Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Sears Slidell North Shore Square closing sale August 2014

Here is the mall entrance of the North Shore Square Sears located in Slidell Louisiana. The closing of this store is surprising because this was the only full service Sears store in St. Tammany parish, which has over 230,000 residents. There is a store in nearby Hammond Louisiana, but it is not convenient to the majority of St. Tammany parish. The Sears like all the other anchor stores at North Shore Square is only one story. At this point the closing sale had just begun and the store was still full and organized neatly. The store was originally scheduled to close by June, but the closing sale was postponed by a few months. 

I will dive into the mall for the next blog post, but things are not looking good for North Shore Square Mall these days. 
The store was fairly empty on my visit which made getting photos very easy. 
Here is the clothing department near the mall entrance.
The tool department.
Looking towards the mattresses and appliances from the tool department.
Looking back towards the front of the store from the tools/auto department.
The appliance department. 
The electronics department view from the appliances.
A closer view of the electronics department.
The end of the appliance department near housewares and more clothing.
Men's clothing near the housewares section.
This store probably closed at the end of October or the beginning of November 2014. I was unable to find any sources with the actual closing date.


  1. Thanks for the photos, it's certainly interesting to see how different Sears are laid out. It seems like there are always some pretty significant differences between Sears stores, but many Sears stores have unique layouts, vastly different sizes, and are from vastly different eras.

    It's a shame that this Sears is closing (well, it's a shame that any Sears is closing), but this store seems to look pretty nice on the inside. The Mall entrance in particular looks nice. Do you know how big this Sears store was? The store appears to be larger than the Mall of the Mainland one-story Sears, but maybe the pictures are misleading. The electronics department appears to be slightly bigger than what the Mall of the Mainland Sears electronic department was in 2014, but it's hard to say because I don't know if the appliances that are being liquidated were where they are in the pictures prior to the closing sale.

    The tiling in the last picture seems a bit odd to me. Well, for one thing, it seems like the tiling isn't very even. Also, the grout lines seem bigger than what most Sears with ceramic/porcelain type tiles have. Maybe the Slidell Sears hired a bad contractor, who knows. Also, the tiles seem darker than what we usually see at Sears stores in Houston at least. A lot of times the floor tiling is similar to/the same as the white tiles on the mall entrance, but this store has different type tiles on the mall entrance and on the floors than what we typically see at white tile mall entrance Sears. Maybe the picture just isn't showing the tile's true colors though, who knows. I know the tiles are a small and pretty insignificant point, but it is something different compared to a lot of Sears I have seen.

    I'll post replies to the replies you put in the Pasadena Montgomery Ward post here in this post in the next couple of days. We've been discussing a lot of interesting topics recently so it'll take me some time to write out all my thoughts on things. There's also been some news about RadioShack and possibly other retailers of note.

    1. This Sears is only slightly larger than the Mall of the Mainland location. The electronics department was quite large for a smaller store. The flooring in this section of the store was the only part I saw like that. I did not get any images of the other corner of the store near the mall entrance, but I think only this small section of the store had this flooring. I wonder if this was a different department at one time that was designed to look differently than the rest of the store. This was a very clean store especially for a store in liquidation.

  2. Part I:

    It’ll be interesting to see if the Mall of the Mainland keeps the fake storefronts and the postcards and stuff like that. I’m thinking that it would be a good idea to get rid of that stuff, but we’ll see. They may need to put some artwork on the walls if there are long stretches of vacant storefronts, but the artwork probably shouldn’t put extra emphasis on the fact that the mall is struggling to lease out space. As for the neon and stuff, I would be a bit surprised if that stuff came back. Maybe it will, but we’ll have to see. Maybe the fountain will be turned on again. Galvez Mall stuck around for a few years after the Mall of the Mainland opened, but I think the writing was on the wall once Sears left Galvez Mall.

    I think JCPenney brought out Eckerd in 1996. Perhaps the issues you found at Eckerd were during the JCPenney era. Perhaps the Houston area locations were better than the New Orleans ones, but I can’t really say anything about that.

    There’s been some RadioShack news to report. We’ve discussed on here many times that RadioShack is an electronics convenience store of sorts. Because of that, they have convenience store pricing on a lot of items. Well, it seems like Standard General officially wants to make RadioShack into an electronics convenience store. I’m hoping that Standard General isn’t expecting this strategy to make them into big winners compared to the old RadioShack since the old one was basically doing the same thing, but we’ll see what moves they make. It’s also interesting how they say that some of their smaller market stores are better performers than prime locations. Perhaps that is one of the reasons why so many mall stores were closed.

    I remember when APS cameras and film came out (Kodak used the Advantix name for APS, other film companies had names for APS like Nexia for Fuji). Kmart had a relatively famous Advantix commercial. APS did make film loading easy and it did introduce some features like panoramic/wide images (though I believe the special picture sizes were done by just cropping the wide images). I never had an APS camera and it seemed like it never really took off as intended as there were some highly automated 35mm point-and-shoot cameras at the time and of course digital cameras became popular not too long after. APS was an upgrade in quality over other one-step film loading cameras like 110 and Disc cameras. Interestingly enough, 110 film is still being sold by Lomography, a company that has seen some popularity in selling cameras/film intended to take low quality images for artistic purposes I guess. I’m not sure if all photo labs develop 110 film these days, but I guess there are places that do it. Maybe one day I’ll get some 110 film just for the heck of it and take some pictures. Of course, I could just do the same with 35mm as I still have a couple of 35mm cameras and there are still a decent number of choices of 35mm film.

    That Walkman looks like a pretty good model by the looks of it. It has auto-reverse and digital tuning. Perhaps it does not have Dolby, but that may not be a big deal to you if you like the sound quality. A lot of people prefer listing to Dolby B encoded tapes without Dolby on playback in order to get increased treble.

    1. I can see them probably using the fountain again at the Mall of the Mainland. It probably does not use too many resources and acts as a centerpiece for the mall. The rest of the stuff will probably be stripped out and a simple remodel will neutralize the mall colors.

      The issues happened during the JCPenney era. I guess they were really trying to change the company at the time.

      Well I guess the new Radio Shack will take into account their best selling products and lose their duds. It will really limit what you can find there and may drive shoppers away though.

      I wonder why anyone would still use that film, but I am not an artist. There are so many filters on cameras these days I would think it would not be hard to recreate a retro look.

      I really enjoy this Walkman model, for the amount of use over the years it has worked well.

  3. Part II:

    Getting a new car stereo is interesting. While there are some new car cassette decks that can be brought, I'm not sure if there are any new CD/cassette combos that are available. Maybe it would be easier to get a CD player that has an Aux input and then just use a Walkman type player to play the tapes.

    Cleaning your Sharp cassette deck may help the recording performance. Sometimes the cleaning tapes work, but sometimes it’s more effective to manually clean the heads and transport with cotton swabs and isopropyl alcohol. I usually use 91% isopropyl alcohol, but even the 70% stuff should be fine. You just have to give the 70% stuff more time to try since it has more water in it. Some people like using more watered down isopropyl alcohol for the pinch roller. There are probably videos or guides online showing what to clean. It’s pretty easy and safe to do it if you want to give it a try. The one thing you don’t want to do when cleaning is using some sort of rubbing alcohol that has additives in it like oil in addition to the alcohol and water. Sometimes the colored rubbing alcohols have those additives in them, but I suppose even the clear stuff can have it too.

    I may have to try one of those Funai made DVD recorders one of these days if they are reliable and aren’t overly impacted by copyright protection flags. One possible reason why my LG DVD recorder is erroring out with DVD-RAM discs is that my DVD-RAM discs might be slightly worn out or too old. Perhaps new discs would help, but DVD-RAM discs are expensive and hard to find these days. As for the copyright flags, I’ve seen them more than a few times on the LG. One time I was trying to record a basketball game on TNT and it kept ruining the discs because of the copyright flag (I have no idea if the content actually had a copyright flag or not, but the recorder was detecting it). I just ended up scrambling to find a VHS tape and used the tape to record the game on the VCR part of the DVD-VCR combo. That worked fine since the VHS side isn’t impacted by CPRM flags. I think I’ve mainly just used VHS to record ever since then for reliability because I don’t want to risk losing a recording and I don’t want to sit there and waste DVD-Rs even if they aren’t too expensive.

    I know that DVD recorders had a very high return rate back in the peak years of DVD recorders. I think CPRM had something to do with that, but also the additional steps like finalizing the disc may have proven to be too difficult for customers. A lot of DVD recorders had confusing menus and options as well. Hard drive based DVD recorders were considered to be better since the recording was done to a hard drive first, then editing could be done, and then it could be recorded to a DVD as the last step. The hard drive recording was usually more reliable than recordings done directly to disc. Unfortunately, a lot of people didn’t buy hard drive based recorders so manufacturers didn’t make then for too long. Funai was making some exclusively for Wal-Mart under the Magnavox brand until recently, but I don’t know if those models are still being made. They were pretty expensive, but they did get good reviews though.

    1. I am not a big fan of CD's, I just use my mp3 player or tapes these days. I have uploaded most of my good music onto my phone. I had a problem with mysterious scratches on my CD's even if I did not use them so I try not to use them.

      I found out that I had the Dolby button pushed on my recording deck. I still cleaned it out with the cassette cleaner, but I have yet to use it again. I like the Sharp recorder better because I can adjust the music to sound better.

      I remember some CD's had copyrights and you could not upload them on a computer normally. I find that strange that they would focus on recorders when so many people just upload video clips to Youtube these days.

      I find my recorder very easy to use once you work with it a few times. If someone wants an easy recorder a VCR is the only way to go, but I can record in 1080p on my unit. I did not even know there was such a thing as a hard drive DVD recorder.

  4. Part I:

    I was able to find a list of the Sears REIT properties on a government document. It does look like there are some Houston properties on the list, but maybe they aren’t all the expected ones. It looks like the Baybrook Mall, N. Shepherd, Westwood Mall, and possibly the Main St. Sears are on the list (though I’m not totally sure about the last one as it is just listed as “Houston”). There is also a Houston Sears property that is now an At Home on the list. I’m guessing that is the Willowbrook Mall area At Home that used to be The Great Outdoors. Of course, I am still not sure which stores were transferred to the partnership with GGP. I suppose the Willowbrook and Deerbrook Mall Sears could be on that list. It is interesting that several local freestanding stores were put into the REIT. I’m not sure what to make of that, but we’ll see. Perhaps having the Baybrook Mall store in the REIT makes it even more important for Sears to have a presence at the Mall of the Mainland.

    It’ll be interesting to see what RadioShack does with their inventory. RadioShack is still a useful store to me, but it could be less so if they eliminate many of the products that I buy there. It’s already not as useful to me as it used to be some years ago. We’ll see though. There are some products like repair parts, tools, chemicals, and cassettes that may not have super high demand, but they don’t go bad and some of them have high profit margins with little local competition so they can sit in a store for a while and still make money for the chain perhaps. We’ll see. It’ll still be a useful store to me if they just sell batteries, basic cables, headphones, and stuff like that, but obviously it won’t have quite the same level of appeal to me as the current RadioShack inventory.

    The rollercoaster ride that Conn’s has been on recently has been something we’ve discussed quite a bit over the last few months. Here is the latest update and it isn’t very good. Hopefully they can fix the inventory problems amongst other things.

    It’s surprising to see those Lomography products sell as well as they do since, as you say, a lot of the degraded effects and such can be done in post-processing with digital camera images. Perhaps their users prefer the end product if it is on film or maybe they just like the film shooting process better. Taking good pictures on film takes more skill than it does with digital cameras since you don’t know what the image looks like until the film is developed. Perhaps some photographers like the challenge of film photography then, but surely those photographers aren’t using low-grade film and cameras like Lomography. Another oddly popular product line are the Fuji Instax cameras and film. Instax is instant film ala Polaroid instant pictures back in the day. I guess there are still a decent number of people out there who want instant prints. Instax film, like Polaroid film in the past and today, is pretty expensive.

    1. Thanks for sending that over, it will be interesting to see what happens from now on with Sears. I am also surprised to see Valley View in Dallas on that list. Sears is the last anchor alive in that mall, but the property may be valuable. I also see New Iberia which is the Kmart I have covered here on the blog. I am also noticing they have other properties such as restaurants included on some of these sites.

      Radio Shack may ship their stuff to Big Lots or other closeout stores. Who knows, but I picked up some Radio Shack things I needed before the stores closed.

      It is not good that Conn's is hurting. I think their continued expansion and moving into markets away from the home base is hurting them. It sounds like they have some supply chain issues due to them possibly ordering minimal inventory for their stores. Being out of products is a tough thing to overcome and results in lower sales and a damaged reputation. I know that I have not gone back to stores if they are out of what I am looking for on more than one occasion.

      I have noticed Polaroid cameras have come back into vogue recently. I never really liked the film quality and the durability is not very good for Polaroid film. I have had pictures fade even in good storage conditions. Some have become brittle and you really have to keep them in the photo book.

  5. Part II:

    Hopefully your Sharp cassette deck will work better now with the cleaning and with Dolby turned off. Hopefully you’ll be able to try it soon to find out. I recently purchased a ~1983 Sharp cassette deck from a thrift, but I have not tried to make a recording with it. I’m not sure how much in common a ~1983 deck has with your 1990s deck though.

    I was reading a post on a cassette forum today where people were discussing that Wal-Mart has stopped selling the Sony HF 2 pack that they used to sell. I speculated about this a few weeks back so it’s interesting to hear some actual observations. Perhaps Sony has indeed discontinued the Sony HF cassettes, but perhaps that was caused by Wal-Mart not selling cassettes in the stores anymore. It’s hard to say. Maybe Wal-Mart will start to sell another brand of cassettes, but maybe not. We’ll see. Hopefully Kmart will find another brand to sell (and RadioShack will continue to sell Maxell UR) or else it’ll become much harder to find cassettes in stores outside of the Maxell cassettes that the drugstores sell.

    The people who want to commit copyright fraud will find a way to do it. It’s not difficult to find ways to record copyright flagged material, but sometimes those methods are a bit more complicated than the typical consumer device like a DVD recorder. That’s what makes the copyright restrictions so frustrating. It’s another reason why I like older recording mediums like cassettes. I would say that excessive levels of copyright DRM is a big reason why personal recording/archiving has diminished as much as it has, but I guess the music, TV, and movie industries are just fine with that even if the electronics manufacturers and retailers are struggling to sell useful products.

    As for the hard drive based DVD recorders, here is one of the models on the Magnavox website. I’m not sure if these are still being made, but perhaps they can still be purchased from Wal-Mart’s website or another retailer. They work rather well supposedly and I really wanted to get one, but I could not justify paying the $300-400 price for one. As for recording HD video to DVD, DVD recorders can record HD video, but it has to be down-converted to 480p first. It can then be upconverted to HD by the player or the TV. Sometimes the end product does not look that much different though than if it was real HD, but it depends on the quality of the up/down conversion and the size/quality of the TV and the TV viewing distance.

    1. I am glad you are finding some good cassette decks out there still. If only we could find some Walkman's and quality Boomboxes out there.

      I noticed a couple of Walmart stores did a reset in the electronics department. They still have cassette voice recorders on the shelf in one of those stores, but no cassette hanger. It does not surprise me because Walmart is usually picky with the products they carry. There have been many products Walmart stopped carrying that can be found in many other stores. I guess now is the time to buy what you can in thrift stores and stock up so you don't run out. I almost forgot to mention the Kmart I have been to twice in the past 3 months in Louisiana has been out of cassettes as well. I know they are going to reconfigure their electronics department once the rest of their video game stock sells out, but it is going to be a challenge. I bet they are going to put vacuum cleaners in the electronics department to use up space.

      I think it is funny that the bottom of the Magnavox site says 'Where to buy coming soon". I still have to mess with my DVD recorder a little more to see what I can get out of it, but the recordings come out very good. I will let you know if I have any issues with recording in the future.

  6. It's hard to make sense of some of these properties that are part of the Sears REIT. Most of the Houston area locations are non-mall stores (at least stores that aren't connected to current malls) and then there are some other stores nationally that are in struggling malls. OTOH, there are very strong performers in malls like the Baybrook Mall Sears. We'll have to see how things shake out and if there will be any impact on the REIT stores any time soon.

    It's a good thing that you got some RadioShack gear before the changeover which already started today apparently. At least you'll have some souvenirs in case the name changes quickly. I don't know if RadioShack will sell their clearance inventory to other retailers or not. Maybe they will, that would be interesting. It's not like a lot of these stores are desperate for more floor space so maybe they'll just clear them out in the stores. Let me know if you go into a RadioShack and see any good clearance buys. I'll do the same if I go to a RadioShack here in the near future.

    We had a Polaroid Spectra instant camera in the 1980s. As you say, the photos did not last long before fading. I don't even know if I have any old Polaroid snapshots that are still in good condition. I'm not sure if the new snapshot films from Fuji and Polaroid are any better, but I guess people still find them to be useful and/or fun.

    I've been looking for a good classic 1980s style boombox in the thrifts for many years now without any great success. It's not a huge deal for me to get one of those, but it would be neat. I had a pretty classically styled GE boombox back in the day, but I don't know what happened to it. Walkmen are really hard to find in the thrifts aside from that run of non-working Sony Walkmen that I had a couple of months back.

    I don't know if you read some of the latest responses to that cassette forum thread I linked to, but one poster stated that his Wal-Mart (which apparently had Maxells before instead of Sonys) is now selling 2 caseless cassettes in a bag under Wal-Mart's Onn house brand. Interesting. I wonder if that is just a regional thing or if that will go national here soon. We may have to keep an eye on it. The reputation for caseless cassettes in a bag back in the day was not good so I don't know if these Onn cassettes are good or not. Cases can be brought separately online though so if the tapes are good and priced right, they might be a good bargain. Wal-Mart does still sell the Onn shoebox cassette recorder and one or two cassette recorder boomboxes AFAIK so it would be useful for them to sell cassettes to go along with them.

    It would not be surprising to see Kmart electronics departments shrunk again. Who knows if they'll continue to sell audio cassettes if they have to get a new supplier. They should just sell Maxells since they sell Maxell VHS tapes and optical discs. We'll see. At least they should sell something on their website.

    1. I figured out why the Valley View in Dallas is on the REIT list. The redevelopment of that property appears to be imminent and the top floor of the store is closed for "renovations". When I visited that store almost 3 years ago, it was looking very tired as was most of the mall.

      I may pass by the downtown Houston Center Radio Shack location in the near future. I will let you know if there is anything interesting going on there.

      I passed by a sunglass store and saw a huge ad on the window for Polaroid coated or branded sunglasses. It was strange since I have not seen a Polaroid ad for years.

