Don’s Radio after World War II, is going out of business.
“It isn’t profitable anymore,” says co-owner Steve Eilert. “Hasn’t been for a while.”
Eilert is partners with Ron Zerbe. The two used to work for Shaw, who started the business after getting out of the Navy and at one point changed the name to Don’s Radio & Television.
“He’s quite a guy,” Eilert says.
Originally, the store was located at First Street and where the Canal Route is now. Then it moved to its current site at the northeast corner of Second and Hydraulic. Eilert and Zerbe bought it in 1979.
“I think anybody who earns a living doing one thing for 50 years can expect that you might see the birth, life and death of industry, you know?” Eilert says.
He says the business has changed “tremendously” through the years. Still, he can sum up what’s changed in one word:
It used to be the store’s employees would make $5 service calls, sell a few tubes or maybe clean a tuner “then come back and do it again a year later.”
“You got to know your customers pretty well,” Eilert says. “An independent shop didn’t need but a thousand or 2,000 customers to make a good living.”
He says an electronics association that no longer exists once said there were 160 technicians in Wichita in the late ’60s.
“When you think about it, it’s just incredible,” Eilert says.
He says the city was half the size it is now, and there generally was only one TV per household.
“Yet 160 techs were required to keep those sets running.”
Today, he thinks there are less than a dozen shops left that are similar to his.
Starting in the 1980s, Eilert says, televisions started becoming cheaper instead of getting more expensive.
“That put pressure on the service industry,” he says. “It turned out to be more practical to replace it than repair it in a lot of instances, and I could never argue with that.”
Then came big box stores.
“That drove prices down, and it also kind of inhibited what the manufacturers could make on their products,” Eilert says.
He says they would make deals to sell cheaply to larger stores but not the smaller, independent ones.
“For a while, frankly, they kind of milked that,” Eilert says. “It’s like milking a cow without feeding it, and independents started to die off.”
He says, though, there were “a hundred other reasons” why businesses such as his declined and closed.
“More recently, the downturn in business in Wichita has hurt us.”
Eilert says the bulk of his store’s customers are senior citizens.
“We field an awful lot of phone calls that are in the realm of public service, almost,” he says. “Some of my older customers are asking, ‘Well, what do I do now?’”
Eilert says he put out some feelers to see if he could sell the business, but he doesn’t think that’s probable.
“You can’t work for nothing or even go backwards. That doesn’t make sense, does it?”
He and Zerbe are selling their almost 3,000-square-foot building, though.
“We should be closed down by this summer – early summer,” Eilert says.
“It’s been a good long run. We’ve had some loyal customers that have sustained us, and we appreciate that.”