      I looked at a few Sears stores out of the area (Austin) this past week and I have some interesting differences. One Sears store seems to have consolidated their electronics department into only 3 1/2 aisles. Sadly this store consolidated all of their inventory to the first floor and closed off the second floor. One thing I noticed was different signage with a huge Samsung sign over the middle of the department. The second Sears I went to in the Barton Creek Square Mall, still has a very large electronics section and the mini boombox on display to try out. It sounded decent, but I did not have a tape to try it out. They still had a full media section with blank tapes, cd's and everything except for cassettes. The hanger for cassettes was empty and listed a 2 pack of Maxell for $3.29. On that trip I was also able to spend about a hour walking around Highland Mall and took pictures of nearly every store. The mall will close at the end of the month, and they are already stripping out the inside of old stores in the former Macy's wing.

      I did see that comment, I am not sure if Onn cassettes are good at all. The store I went to had 4 of those shoebox recorders which was surprising. Maybe they are making a comeback and I don't know about it.

      I think if Kmart and Sears are going to still sell cassettes Maxell will be what they carry. I can only imagine how the electronics departments will look like a year from now.

  7. That is interesting news about the Valley View Sears. I wonder what is going on there. Hopefully we'll hear some updates about that situation.

    Those are interesting updates about the Austin Sears stores. I wonder if the Sears that has closed the 2nd floor is in trouble ala the old Greenspoint Mall Sears. As for the Barton Creek Square Mall Sears, that electronics department sounds very interesting. I wonder why it has retained the size that it has. Perhaps that department does quite well. I know that the store didn't have audio cassettes in stock, but it's interesting that they even had the hanger and price tag for them because I have not seen audio cassettes at a Houston area Sears store in a very long time. I wonder if that hanger is a relic or something recent.

    I came across a picture of a pretty nice looking Kmart facade in NC. Well, it looks nice except that the K is crooked. I wonder if they'll ever get that fixed because it looks pretty bad.

    The Highland Mall pictures should be interesting. Hopefully that is something we'll see on the blog here soon.

    I think Polaroid made sunglasses even before they got into cameras decades ago so they certainly have a heritage in that area. I'm not sure if there is a unified Polaroid company now or if the company got fractured and split during their bankruptcy years ago. I have the same questions about Kodak these days because I think there are different companies using the Kodak name now. Some companies may license the Polaroid/Kodak name too. Polaroid still "makes" (I'm not sure who actually makes the stuff) Type I and II audio cassettes along with VHS tapes. Well, at least I assume they still make it. Some of these products just came out a couple of years ago and they are still in stock at online retailers. It's hard to say.

    Was the cassette boombox you tried out the Sony one or the RCA one? Sears sells both and both are about the same price. I would assume that the Sony one is better, but maybe the RCA one is pretty good too. I may buy one of those at some point.

    I went to a Walmart this weekend and tried to see if they had any audio cassettes, but I didn't see any. Hopefully we'll get the Onn cassettes at some point. They may not be good, but the Signalex cassettes that UK dollar store Poundland sells get good reviews so maybe there is someone out there that makes decent quality cheap cassettes. Of course, for all we know, they may just be another Panggung cassette from Indonesia. I'd like to try out these Onn cassettes to see how good they are. Wal-Mart's house brand cassettes from the 1990s were better than most other house brand cassettes from that era like the Tonemasters and Digitechs.

    Anyway, the Sony HF cassette hangers at some Wal-Marts were oddly placed and hard to find so we'll see if they revise the placement of cassettes if they sell them again. The Wal-Mart I went to still had the Memorex VHS cassettes. Some users on that post said that their Wal-Marts have Maxell VHS cassettes. I wonder if there are regional variances with inventory at Wal-Mart. Kmart may be more consistent in that regard.

    1. I am planning on checking out Valley View sometime this year again, so I will let you know what I find. That mall is endangered and needs to be documented even more before it is gone.

      I will send you the photo of the cassette rack and the other Sears electronics department. The boombox I tried was the Sony model. That Big Kmart sign is definitely off. I am going to try and fast-track the Highland Mall article to be ready by the end of the month. It is going to be a tough task to get it all put together. I might make a preview article just to commemorate the mall until I can get better information about the mall.

      I picked up a 9 pack of blank cassettes at Goodwill for $1.99. It had 7 Sony Hi-fi like they were selling at Walmart and 2 TDK cassettes. It was a much better deal than I saw at Radio Shack. A 2 pack of Maxell cassettes for $5.99. Yeah I did not find any good deals at the downtown Radio Shack, the store looks exactly the same as before for now.

      I have noticed Polaroid VHS tapes every now and then, but I can't tell you where I last saw some for sale.

  8. Thanks for the RadioShack update. It's interesting that they have not started to clear out some of the products they want to stop selling. Perhaps they have enough floorspace so they'll just let the products sell at a regular price and just not replace them when they sell out whenever that happens. Maybe Standard General is still deciding which product lines they want to eliminate. As for store renovations, I'm guessing that won't happen until the name situation is resolved so they won't have to do two renovations in case they have to change their names.

    The Maxell URs at RadioShack are very expensive. I recently brought a pair of Maxell UR 60s from RadioShack to record on a Radio Shack Optimus cassette deck for an authentic RadioShack mixtape, but obviously I paid way too much for those tapes in order to do that. The TDK tapes you got should be really good even if they are basic D models. The Sony HFs should be good too.

    Polaroid VHS tapes were very popular in the 1980s and 1990s. They weren't the best quality tapes, but the ones I have from the 1990s are holding up fine so far. They had the same basic cassette case design for many years so the tapes are quite recognizable. Here is a 1985 Polaroid VHS commercial featuring an RCA VKT300 VCR like I have (or a very similar model) and here is an old Wal-Mart commercial with Polaroid tapes. The Sony tapes certainly would have been the better buy out of the two options though.

    The Houston Chronicle website has an interesting article about the Main St. Sears today. It's a premium article, but you might be able to open it for free. The interesting part is that the article says that the store's land is leased with Rice Management Corp. and has a long-term lease. I figured that Sears owned that land, but maybe not. I'm not sure what to make of that statement.

    1. I was surprised as well walking into the Radio Shack and seeing no changes at all. They are probably still not sure about what products they are going to eliminate, like you said. They also did not have much on sale, I am guessing they are keeping some of the same items on sale until they get this whole thing figured out.

      I guess Radio Shack will be the best option in the future for some things like tapes and other non-mainstream technologies. Hopefully they will work on bringing pricing to an acceptable level so people can afford to shop there again.

      I also noticed the RCA VHS tapes in a display for the Walmart commercial. Those tapes were what we mostly bought in the 80's and 90's and still hold up well today. I also have a few Polaroid tapes, and a few Sony tapes from that era.

      I am locked out from viewing the Sears article, so I missed out on it. Newspapers are becoming obsolete, but I don't understand why every newspaper wants to charge for online access. Even the Baytown Sun charges now, which to me is crazy. The newspaper companies need to come up with another source of income because online subscriptions are going to drive people away when you can get news for free in other places.

  9. I visited the Baybrook Mall Sears this week and I took a look at the electronics department there. It has also been downsized, but I don’t think anything else has crept into the freed up space yet. It looks like most of the downsizing was in the center of the department (which was actually done prior to my last visit at least) and to the back corner near the vacuum department. That wall didn’t have TVs on it like it used to, but there was nothing new there yet. We’ll see. They had a lot of TVs on clearance, but they also had a couple of bookshelf stereo systems (probably floor models) on clearance as well. All in all, the downsizing isn’t as significant as what we’ve seen at some other Sears, but there is some downsizing. On the topic of Baybrook Mall, the construction on the new outdoor part of the mall is certainly progressing quickly.

    Hopefully RadioShack will continue to sell supplies for older electronics, but I don’t know. They are sold out of both the 60 and 90 minute Maxell UR cassette packs online, but it’s hard to make sense of why that might be. It could be because they won’t sell the cassettes anymore (or at least that brand), but it could also be because RadioShack had supplier/supply issues during the bankruptcy that has kept them from replenishing inventory. Hopefully that will get resolved soon.

    I’ve been following the cassette forum thread about the Onn cassettes at Wal-Mart. Another poster in Missouri found them at his store and brought them. He hasn’t tested them yet, but he says that he will soon. They look like they might be Chinese cassettes so maybe there is someone in China producing tapes that we didn’t know about. I may have to pay another visit to Wal-Mart soon to see if I can find these cassettes here and buy them to test them myself. I may have misunderstood the initial forum response because it sounds like these Onn cassettes do come with cases.

    I have some of those 1980s RCA VHS cassettes too. They still work okay and they have robust shells, but they aren’t my best cassettes from that era. Some of recordings have some dropouts on them and at least one of the tapes is slightly curled causing some static on the linear audio track. It’s certainly not the worst I’ve seen in that regard; I have a few Kodak HS VHS tapes from the mid-1990s that have curled worse. I also have some RCA cassettes that I brought new in the mid-1990s and some that I brought new from Big Lots around 2008. Neither of those generations of RCA tapes have the best video quality, but they work reliably so far. I’ve purchased some late 1990s/early 2000s RCA VHS tapes from the thrifts, but I have not used them yet.

    You may be able to get free access to that Houston Chronicle Main St. Sears article through your library database. If not that, sometimes you can get free access to their articles if you search for them through Google. The newspaper paywalls have probably caused some users to switch news websites to free ones. It also drives people to things like library databases that do not have ads (though perhaps the newspapers get enough money from those databases that they’re okay with that). A lot of people don’t even know that they can get free newspaper access through the libraries though.

    1. It sounds like Baybrook is still doing well despite the construction. I wonder if the Baybrook Sears electronics will be spaced out while still keeping the shelves mostly full.

      One thing I noticed at the Radio Shack with the cassettes is that they had 4 different product hooks with cassettes. None of them were next to each other, but they were in the same group of products. It looked like they were trying to fill gaps in several parts of the stores.

      I have seen some of the cheap dollar store cassettes in thrifts lately that look like garbage. Hopefully these new cassettes at Walmart are not similar.

      I did not realize the RCA tapes had issues like that. I only have one damaged tape, but that was because the VCR started eating tapes.

      I will have to see if I can figure out a way to view that article. I guess all newspapers will be locked out to non-subscribers in the future.

  10. I think that Baybrook Mall is doing well right now, but I was actually surprised at how quiet the mall was during my visit. Ok, granted it was during a weekday evening, but I've seen the mall busier at that time. I wouldn't judge anything by one visit though. The lease rate is still about as solid as it gets for malls these days.

    I guess we'll have to see what happens to the Baybrook Mall Sears electronics department once some of the clearance items have been sold off. I'm guessing they'll try to get rid of at least one more aisle and consolidate the rest of the inventory into the remaining aisles, but we'll see. The Baybrook Sears did have a large display for Samsung vacuums though. I thought that was interesting. You'd think that Kenmore vacuums would be the stars of the show at Sears given their high ratings in magazine reviews and such, but maybe Samsung is paying for better placement or maybe Sears wants to prove that they have brands other than Kenmore as well.

    It looks like Sears has formed a joint venture with Simon similar to their joint venture with GGP. Some Sears stores of note that will go into the Sears-Simon joint venture are the Barton Creek Square store in Austin (which we recently discussed) and the Midland Park Mall store. It'll be interesting to see what happens to all these stores that are being shifted around.

    The RadioShack I brought my cassettes from had four hooks for cassettes too, but they were all together in a square shape. The 60 minute tapes were in one diagonal and the 90 minute tape hooks were in the other diagonal. I'm not sure why they did it that way. The store was out of 90 minute tapes aside from one opened package though that was still selling for full price as far as I could tell. I intended to buy the 60 minute tapes anyway though (even though I prefer 90 minute tapes) since I was paying enough for the tapes anyway. Plus, I have a lot of the modern 90 minute Maxell URs, I wanted to try to see what the 60 minute tapes were like. I'd be happy if RadioShack continues to sell Maxell branded tapes, but it would be interesting to see if they would switch to selling their own brand tapes ala Wal-Mart.

    Speaking of Wal-Mart, I visited another Wal-Mart today to see if they had the Onn cassettes (or the Sony ones for that matter) and I didn't see any audio cassettes. Perhaps those Onn cassettes are still in transit to this area. I can't wait to get my hands on them to test them. It's not too often we get "new" cassettes these days to wonder about and analyze.

    It's probably a good idea to avoid the low end tapes in the thrifts unless you're trying to complete a Walgreens collection of Tonemaster and Tozai cassettes or something like that. Some of those low end tapes came from China, but I have no idea what to expect from the Onn tapes. I suspect that they are probably below the Panggung-sourced Indonesian Maxell URs, but they might still be good. I can't wait to find out how those cassettes perform.

    It's possible that the 1980s RCA VHS tapes I have that have the minor issues were just a rare bad patch of tapes from that factory. It's hard to say. It's good that your tapes are holding up well though. Maybe they had different suppliers over the years. RCA VCRs were like that. Hitachi, Panasonic, Samsung, Daewoo, and Toshiba all built VCRs for RCA over the years. Some of those brands are better than others (I've have or had all of those brands of RCA VCRs at one point or another), but I guess they all work okay at least.

    1. I am not a fan of Baybrook Mall, it has never really appealed to me for some reason. The only mall in the Houston area where I have spent less money and time at is First Colony Mall.

      Sears is in a major transition period for sure. How many of their good stores will still remain open at this point is a major question. I made a pass by my go-to Kmart in Louisiana again recently. The video game cases are mostly gone with the exception of an end cap and small glass case. Most of the remaining video game inventory is on clearance except for some discount game titles. Those games are on shelves in the music section. The space where the game cases was now has entertainment center furniture and boxed televisions.

      At Kmart the sticker for cassettes was listed as a 2 pack of Sony. They had a sale tag and no cassettes in stock, but the whole setup was about half full. I will send over a couple of pictures so you can see the difference between this store and the Sears.

      It is funny you mention the Tozai tapes because I saw about 3 of those at a thrift the other day that I passed over. I will have to look at my VHS cassettes to see if there is anything different with the manufacturers. I had mixed VHS players over the years, and I can't even begin to tell you which ones they were.

  11. Part I:

    Here's an update about the Wal-Mart Onn audio cassette situation. I went to a NW Houston area Wal-Mart this weekend, the third different Wal-Mart I've been to in the last week looking for the new Onn cassettes, and I finally found a store that has them in stock. Unlike the Sony HFs, they are actually out on a peg instead of a hanger. They aren't with the CD-Rs and VHS cassettes though, but in this case they were in an aisle that was directly facing the blank media aisle. The cassettes were sitting with the Memorex pocket radio that Wal-Mart sells and some other items that I don't specifically remember. The store had a lot of them, probably at least 20 packs. I wonder if I was the first person to buy the Onn cassettes at that store.

    Anyway, the cassettes are 90 minute cassettes and sell for $3.98. That's about the same price as Wal-Mart was selling the Sony HFs for, but the Sony tapes were 60 minutes long. The quality control on these cassettes may not be the highest as the tapes in a couple of the packages I looked at had some dirt in them. It's probably not a big deal, but oh well. Also, the tape pack on some of the tapes has a lot of slack. Again, that should not be an issue, but it might be worthwhile to completely FF the tapes before recording to get a good, even tape pack.

    One of the users on the cassette forum noted that these cassettes have a strong resemblance to the TDK B cassettes sold mostly overseas a few years ago. As far as I can tell based off this photo of a recent TDK B tape, these Onn cassettes are either the same thing as those TDK Bs, very similar, or the company who made the Onn tapes knocked off the design of the TDK Bs. The cassettes have the same design minus the TDK logos with and the J-card has the same design without the TDK logos/names. The Onn cassettes don't have any type of branding on them, but oddly enough the side part of the J-Card has a B logo on it that looks just like the B logo on the TDK tape except that it's in a different color. I wonder why they left that on there. I don't think I've ever used a real TDK B tape, but I did buy some TDK A cassettes from 99 Cents only a couple years back. I don't think I ever opened one of those, but I wonder how similar those might be to these Onn tapes. The TDK A and B should be lower in quality than the TDK D, but it's possible that they are just outsourced tapes that may or may not be lower quality.

    Another design similarity to latter model TDKs that these Onn tapes have is that they don't have magnetic shields between the pressure pad and the tape itself. I'm not a fan of that, but oh well. I would say that the shells of these cassettes are subpar compared to the Indonesian Maxell URs that are the major modern competitor for these tapes. The tapes are new, but the reels do squeek a tad at times when FF/REWing. The Maxells don't do that. Of course, Maxells URs have had better shells than latter TDK Ds for quite some time so I guess that isn't a big surprise.

    1. It sounds like there may be some issues with these new cassettes. Many cassette enthusiasts more than likely will not be as thorough as you were with the inspection and testing of the tapes. I can see a lot of frustration if these tapes are not up to par and as easy to use as most blank tapes.

  12. Part II:

    I made a mixtape using these tapes on my Luxman as soon as I brought the tapes home. Obviously I was excited to see what these tapes can do. On that front, I do have good news. I was able to correctly set the bias the tapes very easily. In fact, they biased correctly right on the center detent on my Luxman. That is a little less bias than what the Maxell URs need so these tapes might work well on fixed bias decks that tend to underbias the Maxells. Of course, if the deck is right on with the Maxells, it might overbias the Onn tapes. The difference isn't huge so I wouldn't worry too much about it. The tapes do seem to be a tad noiser than the Maxell URs, but they seem to be able to take a very hot signal for a basic Type I cassette. The ability to record hot helps to overcome the hiss on non-quiet/dynamic music. I'm a bit surprised about that. The TDK Bs say "Low Noise High Output" on them, but the Onn tapes only say "High Output." Well, they're being more honest than TDK was I would say.

    Anyway, the Luxman made a good recording on these tapes. The highs may not be the sharpest ever, but they are pretty good I think. The bass is good, but not overly boomy. All in all, it's a pretty balanced sound quality. I was switching back and forth between the tape and source while recording on the 3-head Luxman and it was hard to tell a difference on many songs even with the recording level pretty high. I didn't use Dolby on my recordings, though it certainly could be justified when recording quiet music or highly dynamic music. If given a choice between the Onn tapes or the current Maxell UR tapes, I'd probably lean toward picking the Maxells. I think they're slightly better tapes especially on the build quality front. Plus, they are cheaper than the Onns at Walgreens and CVS. That said, the Onn tapes are still perfectly fine for recording and I like having the option of buying different tapes at retail stores again as the Sony HFs and the Maxell URs were the same thing for a while. I'll probably buy a few more packs of these tapes from Wal-Mart just in case they discontinue cassettes again or change suppliers for the Onn tapes.

    I do wonder who makes these tapes for Wal-Mart though and if the tape stock itself is from China or if it is from elsewhere and the final assembly of the tapes is in China. Who knows, I found some late model TDK B tapes on eBay and they are made in Thailand, not China. The TDK A tapes I have say they were made in Thailand, but it also said the tape stock was from Korea. Perhaps there was a lot of left over tape stock after TDK stopped selling tapes that Wal-Mart is using now, but I'd guess that they had to use new stock tape to make the large order for Wal-Mart. Who knows. I did some searching and saw Trisonic as a possible Chinese supplier for the TDK B tapes from a few years ago, but I have no idea if Trisonic makes cassettes now or what.

    1. I might have to pick up a few of these tapes in the future and give them a shot. I have been mostly stocking up blank tapes, and not using them. I guess if there is a shortage in the future, I am well prepared.

      On a related topic I was able to see the Craig cassette player and a Craig cassette Walkman in person. The products were basic, but at about 20 for each one not a bad value for a new product. I would be more interested in the Walkman, the desktop cassette player was very small. They also had a 7 pack of maxell cassettes for the low price of 15.99, ouch. The funny thing is that this Rite-Aid store still has the audio tapes advertised on their overhead aisle sign.

  13. Part I:

    First Colony Mall is probably the least interesting indoor mall in the Houston area to me as well. I think I find Katy Mills to be even more interesting than First Colony. Maybe I would feel differently about First Colony Mall if I spent more time on the SW side or had more of a connection to it, but it just does not seem like an interesting mall. I don’t spend much time on the NE side either, but at least there are some interesting aspects to Deerbrook Mall. I usually find malls with Sears stores in them to be a lot more useful than non-Sears malls.

    I do shop at Baybrook Mall on occasion these days since it is close to where I work. It’s not the most interesting mall and I certainly wouldn’t make many trips to the SE side just to visit the mall if I didn’t have to go to that area to work, but it does have some things going for it. The Sears there is one of the better looking Sears stores in the Houston on the inside. It does have a nice shopping atmosphere. I prefer to go to the Mall of the Mainland Sears if I need something that both stores have, but the Baybrook Sears is bigger and has a larger selection of most items. I also do like the Baybrook Mall food court. The eateries there aren’t too different from what you’d find at other similar malls, but there are a couple of retro storefronts there. The circular layout of the mall is a bit interesting as well.

    The Baybrook Sears seemed to have more TV cabinets on the sales floor than I remember seeing before, but I didn’t look to see if they were new or if they were on clearance too. Perhaps the cabinets are a new piece of furniture to invade the Sears electronics floorspace, but it’s a logical thing to sell I guess. I’m not sure if people are buying a lot of new entertainment cabinets these days though since TV sales have been soft.

    It’s interesting that the Kmart you went to had some discount games in the music section. I wonder if Kmart will continue to sell some bargain video games. I guess something is better than nothing, but maybe those are clearance games too that are just too cheap to justify putting in a glass case. It’ll be interesting to see those photos you have. I’m guessing that the Sony cassettes are discontinued. It’ll be interesting to see if Kmart continues to sell cassettes. I figure they’ll sell the Maxell cassettes if they do, but maybe they’ll sell some sort of house brand too like Wal-Mart.

    1. I agree with you about the First Colony Mall, it is really not a destination unless you live in the area. I like Katy Mills because of the wild designs of the different areas. It is still designed like a late 90's mall just before the boring designs of the 2000's started to take hold. Deerbrook is fairly bland, but has several neat guy stores that are not found at most malls.

      I guess Sears and Kmart are going to use the TV cabinets as a way to fill empty department space. Something interesting I noticed at the Deerbrook Sears is that the bottom row of TV's along the back wall is now mostly empty. I think the electronics department is about to shrink again. They moved the treadmills to a location right at the second floor outside entrance, but the area is not fixed up like it is at Baybrook.

      I will send over a few Kmart photos when I have a chance. I am going to put together an article about the shrinking electronics departments in Kmart and Sears stores.

  14. Part II:

    On the topic of the Wal-Mart cassettes, I did have a good observation about the Wal-Mart I brought those cassettes from. I was there on a Saturday evening and they had at least 7 or 8 checkout lines open. The lines were much shorter and quicker than what I have been seeing at Wal-Marts during that time. Perhaps Wal-Mart got the message about checkout times.

    The Onn cassettes are not as good as the Maxell tapes that are being sold currently, but they are still decent tapes. The biggest problem like I said is the build quality of the cassettes. The cassette shells are pretty cheap. I even had one moment of audible wow-and-flutter during playback that was probably caused by the cheap housing (though that moment seems to be isolated so far). Sometimes the cassette case does not close properly when a tape is in the case without fiddling around with the placement of the tape. That’s kind of a sign of cheapness as well. All in all though, the tape itself is pretty good aside from it having more hiss than the Maxells.

    I also have a pretty big cache of thrift store blank cassettes so I really don’t need more cassettes at the moment, but who knows when the supply of tapes will dry up. It’s probably worth stocking up now while the prices are decent. The prices of new blank cassettes are only going up as time goes by. I’d recommend at least trying the Onn cassettes to see how they work in your cassette decks. They might actually surprise you depending on how the bias settings on your decks are calibrated. If nothing else, it’s worth trying out the new options on the market. Just visibly check the tapes in the bag before you buy them to check for any obvious quality control issues.

    I would consider buying the Craig Walkman style cassette player for $20. Was that at Rite Aid or someplace local? I’m sure it won’t be good, but maybe it’ll be good enough. It’s hard to say. I know of a couple of people who would probably like a Walkman as a gift, but I don’t want to buy or recommend anything to them that will have bad performance that they will blame on cassettes themselves and not on the poor quality of the player. Unfortunately, I don’t have enough working Walkmen on hand to be able to give people good used ones. As for the 7 pack of Maxell cassettes for $15.99, well, that’s quite a bit more than the $9.99 CVS wants for a 7 pack of Maxell UR 90 cassettes. Well, at least that is the price on the CVS website. CVS also started to list an 8 pack of Maxell UR 60 cassettes for $6.99. Those don’t seem to be in-stock in stores (yet), but maybe they will be soon. I don’t know if they’ll replace the 90 minute cassettes or if they’ll sell both.

    Sometimes it’s hard to tell when a company used different suppliers for cassettes, but there are some things you can look at which help. Different places of assembly are a big sign of different suppliers, but it doesn't necessarily mean anything as some brands had multiple in-house factories in different places. Also, look at the shapes/designs of the reels, shell texture, and the printing near the write-protect knock-out tab.

    1. The last time I went to a Walmart I noticed the same checkout staffing when I walked in. Unfortunately when I was ready to checkout after 11pm, they only had 3 lanes open with lines of about 5 people deep. I wish they would have a rule like some stores have to open additional checkouts for 3 or more people in line.

      The Craig cassette walkman was at Rite-Aid. I could not get a really good look at it because it had a lock on the peg so you could not take it off. I was thinking about picking it up so I could use it for bike rides or outside activities. I don't want to risk breaking a good walkman, but I left it behind for now. Maybe I will find it on sale sometime and grab one.

      I was hoping to find more 2-packs on clearance at Rite-Aid, but they were out on my visit. I have about 20 unopened Sony and Maxell cassettes to use, but they may go quickly if I ever decide to use them. If I start to run low, I will consider trying the Onn models.

  15. Deerbrook Mall isn't the most interesting mall in the world, but it does have some interesting aspects to it. For one, the mall does have a bit of a more upscale feel to it than one might otherwise expect. The food court/theater area, while not totally unique, does look quite nice too. The parking garage under the theater is nice too. Plus, as you say, the mall does have a bit more of a unique mix of stores. Katy Mills is a unique mall in many ways, but it is a Mills mall so there is some redundancy in that regard. I don't find the mix of stores at Katy Mills to be very useful to me though.

    I wonder if the Deerbrook Mall Sears will put TV cabinets where they are removing TV displays. It seems like Sears is selling less models of TVs in general (in the stores at least) so I guess there is some natural downsizing that way. Perhaps the Deerbrook Sears electronics department will be further consolidated. I would not be surprised if that is the case. As for the treadmills, the Baybrook Mall Sears has one of the nicest sporting goods departments I've seen for a Sears. It really does look like a gym. I'm sure shoppers find that display interesting. I really have not seen that display replicated elsewhere though.

    I do have a quick Mall of the Mainland update. I was reading through some Galveston Daily News articles and I came across an article saying that former Rockets player Robert Horry was a special guest at the official grand opening of the World Gym. It also mentioned that Horry runs some sort of sports rehab center and that Jerome Karam is trying to get him to open a location at the Mall of the Mainland. We'll have to keep an eye on that. I made a quick visit to the mall and the Mall of the Mainland Sears this past week. There still isn't any activity to report from the part of the mall that is visible from the Sears mall entrance. They are continuing to repaint the old Dillard's. Now they are painting the old maroon arches outside a tealish green.

    Well, at least Wal-Mart seems to be trying to improve the checkout times even if they aren't improving things at all times of the day. I visited a handful of Wal-Marts in my quest to find the new Onn cassettes, which I had not done in such a short span in quite some time, so I was able to note some differences between the stores. I kind of knew this already, but the layouts of the different Wal-Mart electronics departments seems to vary quite significantly even if the products being sold are pretty much the same. I'm not really sure what the reasoning is for that. I think the Wal-Marts I visited were all built/renovated in different eras so maybe that is the biggest reason why things are they way they are.

    Best Buy sells a Memorex version of the same Craig cassette player for ~$28. Fry's used to have the same thing for ~$25, but I don't know if they still have them. Obviously $20 is a good price then, but I don't know how good they are. Let me know how it works if you buy one because I'd certainly be interested in buying one or two if they work okay. There's just so many things I could do with some extra Walkmen.

    1. The Deerbrook food court has not been renovated since the mid 1990's, but the rest of the mall was refreshed in the early 2000's. I heard a rumor that a sporting goods store may be building a store at the last anchor pad remaining in the back of the mall. We will see if that happens and what company is going in. I know I mentioned Dicks passing up Houston in the past, but they have plans to open over 100 stores in the near future. I will keep my eye out on the electronics department at Deerbrook and let you know of the changes.

      I would not be surprised if the sports rehab center goes into one of the former anchors. It looks like the JCPenney will be the next one to get filled since there is so much work going on inside.

      Some of the Walmart stores are being reconfigured, but I am not sure if all stores will get this update. The Humble store has been under construction for over a month, but it has been mostly the grocery section that has changed. Speaking of grocery stores, the Kingwood Kroger Marketplace is undergoing many changes. The furniture section is gone, the store is being reconfigured, painted, and a clothing department is being added. This location has been open about 2 years so it is strange to see so many changes so quickly.

      I have not been to a Fry's or Best Buy in several months, so I have no idea what they have these days. It sounds like I may have to stop by and see if they still have any cassette players left.

  16. Part II:

    Well, I picked up another cassette deck up from the thrifts. This one is quite a find though. It's a near mint condition working 1986 Denon DR-M11. I have not played around with it too much, but I feel pretty safe in saying that this is the 2nd best cassette deck (well, working one at least) in my fleet after the Luxman. The Denon is not a 3 head deck like the Luxman and it does not have HX Pro so the Luxman will probably remain my primary recording deck, but the Denon does have adjustable fine bias so it might make very good recordings. It'll just be a bit trickier to adjust the bias without the realtime tape monitoring that the 3 headed Luxman has. Anyway, I'm really excited to have this deck. I'll certainly report back more findings about this deck once I play around with it more.

    It's interesting that the last two cassette decks I've purchased are a Marantz deck and a Denon deck. The two companies merged a few years back. Although Marantz is a higher end brand in the lineup now (both brands are considered premium brands though), the Denon deck I have is far superior to the Marantz deck I have (granted, both of these were made years before the merger). Denon used to make some very high quality blank cassettes back in the day, but I have never run across them in the thrifts. Anyway, with names like Luxman, Denon, and Marantz, I've certainly been increasing the snob appeal of my cassette deck fleet!

    I'm sure you'll have fun making mixtapes and will go through your collection of tapes so it's worth looking for more blanks. Maybe you'll even get your friends and family back on tapes if you make them good sounding tapes and play it back for them with one of your Walkmen.

    Interestingly enough, the same thrift that had the Denon deck also had a sealed Memorex DBS I tape from the era of the oddly designed fluorescent Memorex tapes. The tape case is a bit damaged, but I think the tape should be fine. The tape is made in Korea and appears to be made by SKC so it should be better quality than the USA made tapes that Memorex made for themselves at the same time. Maybe I'll record on that tape using the Denon one of these days.

    1. That deck is a good find and I am sure you got it for much less than the $320 MSRP listed in the link. I still can't believe people get rid of some of these quality items and you are able to find them for cheap.

      I found a bunch of cassette holders in thrifts recently, so I have space for more music. I will keep my eyes open for more blank cassettes. They are still only a fraction of the price you will find them at stores so it is a good idea to pick a bunch up.

  17. Part I:

    It'll be interesting to see if the empty anchor pad at Deerbrook Mall ever gets a tenant. Dick's seems to be the most likely candidate for a sporting goods store to build a location at a mall, but who knows if Dick's will ever test Academy's dominance of the market. Another interesting aspect to Deerbrook Mall, at least historically, is that it was the first Northside multi-story mall. The Woodlands Mall, which has a somewhat similar feel inside as Deerbrook Mall, has joined Deerbrook on the Northside 2-story mall list. The mall having multiple stories may not seem all that remarkable, but most of the malls I shop at are one-story malls.

    I also suspect that the sports rehab center would be targeted for the old Mall of the Mainland JCPenney. The Dillard's could be an option too if they want to turn that into a multi-clinic medical center. It seems like it might make sense to use the east side of the mall for non-retail tenants and then keep the west side of the mall for retail. We'll see.

    It's surprising in a way to hear that the Kingwood Kroger Marketplace is already being reconfigured, but I'm not surprised to see them get rid of the furniture. Furniture always seemed like an odd fit. Clothing is a tough business since it traditionally has small profit margins (as opposed to large profit margins on furniture), but food has low profit margins too so Kroger is at least used to operating in that realm. We'll see how it works. The Cypress Kroger Marketplace has been open for a few months now and I know they had clothing since the grand opening, but I have not personally visited the store yet. I really don't like shopping in the Cypress area. I know I'll make it there one of these days though.

    It's probably been a bit over a year since I last went to a Fry's. I've been to Best Buy more recently. I didn't see the cassette players during my last visit, but I did see the Memorex cassette player there some time earlier. I think $28 is a bit too much for that cassette player unless it is surprisingly good. Auto-reverse portable cassette players that have USB conversion ports on them can be brought online for ~$20 and I'd rather try one of those than pay more for the Memorex. Unfortunately, the Best Buy players never seem to go on sale. Sometimes I get general Best Buy discount coupons. Maybe I'll have to wait until I get one of those.

    I know you like those lime green and gray concept Kmart stores. Here are some detailed pictures of the Morton, IL, Kmart. Perhaps you'll enjoy looking at those.

    1. There are not many two-story malls in Houston. I personally prefer one-story malls. I am going to drive by Deerbrook one of these days and see if any work has begun or any permits are up. I would like to make a pass by the Mall of the Mainland in another few weeks. I got several photos of my last two visits there. I just can't believe that these projects seem to be for real.

      The Kroger furniture was expensive and they did not have a good selection. It was a nice idea, but poorly executed.

      Yeah, I don't think a Memorex is a good enough brand to spend $28 on. I can get a used Sony for less than $20 online.

      Thank you for the Kmart photos, the lime green stores are a favorite of mine. Hopefully I will get to see one in person one day.

  18. Part II:

    I paid $10 for the Denon deck. I don't know how long this cassette deck was on the shelf at the thrift for, but I'm sure it wasn't for too long. I'm glad I'm the one who found it. I think I only paid $6 or $7 for the Luxman and that was a $650 deck when new. Granted, I found the Denon in near mint condition whereas the Luxman had a dent in it and some grime on the outside that I was able to clean up pretty easily. I suspect that a lot of higher end vintage audio stuff that is in good condition gets donated either when people move or when their owners pass away and their spouses or kids get rid of their stuff. Those people may not know or care about how valuable the stuff is.

    One of the ironic things about high-end audio gear is that a lot of people have to wait until they are pretty old to be able to save enough money to buy new high-end audio gear. Of course, a lot of people's hearing degrades in old age so they may not be able to hear the difference between high-end gear and more run of the mill stuff. Fortunately, I've been able to find some good stuff in the thrifts for a fraction of their new price so I can enjoy this stuff while it's still possible for me to tell the difference between the good stuff and the typical stuff. I've had even more luck finding high-end VCRs in the thrifts than audio gear, but it's been quite some time since I've seen a fancy VCR in the thrifts. It should be said though that some of the run of the mill stuff can sound just as good as higher end stuff. For example, I have a 1982-83ish Technics RS-M205 cassette deck that sounds really, really good at least on playback even though it was an entry level cassette deck from a mainstream brand.

    I've been playing around with the Denon some more. I still have not made a recording with it, but I like the playback sound quality of this deck. It may not have the "warmth" of the Luxman, but it's still a very, very clean and detailed sound even with Dolby enabled. The deck is built really well. It seems even heavier than the Luxman and everything has a high quality feel to it. The tape transport seems very smooth. One thing I like about this deck compared to the Luxman is that the vacuum fluorescent peak meters are much more detailed than the LED peak meters on the Luxman. That makes recording easier. Anyway, I'll probably have more details to share about this deck the more that I play around with it.

    I'm glad that you've found some more room for your audio cassettes. The cassette holders are pretty easy to find in the thrifts right now. Some of the thrift cassettes are better quality than the new cassettes even if they are Type I cassettes so it's worth looking out for thrift store cassettes. Of course, sometimes you can also find some premium tapes for dirt cheap in the thrifts, but it can take some patience to find them.

    1. I have not seen any good VHS players at the thrift stores recently. I have come across a few cassette decks, but they were dirty and I am not ready to risk losing money again. I bought a Playstation from a thrift recently and it was no good.

      I am glad that you have been finding some good items. I don't have much experience with brands so I don't want to get hosed if I pick up a deck. The basic models I have are good for now, until I decide to upgrade. I need to do more research to feel confident when I find a good one.

  19. I actually prefer one-story malls as well. Two-story malls can be difficult to navigate and the narrower corridors can be tough to navigate during busy times. Still, it’s interesting for me to visit a two-story mall since I’m so used to one-story malls.

    Yes, I’m still a little shocked that the Mall of the Mainland might be coming back. I was sure that the mall was gone for good last year until Jerome Karam started to show some interest in the properties at the mall. It seems like Karam is taking his time getting the mall back together again so I’m not so sure when he plans on reopening the mall. It’s probably a good idea to wait until there are enough tenants before reopening the mall or else people may assume that the mall is in trouble again.

    There’s really no point in spending $28 for the Memorex cassette player when the $20 Craig player is the same thing with a different name and slightly different colors. You go to LA enough that you’ll probably pass by a Rite-Aid soon enough. Then again, as you say, it probably makes more sense to get a good used Walkman than spend big bucks for a low quality player. Still, it would be interesting to get a review for those newer cassette players.

    It does seem like VCRs are starting to dry up some at the thrifts compared to how many there were a couple of years ago. There’s still a few out there if one wants one though. The way I usually test cassette decks at a thrift is to get a cassette, play it, and see if I’m getting even playback on the meters on both channels. I also do a visual check to see if the playback speed seems correct. I then check to see if the REW/FF functions are working correctly. I’ll then check to see if the auto-reverse is working correctly if it is an auto-reverse deck (though I have not purchased an auto-reverse deck from the thrifts in well over a year). It’s possible that a deck may check out okay on all those fronts and still not output sound (or quality sound at least), but usually the biggest problem with cassette decks are broken tape transports that would be evident when testing the tape in the thrift.

    I once came across a Technics cassette deck with dbx noise reduction at a thrift a couple years back. The tape seemed to mechanically play/FF/Rew just fine, but for whatever reason nothing would register on the meters when the tape was being played back. Maybe the meters were bad, but maybe something was screwy with the playback. I couldn’t tell in the thrift so I decided to pass on the deck even though it would have been nice to have a dbx cassette deck.

    It can be difficult to buy cassette decks purely based on brand because some brands had very high quality decks and also very low quality decks. For example, Sony, JVC, Technics, Pioneer, and Kenwood all made some excellent cassette decks, but they also made some very low-end cassette decks that essentially aren’t much better than boombox. There are some brands that only made good quality cassette decks though, but some of those brands are kind of obscure to the average person. It does take some research to know which cassette decks are the best since there are so many brands and models throughout the years.

    It seems like the most common models of cassette decks I see in the thrifts are low-end Sony double cassette decks from the mid-to-late 1990s. I also see a lot of low-end 1990s Kenwood decks in the thrifts for some reason. I knew the Sonys were popular, but I didn’t know the Kenwoods were that popular. I really wouldn’t bother with either of those types of cassette decks. I also see a lot of non-functional Pioneer cassette decks in the thrifts. Some of them are RadioShack branded decks made by Pioneer. Perhaps those Pioneer decks weren’t very reliable. Anyway, I don’t know about the Sharp deck, but I think your Vector Research deck is pretty good even if it isn’t fancy. You should be able to get some good use out of that deck even if you don’t find anything better.

    1. Those are some good points about two story malls. I hope they get the Mall of the Mainland going again soon. The cost of letting it sit there will get worse if things do not progress.

      Thanks for the tips on cassette decks, I will use them when I look for my next deck. I actually had a Sony deck from the mid 90's era you mentioned. It was not a great deck, but it did the job. If I find another one I would pick it up just to bring back memories. I like the Vector Research deck, it is basic but makes good recordings.

      I need to get a backup cassette Walkman, I am down to my last one. I still did not find my bands from Sears so I may just pick up another Sony WM-FX45.

  20. I’m still not sure what is going on with the Mall of the Mainland former Dillard’s. Did Karam acquire that property when he brought the mall or did he buy that store in a separate deal? Or does he not own the property at all but is allowed to repair it? It’s a little confusing. I’ve heard that either the ex-JCPenney or the ex-Dillard’s is in bad shape on the inside, but I don’t know if that’s true. There’s been a lot of work done on the inside of the former JCPenney so maybe that is the one in bad condition, but maybe there has been work done to the inside of the Dillard’s too. It’s harder to tell since the entries to the Dillard’s have metal shutters over them whereas the JCPenney is visible through the glass entrances.

    I’ve probably seen more Sony cassette decks in the thrifts than any other brand, but for whatever reason, all but one of those cassette decks that I’ve seen are low-end mid-to-late 1990s cassette decks even though Sony had a full range of cassette decks. I’ve passed on all of them even though they might be okay cassette decks for playback and recording. I just don’t want to waste space and money of a cassette deck that I won’t probably use. As you say, one of those cassette decks may have sentimental value to you though so you should certainly pick one up if the price and condition is right.

    The only other Sony cassette deck I’ve seen in the thrifts was a mid-level mid-1990s Dolby S cassette deck that was being sold with a Sony CD changer for $15. The price wasn’t bad for what was being sold and I would like to have a working Dolby S deck, but that thrift didn’t sell cassettes so I didn’t have a way to test it. Plus, I didn’t need the CD player so I probably would have just re-donated it. I ended up not buying it. It was still at the same thrift during a visit I made a couple weeks later, but at that point the CD player was missing, knobs were missing off the cassette deck, and one of the cassette deck doors was broken. Obviously someone must have seriously mishandled that cassette deck while it was on the shelf at the thrift.

    We had a new early-to-mid 1970s Sony top loading cassette deck way back in the day that was finally replaced in 1989. The deck still worked, but it did have some issues so we did get rid of it eventually after it was replaced. Plus, it was built before some advances in cassette decks that happened in the late 1970s/early 1980s that made better sounding cassettes. Anyway, I’d love to find one of those cassette decks in the thrifts for nostalgic purposes, but I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a top loading cassette deck in the thrifts. Those decks are quite antique at this point so there probably aren’t too many of them floating around.

    There are certain features that cassette decks have that generally indicate at least a decent deck. For example, 3 head decks are usually at least good cassette decks regardless of brand. You might like to find a cassette deck that has auto tape calibration (different brands had different names for auto-cal systems). Usually those are at least decent decks as well. Those decks will automatically put test tones on a blank tape, analyze the tones, and then pick the best bias and other settings. You can get really good recordings with those decks especially if you have trouble manually setting bias on a deck with a bias fine tune knob. Direct drive cassette decks are usually good quality decks as well.

    Hopefully you’ll be able to find the Sony Walkman model that you want for a good price in working condition. I don’t really buy things of eBay, but I might have to do something like that if I want to get some more good quality used Walkmen.

    1. I did not hear about the Dillard's site being purchased either. If Karam did not buy it, then he must have talked the owner into fixing it up, or letting him fix it up. From what I understand the Dillard's had heavy damage to the roof that was fixed so the building could be reused again. The local FEMA offices were located in that building for a few months after the repairs were made. The ceiling of the first floor looked to have been replaced with new sheetrock, but was not painted. The JCPenney store had several fallen ceiling tiles and peeling wallpaper visible through the store windows.

      I am going to keep my eye out for the Sony deck, but I have not seen too many decks lately. I went to a thrift last week that was way overpriced for their electronics, but they had a good selection. I did not see any top loading players at that thrift, but they had a lot of 90's era players for sale.

      I will probably pick up another Walkman in the near future, but I have not decided if I will try a new one or stick with what I know.

  21. Thanks for the information about the Mall of the Mainland former Dillard's and JCPenney. Perhaps the Dillard's is in good condition then, but it seems like these buildings tend to rot very quickly once they are abandoned especially if they are not well taken care of. The ex-Macy's seemed to be fine, but the former owners of that building may have taken better care of it.

    I don't remember the model number of my old Sony top loading cassette deck, but it looked similar to this old Sony TC-127 from the early 1970s. That model does not seem to have Dolby though, which my deck had, so it's probably not exactly that model. I'm not so sure if I'll ever come across a deck like that, or anything even remotely close to it, in the thrifts given the age of those decks. They might be in antique stores though. People who had those old decks probably pitched them in the 1980s and 1990s when better sounding decks were out. The 1980s decks, OTOH, are still around since they have competitive (or perhaps even better in some cases) sound compared to more modern decks.

    Some thrifts have odd pricing on their electronics. I was at a thrift last week that wanted $70 for an early 1990s Sony Video8 camcorder. Who knows if it even worked. I didn't take more than a 5 second look at it given the price. I saw a thrift that had a low end Sanyo double cassette deck for $25 when they had a much, much better Technics deck next to it for like $12. I picked up some of my good Mitsubishi VCRs for <$6 when they were sitting next to Funai VCRs that were going for >$6. I guess some times the pricers don't know what they are doing and the shoppers can take advantage of that, but other times maybe they go on eBay and think they'll get the same amount as the people selling their stuff to a worldwide audience.

    I've seen a lot of pre-recorded 8-track cartridges in the thrifts lately. That's a bit odd, but I'm sure it's just a coincidence. I also came across a thrift that had a lot of good pre-recorded cassettes for sale. I definitely picked up a few of them since some of them are a bit obscure in my experience. I'm sure I'll have fun listening to some of these. The same thrift had pretty good pricing on VHS movies/blanks so I picked up a couple of those too.

    The model of Walkman that you have seems like a pretty good one. It does not have Dolby AFAIK, but you might have to pay a big premium to get an auto-reverse Dolby Walkman. You may not even care about it having Dolby. Then again, maybe there are some good "under the radar" models that fit the bill. Perhaps you would want a Sports model Walkman for your biking and such. I'm sure some of those models, at least the less fancy ones, can be had for reasonable prices. As always, check to make sure that the models you're looking at don't use obscure rechargeable batteries and make sure they don't have corroded battery compartments.

    1. The inside of the Dillard's that you could see from the mall entrance I saw last in early 2013 just before that side of the mall was sealed off. Since the inside of the store was stripped mostly bare of fixtures and flooring it probably would not take too much time to fix up.

      I saw Sony Hi8 cassettes for $20 for 2 at Walmart. I saw a similar set at a thrift for $1 for 2 so you have to really watch out with the pricing of these vintage items. I also saw the Onn cassettes at Walmart with at least 15 packs stuffed on a peg.

      Which thrift had the cassettes, I would be interested in stopping by to pick up the leftovers. Most of the thrifts I have been to have mostly religious or children's tapes and not much else.

      Yeah I am picky with the pictures of the items I buy on Ebay. Sometimes I ask for more detailed photos from the seller before I buy. I can't believe the pricing on some of the thrift items especially at thrifts that have no climate control system inside.

  22. Part II:

    Oops, I think I forgot to put a link to that Sony TC-127 cassette deck that I was talking about in the previous post. Here is a link to that.

    1. That is a very interesting model, I have never seen anything like that at a thrift.

  23. Part I:

    Jerome Karam, or whoever else owns the Dillard's, seems to be putting a lot of money into sprucing up the outside of the old Dillard's. I'm sure they wouldn't be spending that kind of money unless the inside of the building was usable. The intended use may or may not be retail, but we'll see. The outside of the old JCPenney has not received any major renovations as far as I can tell, but I guess there is less that can be done with that building since it has a brick exterior unless they want to paint the bricks.

    I've been wanting to stop by a RadioShack to see if they have any significant clearance stuff going on, but I have not had a chance to stop by one in a while. I did check their cassette inventory using their website and every store near me is seemingly out of stock of the Maxell UR 90 cassettes and only one store has the Maxell UR 60 minute cassettes. Just about every store had an inventory of these cassettes just about a month and a half ago when I looked. I don't know if RadioShack has stopped selling cassettes, is having trouble getting inventory because of the bankruptcy, or maybe they're waiting for the name situation to get settled out and will then start selling house brand cassettes ala Wal-Mart. We'll see, but hopefully they will sell cassettes again soon. I'll probably stop by a RadioShack just for a look around here soon, but please let me know your observations if you step into one. These are interesting times indeed for RadioShack.

    I did some searching around and it seems that the model of cassette deck I had was a Sony TC-134SD. Here are some more detailed pictures of the deck. As you can tell, it's quite the interesting looking deck. It certainly has a lot of character to it, but a lot of the top loading decks looked somewhat similar. I'm guessing the top loading design fell out of favor because front loading decks are easier to put into an equipment stack/rack. The portable shoebox style cassette recorders, which can still be brought at some retail stores today, still retained the top loading style.

    It's good to hear that you found the Onn audio cassettes at Wal-Mart. Perhaps they are in all the stores now. Let me know how they work in your cassette decks if you ever buy a pack and try them out. I'll probably buy a couple more packs and store them for future use. While the tapes are neither the best or the cheapest, they are still useful and are an interesting option aside from the Maxell URs. Plus, I'd like to support the retailers still selling cassettes as long as the prices are still somewhat reasonable.

    Yes, Video8/Hi8 tapes are very expensive new these days, but they can be found for a dollar or less in the thrifts if you have some patience. They aren't as easy to find as blank VHS or audio cassettes, but they are out there. Hi8 tapes can still be useful even in a modern sense if someone has a Digital8 camcorder since they use the same tapes. Digital8 never really took off as Sony intended due to the popularity of the smaller MiniDV tapes.

    1. They may sandblast the old JCPenney or add stucco to make the store look nicer. The good thing about the brick color of the JCPenney is that it hides a lot of imperfections and does not look old.

      I think Radio Shack has inventory issues which is causing the shortages. I passed by the North Oaks Mall earlier and it looked like the store there is closed or was closed early for the day.

      I like the tape deck, it has some nice features and hopefully it looks like the pictures you sent. I will let you know if I get any Onn tapes.

      I went to Best Buy earlier and saw the Walkman you were talking about. It looks almost exactly like the Craig Walkman I saw at Rite-Aid. It does not have any extra features and it is very basic.

      By the time I got my Hi8 camcorder the technology was on the way out. I got a few years of use, but I used my 5.0 megapixel camera a lot more. I have transferred most of my tapes to DVD's and copied the videos onto my computer as well. I liked the quality much better than the VHS-C camera I borrowed from a relative for an event.

  24. Part II:

    The thrift that had the cassettes was the Goodwill in League City on I-45. Who knows if they still have the same selection though because I went to a NW Goodwill about two months back that had a ton of cassettes, but two weeks later on my next visit, they had sold most of them. I've seen some thrift store cassette shoppers buy 20+ cassettes at a time. Hey, I guess why not at ~50 cents each. It's a lot cheaper than buying songs off the Internet and they can be digitized for use on phones and stuff. It's also a great way to find songs that have not been heard before. The same thrift had a ton of LPs and 45s too. They had so much that I couldn't even go through the whole selection since they were stacked in a way that made it hard to see what they had. Anyway, I don't know if I'd make a trip to League City just to see those cassettes, but it might be worth a stop to see what they have if you're in the area.

    It seems like the SE side thrifts have a better selection of electronics and A/V cassettes right now than the N/NW side thrifts, but that can change. The only thrifts I visit these days are the SE and NW side thrifts (and a N and W side thrift every now and then). I'm not so sure what is going on in the NE/E/S/SW thrifts since I almost never go there, but I wouldn't be surprised if there are some good finds there especially on the SW side.

    Which thrifts have you been going to lately? I'm mainly shopping at Goodwills and Value Villages these days, but I do go to Family Thrift Centers some too. There are some more obscure thrifts in places like Pasadena, but I have not been there recently. For whatever reason, some of the thrifts that have the worst stores also have the worst pricing. OTOH, perhaps because of the pricing, they have the best selection.

    One of the cassettes that I brought, a Prince album, must have lived a hard life before because it looked pretty beat up. Maybe it had spent a lot of time in a car or in a hot garage/attic. The J-card had some heat related damage that was very visible. I wasn't sure how the cassette would play back, but it sounds okay except for a big dropout in one of the songs. These cassettes can be pretty hardy. I'm sure a CD or a record would not have survived that type of abuse as well. The other cassettes I brought were in better condition fortunately, but I did want to buy that Prince cassette since his stuff is oddly hard to find in thrifts in cassette format at least. One of the odd things that I find with audio cassettes vs. video cassettes is that the top selling VHS movies can be found at just about any thrift. Any thrift that sells VHS movies will likely have at least one copy of movies like Speed, Lion King, Top Gun, and stuff like that at any given time. OTOH, even top selling cassette albums can be hard to find at the thrifts for whatever reason. I rarely see a lot of album repeats in the thrifts for whatever reason.

    It's good to be picky on eBay. Perhaps you can spend some time browsing eBay and see if you can find some good prices on more obscure models of Walkmen (including non-Sony brands). It might be worth experimenting if the prices are right. Let me know what you buy and how the stuff you buy works.

    1. Thanks for the tip, I have been to several Pasadena/South Houston area thrift stores. The East, Northeast, and North areas I have also covered recently. Outside of the blank cassettes, I only found around 10-15 music tapes I liked. Most of my finds have been at Half Price Books and Antique stores. I have found several VHS tapes at the thrift stores that I like, but good music has been scarce.

      I will keep you updated on the Ebay search. I have not put much effort into it yet, but in the next month or so I may have time to find my next Walkman.

      On an unrelated note, I passed by the North Oaks Mall this evening and to my surprise the cinema corridor did not have a line of people waiting to see a movie. I though the place might have been closed, but they were selling tickets at the concession stand not at their normal booth. This meant that I had the majority of the place to myself and I got some really good images. Only one person walked through while I was in there.

  25. I was driving on I-45 South near Texas City earlier today and I saw a new billboard for the Mall of the Mainland near the outlet mall. It said “Now Open” and had logos for the World Gym and the Movies 12 I do believe. I was a little surprised to see that billboard. As far as I know, the actual indoor part of the mall is not open yet, but I have not checked to verify that.

    The North Oaks Mall RadioShack closed with the initial wave of store closings after the bankruptcy. I did not go to that RadioShack often, but I found their inventory to be a bit disappointing compared to other RadioShacks so I’m not too sad about it closing.

    I guess it is good in a way that the North Oaks Mall theater was so quiet so you could get the photos, but it’s bad news too in a way. Hopefully it was just quiet because of the time of the day you visited. I do look forward to seeing the new pictures of the place though.

    I drove by the South Loop ex-Auchan the other day at night and saw a lot of activity going on at the building. I couldn’t really tell what was going on since it was at night and I drove by it quickly, but perhaps the building is in the process of being repurposed. I would assume that it would be a warehouse/distribution center or something if it is being repurposed.

    As far as I can tell, the Craig portable cassette player and the Memorex portable cassette player that Best Buy sells are exactly the same except for the name and the colors. They probably came from the same Chinese supplier. Obviously it makes more sense to buy the Craig player from Rite-Aid if you pass by one than pay more for the Memorex. They are basic players though as you say so I’m not overly optimistic about the quality of the players.

    It can be difficult to find good pre-recorded cassettes in the thrifts. Half Price Books does sort out some of the “less desirable” cassettes so that does make it easier to find good cassettes versus the thrifts. There have been some fairly common albums/singles that I’ve been looking for in the thrifts for years now, but I have not come across them yet. Then again, sometimes I do find obscure stuff. Of course, I can just record the songs I want on a cassette even if I don’t find the albums on pre-recorded cassettes. My recordings often sound better than the pre-recorded cassettes if the source audio is good. Some studios released better sounding pre-recorded cassettes than others.

    Hi8 should be a vastly superior format compared to VHS-C. In fact, I would say that basic Video8 is superior to VHS-C. There was the Super VHS-C format that competed against Hi8, but I don’t think I ever used a Super VHS-C camcorder. Although I do like the VHS format as a whole, I wasn’t a big VHS-C fan. I think the format wasn’t as good and the brands who made VHS-C camcorders often made subpar camcorders compared to the Video8 competition. VHS-C was easier to playback though with the VCR cassette converter.

    1. The billboard is interesting, I passed that way last week also but I did not notice that sign. Is it the same sign they had before or in a different part of the freeway? When I passed by the Dillard's was still being painted by some guys on a JLG. The JCPenney did not have any activity going on. I did not stop, and I did not see any new grand opening advertisement on the property.

      I will probably not visit a Radio Shack any time soon. None of the stores are close to me anymore and the prices are just too high. I am curious to see the converted stores, but I don't intend on making any special trips. I mostly visited Radio Shack at malls, but only one mall location is left in Houston at a mall that I normally don't shop at.

      I visited North Oaks on Tuesday night about 9 pm. I thought the cinema was closed since it was so empty, but the door was open and employees were at the concession stand.

      Warehouses are going up all over town, so it would not surprise me that the Auchan is getting transformed into one. It probably is much cheaper to convert that building than it would be to build from scratch. The former flea market down 610 is also being converted to a warehouse.

      On a related topic of cassette players, I came across the same exact Sony TC-W345 model I was talking about owning in the past at a thrift. As much as I wanted to walk away with it, I left it there. I actually picked up a Sony CFDS50 boombox (open box discount) from Sears the other day and it sounds good for what it is. It has the mega bass button like my Walkman has and it makes a difference in sound.

      The colors on my Hi8 camcorder were much better than the VHS-C camcorder that I used. I always wondered why a Hi8 never had a converter but I guess the tape is too skinny to be read by a VCR.

  26. Part I:

    The new Mall of the Mainland billboard is very close to where the old one was. It may even be on the same billboard sign as the old one, but I think the current one is just a tick further north than the old one. I did make a trip to the Mall of the Mainland Sears last week. There really isn’t anything new to report about the mall that I could see aside from the continued painting of the old Dillard’s. The mall entrance near the Sears still looks the same as it did before. They have not done any work there yet. As for the Sears itself, I did notice that they swapped the location of the fitness gear and the seasonal stuff. Ok, they just moved them across a walkway, but that’s the only difference I saw. For whatever reason, most of the stuff on the electronics department pegs were turned backwards. I noticed some inventory slips taped to the racks so maybe they were turned for inventory counting purposes. I’m not sure.

    I came across an article last week talking about how Sears will shrink some Kmart and Sears stores. This isn’t really news, but the article did mention that consumer electronics may be eliminated at some stores. We’ll have to keep an eye on that. I wonder if electronics in general may be endangered at stores like the Mall of the Mainland location, but maybe they’ll only be cut at stores that are even smaller than that location. We’ll see. Also, more store closings are planned.

    I have been wanting to visit a RadioShack to see what is going on, but I have not had a reason to stop by. I don’t really need anything at the moment. I have not been buying much lately aside from some thrift finds, but maybe I’ll be in a mood to do more shopping again soon. Pre-bankruptcy RadioShack used to issue weekly sales circulars, but that has stopped in recent times. Those ads used to draw me in at times. The RadioShack Facebook page says that they have in-store clearance sales, but who knows what is actually on sale. I’ll probably stop in a RadioShack here sooner or later, but I don’t know when that will be.

    You would think that 9pm would be a busy time for people wanting to see movies, but maybe not on a Tuesday night. I’m not really sure how theater attendance varies on different days. I did visit the North Oaks Half Price Books recently. Unlike some visits, I was actually able to take my time sorting through the audio cassettes. I did end up buying a couple. I also brought a DVD of a movie that I’ve been looking for in the thrifts for a few years now. I wanted it on VHS, and it shouldn’t be a hard movie to find, but for whatever reason I never see it in the thrifts. I just decided to pay $5 and buy it on DVD. At least I don’t have to keep looking now.

    1. Thanks for the Mall of the Mainland update. I hope none of our nearby Sears stores lose their electronics section. It looks like Kmart stores in good shopping centers will be the first ones to get shrunk. Sears still has better products in their electronics departments than Kmart although Kmart still has music and Dvd's at some stores.

      Keep me updated if you go to a Radio Shack in the near future.

      I was surprised to see such a low turnout. I guess attendance will go up in June when school gets out. That Half Price Books store had a ton of DVD and games on clearance for a dollar or two. Were those racks still there, I bought several items for cheap.

    2. Thanks for the Mall of the Mainland update. I hope none of our nearby Sears stores lose their electronics section. It looks like Kmart stores in good shopping centers will be the first ones to get shrunk. Sears still has better products in their electronics departments than Kmart although Kmart still has music and Dvd's at some stores.

      Keep me updated if you go to a Radio Shack in the near future.

      I was surprised to see such a low turnout. I guess attendance will go up in June when school gets out. That Half Price Books store had a ton of DVD and games on clearance for a dollar or two. Were those racks still there, I bought several items for cheap.

  27. Part II:

    That’s interesting to hear that you brought one of those Sony CFD-S50 boomboxes. It sounds like you like it at least relatively speaking. Have you tried recording any tapes on it or have you only played back tapes? I would be interested in knowing how it records. I actually came across a very clean late 1980s GE compact dual cassette boombox in the thrifts last week. I brought it for ~$7. I almost never see boomboxes from that era, especially that clean, in the thrifts so I felt like buying it. The sound is pretty tinny, but oh well I guess. The playback only cassette well actually plays back pretty nicely (I have not tried listening to it with headphones or quality speakers), but the recording/playback well is playing back with some noticeable wow and flutter. It seems like the cassette isn’t fitting in the cassette basket as it should, but I can’t see any obvious reasons why. I’ll have to play around with it. It’s not a high priority on my repair list, but we’ll see if I can get it going again. At least it is mechanically and electronically in good shape. The radio on it works fine as well.

    I guess you aren’t too emotionally attached to the Sony TC-W345 if you passed it up in the thrift. Maybe it cost too much? Maybe it didn’t work? I think I’ve seen that model recently in a thrift actually, but they wanted way too much for it. I wouldn’t have been too interested in it anyway, but I don’t have any emotional attachment to those models.

    Yes, I think the tape size difference between VHS and Video8 caused the Video8/Hi8 tapes to not work in VHS VCRs. There may have been some technical differences between the formats as well, but I cannot recall what if anything off the top of my head. I never really saw the ability to playback VHS-C tapes in a regular VCR as a huge advantage back in the day, but I see it as a huge advantage now because VHS VCRs are easy to find whereas Video8 VCRs/camcorders are hard to find if you need one to play back old home videos. Oh well, at least my Video8 camcorder still works. I need to make sure that I digitize all my old tapes before it goes out though in case it does. Those tape transports on those camcorders are quite fragile.

    1. I have not tried recording a tape yet on the boombox, but I will let you know when I do. It has a microphone jack so I can hook up my phone to play mp3's.

      They were asking $25 for the deck and I happened to come in on the orange tag special day so it was 30% off. The deck was fairly clean inside and out.

      My Sony Hi8 had a broken tape transport and I had to switch the camcorder out. This was before you had to send items off to get fixed for a warranty repair. Best Buy used to have a great system when things went wrong with an item that had an extended warranty. Bring the item in and they swapped it out for the same or similar item.

  28. Part I:

    I passed by the Mall of the Mainland billboard again. The billboard is about 3-4 signs before where the old Mall of the Mainland billboard was. It's not as big as the old one, but it's still sufficiently big enough I think.

    I visited both Almeda Mall and Northwest Mall recently. There's not a lot of changes to report at NW Mall other than a DNA testing clinic seemed to have opened in one of the mall spaces in the old Foley's wing. I'm sure that isn't most mall operator's first choice in leasing, but it's something. As for Almeda Mall, the center atrium has been completely walled off with a painted plywood box. There are signs saying that renovations will occur soon. I'm not sure what the plan is, but I guess there is going to be a pretty significant change in the atrium area. We'll have to keep an eye out on it. Interestingly enough, both malls were pretty busy even during my middle of the week evening visits. Perhaps that isn't a surprise at Almeda, but the food court was full of people at NW Mall. I think many of the eaters were from the nursing college, but it looked like there were some high school kids there too. I have not seen the NW Mall food court that busy in ages.

    There is RadioShack news to report. Standard General won the intellectual rights properties for RadioShack. That means they'll get to keep the website and the name. I assume then that RadioShack will continue to be called RadioShack, but we'll see. I'll definitely keep an eye out for any changes. I've noticed that most of the Sprint RadioShacks now have Sprint banners on them. Maybe now we'll see signage changes too.

    The big retail news today is that hhgregg had another terrible quarter. They are now considering closing stores. I don't think the slide is surprising, but I think this means that any hopes of seeing an hhgregg in this area won't be happening any time soon.

    I had an issue with Best Buy's replacement warranty a few years back. We brought a Bissell vacuum cleaner from there on a pretty big discount. The warranty said that they'll replace it with a similar model if it broke, which it did, but they wanted to replace it with a similarly priced vacuum instead even though the vacuums they had at a similar price didn't have the same features. It took a lot of arguing before they actually found the same model at the online warehouse and had it shipped. Unfortunately, that one broke too. It was ultimately replaced by a much more reliable Shark vacuum.

    1. I would not be surprised if the center atrium at Almeda Mall will become a play area for children. I have seen the same thing at the Northwest Mall food court. I am surprised that the Chik Fil A at that mall downsized to become a limited menu 11-2 pm Monday-Friday operation. Then of course the limited menu store closed. I want to say the original Chik Fil A opened in 2000.

      It is good to know the Radio Shack name will live on for now, but don't be surprised if it changes in the future. HHGregg stores are very similar to Conn's and they would have a hard time breaking into this market. I was bullish on the company, but it seems they are not as strong as they once were.

      Best Buy, Sears, and Toys R Us have warranty policies that require you to mail the item off for repair or call and spend forever on the phone to get a gift card to replace the item. I have not tried a Walmart extended warranty or any others, but I dislike how the claims are handled these days.

  29. Part II:

    $25 is probably too much for a basic Sony cassette deck even with the 30% off, but I guess the price isn't too steep if it has sentimental value. I think the one I saw was probably around $20 or so, but I would still consider that to be too high as I've seen those basic Sony double cassette decks for ~$5 before. Granted, you may have to look long and hard to find one at that price.

    You know that I purchased a mint Denon DR-M11 cassette deck from a thrift a few weeks back. It's a great cassette deck, but I remember saying at the time that I wished that it was a 3 head deck that had HX-Pro as well. If it did, it could compete with my Luxman. Well, I went to the exact same thrift this week and what did I find? Yes, you guessed it, a mint and working 3 head HX-Pro Denon cassette deck! It's a 1989 Denon DRM-800. This is one fancy deck. In addition to those features, it is also dual capstan, it has an an amorphous head, and a ceramic cassette stabilizer. Even though this cassette deck retailed for less than my Luxman K-112 did at the same time, it's a more fancy model in almost every way (though I'm not saying that it sounds better, that is to be determined with further testing).

    Anyway, it was $20, which is more than I normally pay for thrift store electronics, but there's no way I was leaving this on the shelf. It's certainly worth a lot more if I wanted to sell it. Another great feature of this deck is the display. This is by far the best digital display I've ever seen on a cassette deck (though the other Denon isn't much worse). The display is very big and legible, but the whole deck is big. It looks like a receiver from that era. The deck works well in my limited testing, but I will certainly test this deck out more here in the near future. I'm really excited about this deck. It's really amazing that I would find two Denon decks at the same thrift in such a short time frame. Maybe this will be the summer of cassette decks in the thrifts like it was for me last summer. I'm not sure if I'll be able to top this Denon though.

    1. That deck is an excellent find. The long list of features is something that would make me get one too. I will keep my eye out for one of these decks as I could use a high quality backup. I went to a few thrifts this week, but all I found of interest were some Sony type 1 hi-fi blue label cassettes and some VHS movies. Outside of the Sony deck I mentioned, there were no other cassette decks.

  30. Part I:

    There is some Texas Sears news to report. The LaPlaza Mall Sears in McAllen will be closing. I guess this is one of the properties that Simon acquired recently. Simon has terminated the lease with Sears and will redevelop the property into other stores and eateries. This is sad news for McAllen area Sears shoppers, but I think the McAllen area has two Kmarts at least (one by the mall and one nearby in Mission). I'm not sure if there is another Sears anywhere near McAllen. Obviously I would be terribly disappointed if one of my malls converted their Sears into yet another cookie cutter selection of women's fashion stores.

    I think Almeda Mall already built a children's play area in the current round of renovations over by the Burlington where the fountain used to be many years back. I could be remembering that incorrectly though. We'll have to see what happens to the atrium though.

    Yes, I'm not sure why the Chick-Fil-A closed early if there are a lot of night students at the nursing college. That might have been their own death wish. Perhaps the college students just preferred eating at the other places though, who knows. It was good to see the food court busy last night though. There are some good food outlets at the NW Mall and their prices are quite reasonable.

    On the topic of food courts, I noticed that the Villa Pizza at Almeda Mall is now being called Sevilla Pizza. It looks like they reused the old Villa logo too. That's kind of funny. The fried chicken and taco place at Almeda reused part of the old Taco Bell sign too. Unfortunately, Sevilla Pizza, like Villa Pizza, tends to be quite expensive for their pizza.

    I have not purchased an extended warranty on an item in quite some time, but I'll certainly have to keep these policies in mind. I wonder about Sears' policies because they do have repair centers. I'm sure someone would not have to send in a lawnmower via mail to get it fixed. That can probably be taken to a repair center. Something like a toaster may have to be mailed in though. I'm not sure. I'd rather just get a gift card even if it takes a long time.

    I forgot to respond to your question about the North Oaks Half Price Books in my previous set of responses. They did have a few carts of clearance DVDs (I didn't check the games on this visit), but they usually do have at least a couple full carts of those in the walkway by the DVDs. Unfortunately, the movie I wanted, Coming To America, wasn't on the reduced rack. I had to pay full price for it. I felt like it was wise to just pay full price for it because I have not seen that DVD, much less the VHS, in other recent visits to HPB before. I figured that movie would be easy to find on VHS or DVD in the thrifts or HPB, but I guess not. Oh well, at least I have it now. I can record it to a VHS tape if I wanted to, but I'll probably just keep it on DVD.

    1. The Sears in McAllen closing is not a surprise. I am sure we will see several more Sears closings in the next few months as the company struggles to save money. Sears took the money and ran with these properties so there is nothing the company can do if the lease is terminated.

      I forgot about that little play area at Almeda mall. I guess they are going to make it more inviting for more kiosks to move into prime space. I noticed that Taco Bell/KFC restaurant still uses much of the signage including the Taco portion of the Taco Bell sign.

      I agree with your about the food selection at Northwest Mall. The food court continues to do decent business while the rest of the mall seems to really be declining. I can see the property gaining some interest once the freeway construction wraps up, but if the property is sold things will change for the mall and the property may shut down.

      Hopefully you can have a service tech go to your house for items like a lawnmower. I know with appliances, they will send someone to your house to look at the problem. I am not sure how they handle small item repairs now, 5 years ago was the last time I had to send off my camera for a warranty repair.

      I have seen Coming to America recently at a few stores, but I can't remember where. That movie is a classic, and I am sure people are keeping it in their collections.

  31. Part II:

    It's interesting that you came across one of those late 1990s Sony Hi-Fi blue label Type I cassettes in the thrifts because the thrift I got the Denon DRM-800 from also had a similar era red and gold Sony HF cassette that I picked up. I don't have any Sony HFs with that wrapper type in my collection so that was a nice pickup. I did use one of the blue wrapper Hi-Fi tapes to make a recording in my Luxman recently. I got really good results with it. The high end response is particularly sharp, but it's possible that I underbiased the tape a bit which led to the high highs. I don't think I did because I had the bias fine knob pretty far to the right, but that tape was a bit difficult to bias on the Luxman. I may have to make another recording on one of those tapes with one of the Denons or maybe my auto-calibration JVC deck to see if I get similar results. Either way, I am a pretty big fan of the Sony HFs from the late 1980s-1990s. Although they cheapened out on the shells in the latter 1990s (though not as much as TDK did), the tape itself offered remarkable performance for the price.

    I've been doing some research and it seems that the Denon DRM-800 was Denon's top of the line cassette deck during the timeframe that it was made. That means that I have two TOTL tape decks from premium manufacturers from that era (my Luxman was TOTL during the same years). Unfortunately, Denon dropped some features from their previous TOTL deck, the DR-M44HX, when the DRM-800 came out. The DR-M44HX is at least partially direct drive and it has auto calibration, but the DRM-800 is hardly deficient in features. The DRM-800 does add an amorphous head and the ceramic stabilizer though which I don't think the older decks had.

    I've only seen three 3-head cassette decks in all my years of thrifting (the Denon, the Luxman, and a $50 JVC that I passed on), but I would certainly pick up any you see that are reasonably priced in the thrifts. There are a few oddball older 3-head decks that don't have tape monitoring, but those are probably still good cassette decks even if the 3 head functionality is somewhat limited.

    Anyway, the thrifts have been good to me lately so it's certainly still worth checking them out for potential cassette goodies. I'm really looking forward to doing some more rigorous testing with the Denon DRM-800 to see how it compares to the Luxman, It'll be interesting to see which one of these becomes my primary recording deck.

    1. I found a few more Sony tapes from the early 2000's at a thrift earlier this week. I had a few decent music finds as well, but I did not find nearly as much as the first time I went to those shops. These were the Spencer Hwy thrifts between Highway 3 and Strawberry Rd. I also found another Sony deck like my old one, but it had some weird connections on the back and no power plug. I guess it was part of a customized console pack, and it was slightly different than the other one I saw last week.

      I found a few decks out there as well, but no really good models for sale. I found one interesting late 70's early 80's record/tape/8-track deck at a Value Village East of downtown, but the buttons on the tape deck were really messed up so I left it there. I think they were selling it for less than $20. I saw the same one at another thrift for $35, but it was in worse shape than this one. I did not get the model or manufacturer of the item, I need to get better with that so I don't miss out on good finds.

      I found a Walkman in my outing, that looked to be in good shape until I opened the battery compartment and found some majorly corroded batteries inside. Oh well, it was less than $2 for a reason.

  32. Part I:

    Yes,‭ ‬it is not a surprise that one of the stores that Sears sold off is closing.‭ ‬It’s still a shame though.‭ ‬A lot of McAllen shoppers are from Mexico.‭ ‬I’m sure some of the international shoppers want more fashion options,‭ ‬but I’m sure there are some people who want to buy tools,‭ ‬electronics,‭ ‬appliances,‭ ‬and sporting goods.‭ ‬Those shoppers could find these goods at the LaPlaza Mall Sears,‭ ‬but that won’t be the case anymore.‭ ‬Oh well.‭

    It’s interesting that we’re discussing Coming to America and knock off food places at Almeda Mall in the same post.‭ ‬Of course,‭ ‬one of the more memorable things in Coming to America is the knock off McDonald’s called McDowell’s.‭ ‬Hopefully the Sevilla Pizza at Almeda Mall will consider lowering their prices or else I think a lot of mall eaters will choose one of the other options at the mall.‭

    ‏On the topic of food courts, I recently visited the Willowbrook Mall food court. There are a number of walled off spots in the food court that I assume are vacant including the old Wendy’s spot. I’m not sure what is going on with that, but the food court was pretty busy during my visit. The rest of the mall seemed to be doing fine as well.

    I actually do have some appliance extended warranties through Sears.‭ ‬In fact,‭ ‬one of them is on a freezer that used to have a Montgomery Ward warranty before Sears brought out Ward’s warranty division when Ward’s went out of business.‭ ‬They do come out to the house for repairs though obviously.‭ ‬I’m not sure if Sears‭’ ‬walk-in repair shops repair things like digital cameras so maybe those have to be mailed off.‭ ‬I don’t know if they repair larger electronics like TVs though.‭

    1. Speaking of food courts Wendy's and Taco Bell are two endangered restaurants in mall food courts. Baybrook still had both as well as Willowbrook. I wonder if Chik Fil A will start leaving malls in the future since they have so many freestanding stores. I would get a good laugh if I ever see a McDowell's restaurant somewhere. It would be an interesting way to re-purpose an old McDonald's.

      Another chain restaurant that is sadly now gone from the Houston area is Del Taco. I read in the Chron that the store closed this week. They were initially going to open 40 stores here in Houston, but they never really gave the area a chance. Oh well, at least we are getting Krispy Kreme back soon.

      I bet the repair person gets a kick out of seeing a Montgomery Ward appliance.

    2. I think Arby's is also endangered. They closed the westoaks mall location and , both Westhiemer locations.

    3. There are still several Arby's on the Northside but a few have closed over the years. I am not sure how stable the company is, but I know they are heavily franchised.

  33. Part II:

    I notice that the RadioShack website is undergoing another redesign.‭ ‬The site was overhauled just a few months ago.‭ ‬I also notice that they no longer list Maxell UR‭ ‬60‭ ‬minute cassettes on the website,‭ ‬but they still list the Maxell UR‭ ‬90‭ ‬minute cassettes.‭ ‬Perhaps RadioShack will still stock the‭ ‬90‭ ‬minute cassettes in the stores,‭ ‬but right now every store near me is sold out and they are also sold out online.‭ ‬Hopefully they will get new shipments soon.‭ ‬Also,‭ ‬if they still sell the cassettes,‭ ‬hopefully they’ll consider lowering their prices.

    I’ve purchased a couple of‭ ‬2000s era Sony HFs‭ (‬ones that had wrappers similar to the last generation of Sony HF tapes,‭ ‬but they have pictures of people listening to music on the wrappers‭)‬,‭ ‬but I have not tried them.‭ ‬I hear that they aren’t as good as the earlier Sony HFs or the later Indonesian Sony HFs,‭ ‬but I think it depends on where the cassettes were made.‭ ‬Sony had a few different factories for cassettes for a while.‭ ‬For whatever reason,‭ ‬I’ve been finding mostly Sony blank audio cassettes in the thrifts for a while.‭ ‬Usually Maxell is the most popular brand in the thrifts,‭ ‬but not so much recently.‭ ‬Oh well,‭ ‬maybe things will shift again and we’ll see a bunch of TDK or Maxell tapes.

    The weird Sony cassette deck is interesting.‭ ‬My guess is the same as yours that maybe it was part of a combo system.‭ ‬I hate it when electronics are missing their cords at thrifts.‭ ‬I’ve had to pass up on a couple of items because they were missing cords.‭ ‬Oh well.‭ ‬That’s a shame about the corroded Walkman.‭ ‬They are so hard to find in the thrifts that it is a real shame to find one destroyed,‭ ‬but I’m not surprised that people left their batteries in them.‭ ‬Hopefully the Walkman wasn’t a desirably rare model.‭

    Thanks for the information about the thrifts you’ve been visiting.‭ ‬Maybe I’ll check out those stores someday.‭ ‬A lot of those‭ ‬1970s‭ (‬or any era actually‭) ‬all-in-one stereos aren’t very good quality and I’m sure they don’t fully work,‭ ‬but sometimes they‭ (‬or at least parts of them‭) ‬sound okay when hooked up to better quality speakers.‭ ‬I’d like to get an‭ ‬8-track deck just to have one‭ (‬preferably a standalone component deck that also records‭)‬,‭ ‬but the pickings are slim in that regard.‭ ‬I’m not going to lose too much sleep about that though.

    I recently came across a thrift that had a direct drive Yamaha turntable for‭ ~‬$8.‭ ‬It did‭ “‬work‭” ‬in a basic sense,‭ ‬but it was in very rough shape.‭ ‬The cartridge was missing the stylus,‭ ‬the dust cover was broken off and missing,‭ ‬and the integrated RCA cable plugs were ripped off.‭ ‬That would have been a very valuable turntable if I restored it,‭ ‬but I just didn’t feel like dealing with it so I left it on the shelf.‭ ‬I’m sure someone was delighted to find that.‭ ‬

    1. I need to find a few new thrift stores, most of the ones I have been to have not gotten new stock lately. How often do you wait to visit stores to increase your chances of finding new stuff? I have found a mix of blank tapes as you know, but nothing rare lately.

      The Walkman was a basic cheap model that was low end, it was in a bag so I could not see what model it was. It did not have any extra features, but it would have worked well enough to be a backup.

      I would not know where to begin with fixing a turntable. It probably is not very complicated, but I would rather get something that is already fixed up.

  34. Part I:

    Oddly enough, most of the mall food courts that I’ve been to recently are in 2nd or 3rd tier malls. A lot of these have not had Taco Bells or big hamburger chains in quite some time. I actually made a purchase at the Baybrook Mall Wendy’s two or three months ago. I assume that it’s still there, but I don’t know. I don’t know when the Willowbrook Mall Wendy’s closed. I think it was still open during my prior visit to the food court in December. I’m not really sure how many mall Taco Bells are left. Perhaps the sales at these food courts are too low to justify the franchising fee or something. It’s hard to say. Some of these mall food courts are quite busy, but I don’t know if the stores pay the same franchising fee as the freestanding stores. The free standing stores have drive-thrus and longer hours to maximize profit.

    That would be funny to see a real McDowell’s at a former McDonald’s. A few night clubs have opened up in old McDonald’s locations in this area. I think that is rather odd, but maybe the night clubs really renovated the interiors. I don’t know. My understanding is that the McDowell’s scenes in the movie were filmed at a Wendy’s in New York that was modified for the movie. The interior of the McDowell’s does look like a Wendy’s from that era. There are still a few Wendy’s in Houston that have that 1980s style interior. Wendy’s seems to keep their interiors unchanged the longest amongst major burger chains, but they had the best interiors IMO (at least back in the day) so they still look pretty good even if they are not renovated.

    I read that story about Del Taco. I’m not sure why they only ended up opening one location, but maybe they were testing the waters before they expanded more. Perhaps they were hoping that more franchisees would jump on board once that one store opened. Who knows. I never had a chance to make it to the new Del Taco. I did see a Checker's being built on Mangum near Northwest Mall.

    I actually came across a very nice Aiwa portable cassette player from 1989 at a thrift. It’s a high end model that records, has auto-reverse, digital radio tuning, and Dolby B playback. I didn’t have a way to test it in the thrift, but it was only $2.99 and the battery compartment was clean so I decided to take a chance on it. Unfortunately, it did not work when I tested it at home. It looks like it is a belt related issue yet again. Oh well, it was worth a shot. Maybe I’ll fix it someday, but I have a lot of broken Walkmen piling up now.

    That Yamaha turntable could have been repaired, but it would have taken some money. There’s really no way to fix the dust cover, but I could have purchased a new cartridge and stylus for it to repair that part of it. That probably would have cost me at least $50 though to get a cartridge good enough to match the turntable. I could have spliced some new plugs on the broken cables to fix that part of it. That wouldn’t have been too expensive, but it would take some time. The Yamaha was direct drive and that part of the turntable actually seemed to work okay. If it was belt drive, it probably would have needed a new belt and maybe a speed adjustment. The good news is that replacement turntable belts are cheaper, easier to find, and easier to replace on turntables than on cassette decks.

    I actually came across a Technics direct drive turntable at another thrift last week. This one was in much better shape than the Yamaha, but it was $20. It was totally worth the price (I’m sure that could have been resold for at least $125), but I passed on it because it probably needed a new cartridge too and I really don’t have room to store a turntable properly. Oh well, I’m sure someone was thrilled to find that sitting on the shelf. I hope I don’t have a desire to get a higher end turntable anytime soon because I’ve passed on a couple of great deals, but I’m not too worried. If nothing else, Audio-Technica still makes brand new direct drive turntables that Sears sells online if I want one.

    1. Fast food restaurants in the food court make much less per day than a freestanding store with later hours does. The restaurants in the mall are mostly franchisees now, but that was not the case 10 years ago.

      I am glad to see Checker's is coming back. They have a huge variety of things on their menu, but I don't like the frozen hamburger patties they use.

      It sounds like you have been finding a lot of items at thrift stores recently. I have been taking a break from shopping the past few weeks but I may go back towards the end of the month.

  35. Part II:

    I’ve had hot streaks at times at certain thrift store locations. Thrifting really is like gambling in many ways (albeit without most of the risk). More often than not, these are at Goodwills. When this happens, I usually try to visit the location at least once a week. I’m sure I’d find more if I visited more frequently, but it’s hard to get to some of these locations that frequently. There are 3-4 Goodwill locations where I seem to find better/more stuff than at the others. Three of these are in relatively wealthy areas on the NW and W sides, but I’ve been to some Goodwills in wealthy areas that didn’t have much of anything in terms of electronics.

    As far as pre-recorded audio cassettes go, I think it’s hit or miss at times. Some locations may get a very nice and large donation from a single collector, but who knows how often that is. For example, I was at a thrift earlier this week that didn’t even have any audio cassettes about a month ago, but during my last visit they had a pretty decent collection of cassettes from respected bands.

    There is a new thrift store called Epic that opened up at I-45 and FM 1960 W in the same shopping center as the Goodwill. The Goodwill is in the old CompUSA, the Epic is in part of the old Venture/Kmart. It seems like Epic does not sell used music and movies, but they do have electronics. Anyway, it might be worth stopping at that shopping center if you want to do some thrifting. I’ve never had much luck finding stuff at that Goodwill, but you never know.

    1. There is an Epic Thrift going in at a former Marshall's location in Humble. I will probably check that one out once it opens. I really don't have a need for anything right now since I picked up one of the Craig walkman's last week. It works well for a basic walkman, but I am concerned about the durability of the model. I will use it to keep the wear and tear down on my good walkman.

  36. Part I:

    I made another visit to Almeda Mall this past week. The center atrium is still walled off. It'll be interesting to see what they do with that area, but I still don't have any updates to report about that.

    The Checkers on Mangum appears to be being built on the land that used to house the Sonic that was there at one time by the Wendy's and Pizza Inn. It looks like they tore down the old Sonic and are starting from scratch. It's been so long since I've eaten at Checkers (I last ate at the old FM 1960 and Kuykendal location in the early 1990s) that I don't remember what it tastes like. Well, if nothing else, it'll be interesting to have another option in town. It's also good to see some new development in the Northwest Mall area.

    I came across a couple of Kmart pictures recently that might interest you. One is of the electronics department of the Bloomington, IN, Kmart. The photo really shows off the selection of music and movies at that location. I can't really tell for sure from the picture, but maybe the movies and music are on the main racetrack. Maybe not though, it's hard to say. The other photo is of a Kmart in VA. The electronics department there looks pretty barebones in terms of signage. As the comments say, I'm guessing the glass cases up front are going away soon if they have not done so already.

    I see that you brought one of those Craig portable cassette players from Rite-Aid. It's good to hear that it is working well, but it would not surprise me if the durability isn't all that great. It's probably best to use it where it won't get abused. I may have to get one for myself (probably the Memorex version from Best Buy since we don't have Rite-Aids around here) if yours holds up. Please keep me updated on the Craig.

    I decided to open up that Aiwa portable cassette player that I brought since it looked pretty easy to get into. As I suspected, the belt had broken and turned into goo. I had a spare belt on hand that fit fine, but it didn't get the thing going again unfortunately. The heads still aren't staying engaged. I'm not really sure what the issue is since the belt seems fine now. I may have to declare this one a lost cause. Oh well, you win some and you lose some I guess.

    1. I can see the NW area recovering somewhat after the construction is completed. Have any new stores moved into Almeda Mall since my last visit there a few months ago?

      It looks almost like the 2nd Kmart store in the pictures is about to close. I can see Sears closing the entire Kmart chain if things get too bad for the company in the near future. Sears is being sued by investors now over the REIT's so who knows what will happen now.

      I got the walkman on sale for $20, but it will be my main player until it breaks. Too bad you were not able to revive that walkman, but $3 is not too much of a loss.

  37. Part II:

    I have had some good luck in the thrifts lately. I've had some good luck finding some good pre-recorded cassettes in the last couple of weeks. I've also come across some interesting VCRs in the last week. I didn't buy any of them, but they were interesting to look at especially since good VCRs have become harder to find in the thrifts. The most interesting one was a mid 1980s Toshiba Hi-Fi VHS VCR that seemed to specialize in it's ability to perform well as an audio recorder. The audio recording features weren't uncommon amongst early Hi-Fi VCRs since VHS Hi-Fi has excellent audio quality and video tapes can hold 2 to 6 hours of music (sadly, a lot of the high end audio features faded away from later VCRs starting in the very late 1980s/very early 1990s), but this one had more dedicated audio features than just about any other VCR I've seen in the thrifts. Perhaps the most interesting thing is that it had audio meters on the cassette door of all places. Unfortunately, the VCR didn't work. It seems like it is a belt related issue. I wasn't going to buy it anyway since they wanted $15 for it, but it was interesting to see it.

    I also came across a thrift that had several 45s with ~1982 Montgomery Ward price tags on them. I really wanted to find one that had music I liked on it so I could buy one, but unfortunately the music wasn't exactly what I wanted so I didn't buy any. I did find a Fleetwood Mac greatest hits cassette (that actually sounds really good for a pre-recorded cassette) that has a Phar-Mor price tag still on it. That tape certainly wasn't a bad buy for $6.99 when new.

    I had not heard of the Epic Thrift chain before seeing that one on I-45 and FM 1960, but that's interesting that they are opening a location on the NE side as well. It'll be good to have more options even if it seems that Epic does not sell music and movies. The I-45 one had a pretty good selection of electronics though so that is promising.

    I did finally record a tape using the 3 head Denon DRM-800 cassette deck I found a few weeks back. I made a recording using one of the current Panggung Made In Indonesia Maxell UR 90 cassettes. It seems like the Denon bias fine knob has more travel than the one on my Luxman. That's a good thing. I was able to dial in the bias pretty easily. I will say that the recording level/sensitivity calibration was pretty far off for the Maxell UR tape on this deck though as I had to set the input level at +7 dB to get recordings at +3 dB, but I'm not too worried about that since I didn't use Dolby. The recording is very, very good. It has a more neutral sound than the warm sound that the Luxman records. Some may consider that to be a good thing, some may not. I will still have to do more testing to see which deck I prefer to keep as my primary recording deck. The Denon is superior in almost every way except for sound quality where the difference is more debatable. Of course, sound quality is the most important factor. We'll see how the Denon handles some other tapes.

    I did also do some test recordings with an early 2000s Made in Korea Maxell UR 90. I actually opened that cassette up on accident thinking that it was one of the Indonesian ones. I found that the Korean UR sounds a bit different than the Indonesian URs. The Korean ones are nosier and requires less bias (it actually biased right on the center detent on my Denon DRM-800). I definitely think that the Indonesian Maxells are superior, but maybe the Korean ones would work better on a fixed bias cassette deck that is calibrated more for lower bias Type I tapes. The Korean Maxells are still good, but it's good that Maxell improved the quality with the current tapes.

    1. It sounds like you have found some good items lately. I found a few casettes from different places with Sound Warehouse price stickers, but no Wards or Phar-mor tags.

      One of these days I will get a chance to make more recordings. I will tell you how those turn out. I have gotten so many new tapes in the past year, I have not needed to record anything new.

  38. Part I:

    It's hard to say for sure, but it does look like there is a new jewelery/watch store that is coming soon near the other jewelery stores at Almeda Mall. It looks like the store that sells wigs and stuff moved to closer to the Macy's to make room for the watch store. Sometimes it's hard to notice when stores come and go at Almeda Mall because sometimes I get the mall a bit confused with what I see at Northwest Mall. Plus, a lot of the stores aren't big chain stores so the names don't necessarily ring a bell when I see them. Anyway, Almeda Mall seems to be doing quite well all things considered.

    Here are some more photos of that Kmart. The store actually looks like it is well stocked for a Kmart, but the decor is a bit dated even compared to some other Kmarts. Granted, there are a lot of Kmarts with similarly dated interiors though. It wouldn't surprise me if the store closed soon, but who knows. I guess that could be said about most Kmarts.

    The investor lawsuit over the REIT is quite interesting. I wonder what will come of it. These are certainly interesting times for Sears/Kmart. We'll have to see how long the B&M side of the business stays intact. Lampert seems to be moving towards closing more stores and downsizing others, but maybe the lawsuit will push Lampert to take a different approach. We'll see.

    I hope that the Northwest Mall area will continue to see more development. I think that it's a longshot for there to be any significant retail development at that spot anytime soon, but Levcor seems to still be doing a good job maintaining the mall even if they are trying to sell it. I'm thinking that they are trying to sell the mall for the price they want, but it seems like they might be willing to keep running it if the offers aren't to their liking.

    1. Almeda has thrived with a decent mix of chain and independent stores for several years now.

      That Kmart store looks like a store just before they pull the plug on it. I know several stores have had inventory issues, but that one has issues in nearly every department I saw.

      It really seems like Sears/Kmart is in a bad position right now. I know the internet business does well for them, but they will suffer a huge loss of sales without their stores. It may be time for them to focus on improving Sears stores and possibly selling or closing Kmart.

      Northwest has survived better than I thought for several years. I thought losing Macy's was the kiss of death for the mall, but they have continued to reinvent the mall. The mall still is around 50% vacant inside, but it has been that way for several years even before Macy's left.

  39. Part II:

    I think it was worth getting the Aiwa portable cassette player for $3 even if it is truly dead. I'm guessing there is some sort of geartrain damage somewhere in it. A lot of the parts in these Walkmen are small and delicate and break easily if anything goes wrong. At least the news that the Craig is working decently makes me optimistic that I may be able to get some working Walkmen type players if I need one. I've been seriously considering ordering one of those USB converter auto-reverse Walkmen type players that are sold online for ~$20 too. Does the Craig play at an accurate speed and without a lot of speed variance/flutter? I know those aspects can be bad on cheaper portable cassette players.

    I've actually seen a lot of cassettes with Sound Warehouse stickers lately. I almost brought one this past week, but I don't remember which album that was now. I was at a thrift last week that had a number of used blank cassettes that I didn't buy. There were a handful of used Memorex cassettes including some early 1980s MRX-I cassettes. Although those are interesting tapes, they are pretty much useless to buy for anything other than using them as a display piece as they are known to shed and jam a lot. They also had a used Eckerd Digitech Type I cassette that is somewhat interesting even if it is probably quite bad sounding. By far the best used cassette they had was an early 1980s Maxell UD-XLII. I may go back to that thrift to see if they still have that UD-XLII. Those are considered to be highly desirable cassettes. I have one used one in my collection already. I'm not really sure why I didn't buy it the first time. Oh well.

    It's always interesting to see Montgomery Ward stuff in the thrifts. Aside from tools and maybe small appliances, it seems like I see a lot more Montgomery Ward stuff in the thrifts than Sears stuff. It's a good thing I brought that Sears Proformance cassette deck from the Greenspoint Mall Goodwill last year that we both saw because I may never see another decent piece of Sears equipment again it seems. I even saw a couple of old Montgomery Ward brand VCRs this past week. I didn't buy either as I currently have one of the models already that I saw and I had the other model at one time. I do have a 1973 Scotch High Energy cobalt used blank cassette in my collection with a Montgomery Ward price tag. That is the only cassette I have AFAIK with a Wards price tag. That was a very high end cassette for the time so I'm glad to have it in my collection. I may try recording over what is on the tape currently. It would be quite interesting to put modern music on a 1973 cassette.

    I've been having fun recording these tapes lately. It's fun to compare the different decks I have and comparing the different blank tapes. Of course, it's fun to play the tapes back too. I've also added a lot of pre-recorded tapes to my collection recently too.

    1. The Craig player plays well with headphones but if a tape has any bad parts it is more noticeable than in a good player. I guess it will be hard to tell when the batteries go out because there is no indicator light on the unit.

      I had a chance this weekend to go to a couple of thrifts and I found a few blank tapes some RCA's from the 90's. I also picked up a common recent Sony Hi-Fi. The best one I got for my collection was a red Radio Shack with a vintage logo like this one from an antique store. http://thumbs4.ebaystatic.com/d/l225/m/mNC4PHo1CKm1J2994O-J-1w.jpg

      I have a vintage Atari 2600 boxed cartridge that has a Montgomery Ward price tag, and also another one with a vintage Kmart price tag. Both are worth around $20, but I found them at a used game store for $2 a piece. I don't have too many more items with vintage price tags, but when I find them I pick them up.

      I am glad to see you are able to have time to enjoy your hobby and keep vintage equipment running. Many of these items are lost to the trash each year and very few people these days take the time to save these items. Some of these items will be very valuable in the near future.

  40. Part I:

    There’s a lot of retail news today to discuss. Perhaps the most interesting news is that the Mall of the Mainland ex-Dillard’s has been sold to a church. I’m guessing it’ll be converted to a church here soon then. I read the full article and it sounds like Karam may have discounted the price a bit to make things happen. It’s not retail use, but at least yet another tenant will take up anchor space at the mall. Now the ex-JCPenney is the only vacant anchor building at the Mall of the Mainland. Maybe the church will operate a thrift store out of a part of the ex-Dillard’s or maybe in the mall itself if the mall ever re-opens. I wonder if the church will have a mall entrance if the mall part is ever reopened.

    Sears released their quarterly results today. Perhaps it should not be a surprise, but the sales figures were quite bad. Kmart same store sales are down 7% and Sears same store sales are down 14.5%. Those figures are quite high obviously. I’m sure any increases in online sales aren’t making up for those figures, but who knows. I’m not sure what a realistic plan is for turning things around. We’ll have to see what develops though. I’m sure the closure/downsizing of some high performing Sears stores elsewhere around the country won’t help these numbers going forward either. It looks like Sears might be trying to discount less, which increases profit per sale, but maybe they need to discount more to get more sales. On the electronics front, it seems that sales were down at Sears, but margins and profitability were up.

    Hopefully Sears will find a way to turn things around. Maybe eliminating Kmart and focusing on Sears will be a good strategy even if the sales drops for Sears have been bigger than Kmart’s lately (it was the other way around a couple of quarters ago). I know that opening new stores isn’t really something Lampert has any interest in doing, but perhaps Sears should consider opening new stores (even if they are downsized stores) in regular shopping centers in the outer suburbs where existing Sears stores are too far for the customers to reach. The Woodlands and Sugar Land are two large, desirable areas for retailers, but Sears does not have a presence in either areas anymore. The Westwood Mall and West Oaks Mall Sears aren’t super far from Sugar Land, but the N. Shepherd, Willowbrook Mall, and Deerbrook Mall Sears are a long drive for people living in The Woodlands and northern parts of Spring.

    It’s good to see Almeda Mall getting a store selling more upscale jewelry even if it is a local store and even though the mall already has stores like that since it is a sign that people are willing to spend money at the mall. BTW, I was searching through the Houston Chronicle archives a few weeks ago and I found an article from the late 1990s saying that the Almeda Mall JCPenney was the top selling JCPenney store in Houston. Of course, the store closed not too much longer after that article was published and was replaced by newer locations further SE, but that was interesting to read.

    1. The Dillard's becoming a church is not a surprise. Maybe that half of the mall will become a church like Southpark Mall in Shreveport has become. They have kept a retail prescence at that mall with Burlington, but the rest of the mall has been remodeled and cleaned up.

      I was shocked to see how bad the Sears results were this quarter. I don't know how they are going to fix the stores with such terrible results. Hopefully they will get someone onboard that will fix the company fast, but things are looking really bad right now.

      I was surprised to see that JCPenney close. I lived nearby that mall when that store was closed and moved to Pasadena. I doubt the new store does anywhere near the sales as the Almeda store did. I guess JCPenney did not think it was worth it to modernize that store because of the retail turmoil in that area in the mid 2000's.

  41. Part II:

    As for Northwest Mall, I’ve found it interesting that the mall has done as well as it has even though it has not had a traditional anchor for many years now. Of course, the mall isn’t thriving, but it seems like a minor miracle that the mall is surviving as well as it is given all of the challenges that the mall faces. Perhaps the mall has been wise to lease space out at lower prices to local businesses and organizations. Some of the organizations, like the train club, probably don’t drive a lot of business to the rest of the mall, but the discount barber shop at the mall and other discount stores seem to attract customers. The area with the coin operated kids rides seems especially popular. Hopefully the mall will continue to survive until 290/Hempstead construction is done and then maybe the mall will find more success. We’ll see. I like how Levcor is maintaining the mall though.

    Most of my tapes are in good condition so maybe they would work fine with the Craig/Memorex player. I do have some used pre-recorded tapes that are a bit worn (they must have been left in hot cars, attics, or garages for years or something), but I can keep those to use on my regular cassette decks. I’m assuming that the current portable cassette players all only have settings for Type I cassettes. That’s normally not a problem for me as most of my tapes are Type I, but I do have some high bias tapes too. Well, keep me updated about the player. I’m really considering buying one of those, but I don’t want to waste my money either especially since I’d have to pay the higher Best Buy price than what Rite-Aid is selling them for unless I travel to an area with a Rite-Aid.

    I actually came across one of those vintage red Radio Shack low noise cassettes at a thrift last week. I considered buying it, but the tape was in pretty bad shape. The glue on the label had gone bad, which is an easy fix, but the tape was also completely missing the pressure pad. Oh well.

    I purchase those RCA cassettes whenever I find them in the thrifts. They’re probably the 4th most common tapes that I find in the thrifts after Maxell UR, Sony HF/HiFi, and TDK D since Wal-Mart (and perhaps others) sold them for a pretty low price back in the very late 1990s/early 2000s. There seems to be three different versions of those. One of them is a Saehan tape made in Korea. Another is a General Magnetics made cassette made in Singapore. The other is made by an unknown company in Mexico. I made a mixtape using the Saehan version on my RCA cassette deck. I was really pleased with the result. The tape is a bit hissy (I believe the Made in Korea early 2000s Maxell URs may use the same Saehan tape), but otherwise it is quite good. I suspect that the Singapore version is quite good too, but I only have one of them so I have not opened it yet. I’m not sure how good the Made in Mexico version is, but I do have a few of them so I’ll probably try it out one of these days.

    1. Northwest Mall has been resilient and still has some chain stores. Usually chain stores like Foot Locker and Champs leave malls like Northwest once anchors leave, but they have stayed so they must be doing well.

      My Radio Shack tape is missing the pressure pad as well, but the rest of it is in decent shape. I know the tape quality is probably terrible, but the vintage Radio Shack logo is what I bought it for.

      All of my tapes are type 1 as far as I know. Rite-Aid had the player for a 10% discount which sealed the deal for me. I never saw it on sale on my previous trips to that store.

      I did not know there were so many tape varients with the RCA tapes. The one's I got are from 1998 made at Thompson Consumer Electronics in El Paso and assembled in Mexico.

  42. Part III:

    $2 for Atari 2600 games seems like a really good price even if they are bad games, but it sounds like those games must be at least moderately valuable. I did purchase Shinobi, a Sega Master System game, from Montgomery Ward back in the early 1990s, but I don’t know if it had a price tag on it. I got rid of that game (and the system) a long time back unfortunately. Although I find stuff with Montgomery Ward price tags every now and then, I rarely see Kmart price tags for whatever reason even though I know that Kmart used price tags a lot back in the day. I did find a late 1980s Memorex VHS cassette several months back with a Kmart price tag that I did buy. That’ll probably stay as a museum piece as I don’t really want to use a 1980s Memorex video tape as I know that they aren’t very good.

    I have been spending a lot of my free time lately working on the vintage electronic items that I’ve acquired. I’m glad that I’ve been able to save some good pieces from the dump. Of course, it’s good that the original owners of these things donated them instead of throwing them out. I’ve found a number of good pieces lately. Sometimes there are repair failures like that Aiwa cassette player, but I did have a repair success this weekend. I think I said about a month ago that I found a clean late 1980s GE double cassette small boombox at a thrift for like $7. The boombox did work, but I noticed that the recording cassette deck well had excessive wow and flutter. I didn’t see anything obviously wrong, but I was doing a close inspection this week and noticed a line of dirt that built up on the capstan. I cleaned off the dirt and now it’s working just fine. Normally that much dirt does not cause that much of a problem, but I guess it did in this case.

    The boombox is quite basic, but it surprisingly makes pretty good recordings even though the auto level control keeps the levels quite low. I was surprisingly pleased with some of the FM stereo recordings I made off the radio. It even recorded the 19KHz FM stereo pilot tone (it recording that would have been a problem if I was recording using Dolby, which is why most regular cassette decks have an MPX filter, but the boombox does not have Dolby). Some low-end cassette decks can’t record high frequency tones like that so it is a good sign that it did record it. I can only record off the radio and off the built-in microphone right now since the boombox is too simple to have a line-in jack, but I’m hoping that one of those car cassette adaptors will fit in the playback well so that I can “dub” a line-in signal to the recording tape well. I have one of those adaptors (a Maxell one) somewhere that I used in my previous car, but I don’t where I put it. I may have to buy a new one, but I’ll see if I can get a cheap one since I don’t even know if it’ll fit in the boombox cassette well. Plus, I don’t want to spend a lot of money on accessories for a $7 boombox. It’s not a disaster if I can’t do line-in recordings on that boombox since I have so many proper cassette decks, but I’d like to play around with it. I could get one of those Bluetooth cassette adaptors and stream music from my phone since those adaptors don’t have cords I think so it should fit for sure, but that might cost more than what I’m willing to pay. An FM modulator would work too, but I don’t have one on hand.

    1. A complete in box game is not easy to find. I think the store lowered the prices to get rid of those games because they did not have any other Atari games. Some items are worth picking up for the retro price stickers. I thought the games were worth more, but Atari does not have a big following like the NES.

      Since I now have the backup Walkman, I should be set for a while. I will keep my eyes out for deals though and maybe I will find some good things one day.

      You can get a decent battery operated FM transistor for less than $20 at Walmart. I have used that to record from my mp3 player. I have a cassette adaptor now that fits so I can use both on my decks.

  43. Part I:

    I agree that it is not a surprise to see a church grab one of those empty anchors at the Mall of the Mainland. I guess it is especially not a surprise given that Karam was willing to discount his price to sell it. I’m sure the Dillard’s will need some work in order to convert it into a worship space. We’ll have to see how much construction activity goes on there. A lot of work has already been done on the outside of the building.

    It’ll be interesting to see what happens to the ex-JCPenney now. Will Karam try to save that for retail space or will he try to find any type of buyer for it (medical, college, etc.)? If it is a non-retail tenant, then Sears and Palais Royal I guess would be the only retail anchors at the mall (though movie theaters are a common mall anchor too). I don’t know if that would impact the prospects for the mall reopening. Like I said earlier, it might make more sense to keep the Sears/gym side of the mall for retail and maybe keep the east end of the mall for office space/religious use/medical facilities. The food court can then anchor the two wings. We’ll have to see if the mall itself reopens, but at least the property will be utilized much more than was the case at this time last year. We’ll see what happens.

    I can’t speak for Kmart, but it does seem like Sears is running fewer promotions this year than they were last year. I know that Sears was sending me all kinds of coupons and point promotions last year to bring me in the store. This year, well, not so much. Not surprisingly, I have not shopped at Sears as much this year as I did last year (though I’m buying fewer new items this year than last in general), but the purchases I have made at Sears recently have been closer to regular prices than was the case last year. Perhaps Sears is experimenting to see if they can increase profitability by not discounting as much, but they may need to refine their marketing to make sure that people are still going to go to the stores. We’ll have to see if Sears can get the leadership to get them in the right direction.

    I pulled up the article about the Almeda Mall JCPenney sales. It is from November 22, 1997. It’s interesting that JCPenney would close a store that was doing as well as it was unless sales fell off a ton in the few years in between 1997 and the closing. Then again, it seemed like JCPenney was speculating that a lot of malls would struggle. Thus, they closed a lot of stores in that era and replaced them with newer stores. Perhaps JCPenney figured that the Baybrook Mall store would cause the Almeda Mall’s store to drop off too much. It seems like they were correct in many cases (though JCPenney leaving certainly didn’t help many of the malls), but it looks like they may have been wrong in the case of Almeda Mall. Almeda has continued to do at least relatively well in the years since JCPenney left.

    Northwest Mall does have some chain stores, but I guess that the shoe chains and GNC tend to be amongst the last stores to leave a mall. I think one big thing that NW Mall has going for it is that it is wedged in between The Galleria and Memorial City Mall. Obviously those two malls are very popular, but neither are known for having great deals. Perhaps NW Mall can position itself as a value oriented mall (I think Levcor is doing this already). That probably won’t attract the big-time anchors and stuff, but it may attract enough stores to keep the mall viable. We’ll see what happens, but it’s been nice to see some shoppers/eaters at the mall during my recent visits.

    1. I like your idea of how to redo Mall of the Mainland. Now that the Dillard's anchor is set, the rest of the mall should be split into retail and non-retail uses.

      I have noticed the same thing with Sears/Kmart. The shop your way points seem to be lower as well. It seems like the news for Sears gets worse every month, I wonder when the majority of investors are going to say enough is enough.

      I remember the focus of the CEO at that time was to move out of most mall locations, but they were unable to move far with that plan. JCPenney is once again struggling and who knows if they can weather the storm again this time.

      Hopefully if the mall continues to operate, they will have the former Macy's torn down to open up the mall. From 610 the mall looks like it is in bad shape with the huge abandoned Macy's right next to the highway.

    2. I think turning Northwest Mall into an outlet mall would be very popular in Houston and would make the most sense.

    3. It could work if the site was larger. The land on which Northwest Mall sits would be too small for a decent size outlet mall even with parking garages. The other issue is competition, several sites nearby are planned for outlet mall development. The Rosenburg site outlet mall plan, the old Texas Instruments site outlet mall plan, Katy Mills, and the Premium Outlets are all nearby and closer to the suburbs of the North and West sides of town. This plot of land is going to be a challenge to redevelop, but in 10 years the retail landscape may have changed with small outlet centers being the next big thing.

  44. Part II:

    I suppose that Radio Shack had some quality control issues with their cassette pressure pad glue back in the early 1980s. That said, the J-card for that tape is quite nice looking so it’ll be a nice souvenir for you. My Denon DRM-800 can probably play back tapes fine that are missing a pressure pad since the dual capstans should provide enough tape tension, but I would not risk damaging the heads on such a nice deck. Maybe I would if it was a special tape, but not for a low end Radio Shack tape.

    It can be confusing to tell which version of the RCA tapes are which since they have similar looking wrappers. Of course, the easiest way to tell is to see where the tape is made. The same is true with late 90s/2000/2010 era Maxell UR cassettes since they all have similar wrappers. The earlier RCA tapes from the late 1990s have a black wrapper with a marbleized type design. I believe most of these are made in Mexico, but some are Made in Korea Saehan tapes. The later early 2000s wrappers are white. RCA’s VHS cassettes from that era followed similar designs. I have not tried the Made in Mexico version of the RCA audio cassettes even though I have a few of them on hand, but I suspect that they should be pretty good at least.

    Speaking of RCA and RadioShack, I recently came across an RCA SCT-520 dual cassette deck from 2000 at a thrift. They wanted a whopping $30 for it even though it didn’t work. I don’t think I would have paid $3 for it even if it did work since it is so low end, but it was interesting seeing that there.

    1. That tape is very low end, I would not have bought it without the case. I have some VHS cassettes from RCA from the late 90's early 2000 with the same design as the cassettes.

      It sounds like the thrift store was pricing the deck high like Radio Shack would if they were selling that item.

  45. Part III:

    It’s odd that Atari 2600 games are somewhat underappreciated given the importance and popularity of the console, but I guess many people weren’t introduced to video games until the 8-bit/NES era. Oh well. I wonder how valuable Commodore 64 stuff is these days. I really enjoyed my C64 back in the day as it was a full computer and a game console in one, but mine broke sometime around 1990. I’d love to get a work one cheap, but I’m sure they’re probably hard to find for a decent price. I also had a couple of 1980s IBM clone XT PCs that I got rid of in the 1990s. That was quite silly of me. I’m sure those computers are at least somewhat valuable these days. Plus, they would have been great museum pieces for my collection. I guess I can’t blame myself for getting rid of those as those computers took up a ton of space.

    Thanks for the tip about the FM modulators at Wal-Mart. I looked at their website and it looks like they have one for ~$13 that gets good reviews. I may have to consider that since I’m not sure if the car cassette adaptors will fit in the boombox cassette wells with the wire having to come out of it. I was doing some browsing online and it seems like the cheapest cassette adaptor with decent reviews I could find in at a local store is at Walgreens of all places for $5. I may just spend the $5 to see if it’ll work. If not, I may try the modulator.

    Probably the easiest/best way to record from an MP3 player/phone to a cassette deck is to use a Y-cable that has a stereo 1/8” plug on one end and two RCA plugs on the other end like this cable at RadioShack. I use a cable like that to plug my cassette decks to my computer’s sound card. Anyway, you’d plug the 1/8” end to the phone’s headphone jack and the RCA jacks to the cassette deck’s line in jacks. Sometimes the volume levels may be odd when plugging in headphone output to line-in jacks, but it should be okay. You may have to play around with the volume level on the phone and the input levels on the cassette deck to get a good recording level.

    Of course, you might get better quality playing the MP3s from the computer rather than a phone/MP3 player if the MP3s are on an SD card or if they can be transferred to a PC. I like playing back my audio files using a program like Audacity that allows me to see the loudest parts of a song visually. I can then playback that part of the song to set the input levels on the cassette deck. That helps me get consistent recording levels between songs. Using the PC as the audio source these days to set consistent audio levels (and to generate test tones to help accurately bias tapes) certainly makes it easier to make mix tapes than the old days of using records, CDs, and other tapes as the source.

    1. Atari games are so easy to find these days. There are so many emulators and 50 in 1 atari systems out there that games are abundant. A lot of Atari systems were not made well and they are not easy to find. I am not sure about the value of the old computers, I did not own a computer until after 1999.

      Thanks for the recording tips, I will have to try them out when I start recording again.

  46. Part I:

    Perhaps Sears lost a lot of money with all the promotions they ran last year. It’s hard to say. I go to Sears a lot anyway, but those promotions brought me to their stores even more than normal last year. Anyway, Sears and Kmart are having a lot of problems with sales. I’m not really sure what the solution is, but hopefully they’ll be able to figure something out. I know that they’ve been building up the website for some time now, but I think they still need a strong B&M presence for most of their sales. This should not be news to Lampert, but we'll see when he gets the message.

    I’ve come across some photos of a Kmart electronics department in Bristol, TN, that has been reconfigured after the video game cases and the front glass case were removed. This store has put appliances where the games were apparently. There’s really not a whole lot where the front case was other than some cheap DVDs. Hopefully Kmart will do something to polish the stains out of the floor. That looks really bad. Anyway, the electronics department seems quite small now, but at least there is still something for now.

    It probably made sense for JCPenney to close some of their mall locations and replace them with newer stores out further in the suburbs, but perhaps they were overly aggressive with those plans for a while. They may have lost some sales because of that. Some chains slowly erode away due to inaction, but it seems like JCPenney has done more to actively shoo their customers away than any other chain I’ve seen in a while.

    I saw some photos of a new Kohl’s clearance store in New Jersey called Off Aisle. Here is a photo from inside the store. I thought that was interesting. I wonder if we’ll see those stores in Houston sometime soon. Maybe Kohl's will consider converting some of their lower performing stores to this format. The same uploader has an interesting photo of a Jefferson Ward shopping bag too.

    I agree that Northwest Mall, especially the empty Macy’s building, looks kind of like a dead mall from the freeways. The mall has a banner on the Macy’s saying that the mall is still open, but the banner is kind of faded and hard to read. The mall is quite visible on the newish 290-to-I-10 ramp that opened up a few months back. I think tearing down the Macy’s might be a good idea if there are no prospects for the building, but the mall does not own the building so it might not be so easy to do.

    1. I forgot to mention this article from 2008 which has a list of retro Toys R Us stores. Many stores have been updated which makes the Waco store even more special. http://thecaldorrainbow.blogspot.com/2008/12/retro-toys-r-us-round-up.html?m=1

      I think as inventory thins out at Kmart and Sears stores, they will continue to lose sales. They really have to fill some of the stores up again or go ahead and subdivide for new retailers. I would rather have smaller Sears and Kmart stores than lose them altogether.

      These days I hardly go to JCPenney or Kohl's. I rarely find anything to my liking at either of those stores. I guess I am getting picky, lol.

      Northwest is probably going to remain as is for a while. The big developments are mostly happening inside of the loop near the 59 Southwest area. I think the property is just too expensive for a developer to want it right now.

  47. Part II:

    RadioShack’s original price for that RCA cassette deck was only $100. It was probably advertised for less than that frequently though. It’s silly for the thrift to ask $30 for that when it does not even work. It would be silly to ask that much even if it did work. Sometimes thrift stores will put high prices on audio equipment regardless of the actual value of the device. Anyway, speaking of RadioShack sales, I notice that the RadioShack website has a new ad circular on it. That’s the first one I’ve seen since the bankruptcy. It’s not a thick ad for sure, but at least it’s something that shows what the stores have in them these days.

    I was at a Sears a couple of days ago and I noticed they had one of those Sony CFD-S50 boomboxes that you brought earlier marked down to $20 new in the box. I obviously jumped on that deal especially given your positive review of the product. I've been wanting to try one of these Sony boomboxes since the previous model was out. I have not even had time to take it out of the box yet, but I'm sure that I will try it out this weekend. I'll let you know what I think about it. I may need to look around at other Sears locations to see if they have the boomboxes marked down to the same price because I might want to buy another one or two to buy as gifts for other people who I know would appreciate a decent quality cassette recorder with modern features as well. $50 is too much to pay for a gift, but $20 is a different story. I don't know if some/all Sears will also mark down the RCA cassette recorder boomboxes that they sell too. I might want to try one of those if the price is right.

    I came across some interesting blank cassettes at a thrift this week. They had several Wal-Mart brand Made in China Conductor Series 90 minute cassettes from the mid-to-late 1990s. Normally Chinese store brand cassettes would not be of much interest to me, but I've actually heard people say that these cassettes are decent so I decided to buy 3 of them. I might have brought more, but the thrift wanted $1 for each so I decided that 3 was enough. I doubt that the cassettes are as good as a Maxell UR or TDK D, but maybe it'll still be good. It'll be interesting to compare them to today's Onn cassettes as I believe that these are the last two house brand Wal-Mart cassettes. The thrift also had 3 Fuji DR-I 90 minute cassettes that I brought for $1 each. I had some excellent results with Korean made Fuji DR-I cassettes in the mid-1990s. These are a little newer than those tapes and they are Made in China, but they might be just as good. Well, hopefully they are. We'll see. Fuji tapes are a bit rare in the thrifts so I decided to take a chance. The same thrift had one sealed Made in Korea Maxell UR 90 for a whopping $1.99. Obviously I left that on the shelf. I don't know why the thrift thinks that someone would pay more in the thrift for that cassette when they can buy a new Maxell UR cassette for much less than that.

    It is true that a lot of early home computers and/or video game consoles (they were kind of the same thing back in the day) had shoddy build quality. I think the computer companies of the time were trying to save money anywhere they could so that they could bring cutting edge technology home to the masses at decent prices. The Commodore 64 in particular was an incredible value given it’s multimedia performance for the time, but it seems like everyone I knew who had a C64 never got more than 7-8 years out of them before they broke.

    1. That boombox was a great deal. Hopefully you will have good results with the boombox. It is great to put batteries inside and take it anywhere.

      I have been to a few thrift stores where they have priced the blank tapes high. I will pay up to a dollar for a decent blank tape. I think the store manager sets the prices because I have seen prices all over the place in the stores.

      Yeah it is sad that people payed thousands of dollars for unreliable electronics in the 1980's. Nintendo, Genesis, and Super Nintendo systems have great reliability, but before and after that video game generation the quality has been hit or miss. Even the most modern game systems have many issues.

  48. Part I:

    Some Sears departments are still looking good in terms of inventory, but there's no doubt that there has been a slow death in the electronics departments of most stores. It's a real shame, but maybe they'll at least keep some products. It is unfortunate that Sears has stopped selling VCRs seemingly (they went from featuring them in their ads frequently to not selling them at all quickly) and now it seems that they are going to stop selling the cassette boomboxes too. Some Sears may continue to sell those retro styled Crosley type stereo systems though that have cassette and record players in them. We'll see about that. Also, Kmart may continue to sell at least one of the cassette boomboxes that they have been selling (it looks like they won't be keeping the Memorex and Sony ones that they've had recently, but maybe the RCA one will stay). On the positive front, it seems according to the Sears website that many stores are clearing out the older style RCA Digital TV converter boxes and are replacing them with similarly priced Sylvania Digital TV tuners that are much fancier for the same/similar price. It seems like the Sylvania boxes have video recording functionality if a flash drive is plugged into them so they can be like a cheap DVR. I guess at least they've replaced the VCRs and DVD recorders they used to sell with something that functionally does the same thing. Plus, it's good to see any new product show up in the Sears electronics departments. There aren't too many of those.

    Anyway, we'll have to see how much of the electronics departments survive. Sears is supposed to be putting Connected Solutions departments and 3rd party stores in some of space cleared up in these electronics departments (perhaps at Kmarts too), but I have not seen any of that here in Houston yet or in any Kmart photos I've seen. We'll have to keep an eye out of that.

    I'm not finding a lot of stuff that I like at the men's departments at Kohl's and JCPenney. JCPenney has been like this for a while now, but it seems like even Kohl's is now selling a lot of men's shirts that seemingly appeal more to 17 year olds in high school than to men looking for normal/casual business attire. Plus, the quality of clothing at both stores (especially the store brands) is pretty poor. I'd consider it to be Wal-Mart quality in some cases. Even some of Macy's stuff is pretty bad these days actually, but at least Macy's does have higher lines of stuff. Dillard's still seems pretty solid in terms of quality. I actually find Sears to sell better quality clothing than Kohl's and JCPenney these days when it comes to shirts and stuff like that.

    I think everyone is waiting for the 290/610/Hempstead Hwy. construction to settle down before any decisions are made about Northwest Mall. Hopefully the mall will pick up customers and Levcor or other developers will see the value of keeping an indoor mall there. We'll see.

    That Toys R Us list is pretty interesting. Thanks for the link. There may be some other retro stores in places where retail bloggers have not visited, but it certainly seems like the Waco store is unique even amongst the other retro stores.

    1. I went to a Kmart and Sears store this week that I have not been to in a while. The Sears store already had a small electronics department and not much has changed. The Kmart took out their game cases and left an empty aisle. The electronics have also been consolidated into a much smaller area and appliances and boxes of items have been placed in the empty areas. The electronics checkout has also been removed. The Kmart still had about 15 video games left, but they were mixed in with the clearance items. The media section is also much smaller and they did not have cassettes for sale either, but the shelf still had a price sticker. I think the RCA boombox is going to be the only model Sears/Kmart is going to sell because I saw it in both stores I visited, but no other models.

      I agree with you about the quality of clothing in the stores above. I think these stores are cutting back to save money and trying to stay afloat. I would even compare the quality of most of the clothes at JCPenney and Kohl's to Steve and Barry's earlier merchandise before it really turned crappy.

      Northwest really is a wait and see type of thing, but they really need to do something if the mall is going to survive.

      It seems like the Waco store has dodged nearly every change Toy's R Us has made in the past 2 decades with the exception of getting a Kids R Us added.

  49. Part II:

    I did try out the Sony CFD-S50 boombox this weekend. It's actually pretty good. The small speakers don't produce a ton of bass, but Mega Bass does help with that. I like that the default volume setting out of the box was set to 11. There's a very popular joke amongst people interested in audio gear about "turning it up to 11."

    I've not tried the AM tuner yet, but the FM tuner works really well on this boombox. I like that it has both stereo and mono tuning. That helps me pull in a lot of distant/weak stations without the hiss/noise. I'm actually able to pull in the Alvin Community College rock station (KACC, 89.7 FM) on this. It's noisy on FM stereo, but it's pretty good quality on FM mono. I'm not able to pull in that station at all on my other radios in the house and I can't even pull it in on my car's radio north of the North Loop (and even then I'm barely getting a signal) so I'm really happy about that.

    The CD player seems to work fine. The cassette part is interesting. The first thing I noticed is that the tape transport controls are backwards. The play button points left and the left pointing double triangles actually fast forward the tape instead of rewinding it. The right pointing double triangles rewind the tape. I guess this is because the tape goes in tape side up, but other boomboxes with a similar tape transport (like the late 1980s GE one that I've been playing with) have standard controls. Of course, I do have a ~1990 Sony Walkman that also seemingly has backwards controls so maybe it's just a Sony thing. I don't know. It's hard to say about the Walkman because there aren't text labels on it and so I'm not sure which side the Walkman is supposed to be turned to see the "normal" side. I let a teenager who probably never used a cassette before play around with that Walkman once and they were totally confused about why fast forward was rewinding the tape.

    As for the cassette's performance, the frequency response does seem a bit reduced compared to what one would expect from a regular cassette deck. Thus, CDs and FM sound a bit more "full" on this boombox than cassettes do, but it still sounds pretty good. Hopefully nobody misjudges the capability of cassettes if this is the first piece of cassette equipment that they use. I don't notice any significant flutter and the speed seems pretty spot on.

    I made some test cassette recordings from the radio and from CDs. I then played them back on one of my Denons and captured the sound on my computer so I could analyze it. The first thing that I noticed is that the auto level control is much more aggressive on the Sony than on the GE boombox. The recordings seemed to peak at 0 dB with maybe one or two peaks at +1 dB. Those are good recording levels for something with auto level control IMO. That said, I will say that the GE boombox still made slightly better sounding recordings. The GE seems to have excellent frequency response for a cheap and small boombox. The Sony's recordings seem to roll off at about 12KHz. The recordings still sound good (I made some recordings off a classical music CD and it sounds really good), but I certainly won't be putting my Denons and Luxman into storage now for recording mixtapes. I'll probably still make at least one mix tape on this though at some point.

    Anyway, I'll let you know what I find as I continue to play around with this thing. We can compare notes. I have not tried it with batteries yet, but it plays loudly without distortion so I think it'll be good for moving it around to different rooms depending on where I want to listen to music.

    1. I will have to see if I can get 89.7 on the boombox, I wish they would get a stronger signal so we can get it up North.
      I was a little confused for a second with the buttons on the top, but I figured it out quickly. I have been much busier than I was a few months ago, but I will try to test it out on a recording soon. I have not tried it out with a bass heavy tape yet, only with rock tapes.

  50. Part III:

    I probably paid a bit too much for those Wal-Mart and Fuji tapes as they probably sold less than $1 each when they were new, but oh well. $1 is okay to add some new stuff to my collection. $1.99 is silly though. I might pay $1.99 for a high end tape, but not for a Maxell UR when I could have gone across the street to Walgreens and purchased a new UR for less.

    The certainly seems to be differences between thrift stores as to what pricers think things are worth. Sometimes there can be odd price differences between two items sitting next to one another at the same thrift. I guess thrift store pricers know more about housewares and clothes than electronics. Then again, some store managers must know more (or care more) about electronics than others. One example that comes to mind is the Texas City Goodwill. I think they actually test stuff before they sell it because I've seen notes on shelf stereos and boomboxes saying things like "CD broken" or "Tape broken." Most thrifts, including Goodwills, just put stuff out there. Of course, I'd still test stuff before you buy it because I'm sure the testing isn't extensive. Plus, that thrift actually keeps the remotes for things like VCRs if they get them and mark a number on the remote and the device so you can get the right remote either up front at the desk or in the remote basket they have. Perhaps that store manager cares more about electronics, but maybe the management is just better in general at that store. It's hard to say.

    Modern video game consoles seem very unreliable. I've had a lot of trouble with Xbox 360s as I've mentioned before. It is said that Sony and Microsoft actually sell the consoles for less than what they cost to make (they make their money off the games themselves) so maybe that is why there is so much cost cutting. Plus, modern consoles have more mechanical parts (optical drives, fans, hard drives) than older consoles that were almost totally solid state. This is partially due to bad case design, but the high speed processors in modern consoles tend to cause overheating too. Whatever the case is, it's a real shame that modern consoles are less reliable than the classic consoles from the mid-1980s to mid-1990s.

    1. Yeah $1.99 is high for a basic Maxwell tape. I saw 4 1998 Walmart tapes from I think it was Korea at an antique store for $3. I was thinking about getting those but I left them behind. I managed to find some good pre-recorded tapes for 25 cents each at a different store so I was happy. I went to several antique stores North of the city and found a few good items, but I was not willing to spend a lot so some items stayed behind.

      The most modern system I have is a Wii and I had to send it back once for a bad lens. I have heard of many systems just up and quitting on people while they are playing. I also know that playing online can be problematic as well. Hopefully the next generation of systems will be better.

  51. Part I:

    Thanks for the updates about the Sears and Kmart electronics departments. It looks like most/all Kmarts are getting rid of those electronics counters. I suppose it makes sense for them to do that. The primary thing they had in those counters were cameras, but Sears and Kmart have gotten rid of the floor model cameras in favor of the demo cards instead. I know they had boxes of tablets and laptops in those cases, but I guess Kmart will store those somewhere else if they continue to sell them (my guess is that they’ll still sell some tablets, but maybe they’ll get rid of laptops).

    I was at the Mall of the Mainland Sears recently. The electronics department there has not been downsized any since the last update we had a couple months back, but a lot of the things in the department were marked down on clearance. Thus, the department may be downsized even further once those clearance items are sold off. We’ll have to see what’s left after the current round of clearance items are gone.

    I was on the Sears website this weekend and I noticed that Sears is offering a lot of SYWR point bonuses on purchases of several Maxell products like CD cases and some video tapes. Some of the bonuses are 75% off in points. I don’t know if they are doing this for clearance purposes or if it is just a regular sale, but we’ll see. As for the audio cassettes at Kmart, it seems like Kmart has not replaced the discontinued Sony HF cassettes with other tapes. Maybe they will see the value of selling cassettes based on what Wal-Mart has done, but we may not see audio cassettes at Kmart or Sears stores anymore. It’s hard to say. It seems like RadioShack isn’t selling cassettes either based on what I’m seeing on their website, but that could change once RadioShack’s inventory issues settle down.

    It’s good that Kmart is seemingly still selling the RCA boombox if nothing else. I wonder if Sears stores will just ship their RCA boomboxes back to the warehouse for sale at Kmarts if Sears stops selling them instead of just putting them on clearance. I wonder why Kmart picked the RCA boomboxes over the Sony boomboxes to sell. I don’t believe that Sony has discontinued the CFD-S50. Perhaps the profit margins are better on the RCAs than on the Sonys.

    I tried to pull in KACC 89.7 FM on my Sony CFD-S50 yesterday at the house, but I was having trouble pulling it in. It was a clear and sunny day on the weekend when I pulled it in the other day, but obviously it was rainy yesterday. Perhaps I’ll only be able to pull it in on clear days (that’s not unusual for distant radio signals). I did try to pull in the station in my computer room instead of in the kitchen like I did on the weekend. That may have made a difference. There may have been too much electronic interference in the computer room. I’ll keep playing around with it to see when I can get the station. I wonder if you’ll be able to get it at your house. It’d be nice if they had a stronger signal, but I guess they would have to run ads if they wanted to get that kind of signal power.

    I know of three different types of Wal-Mart cassettes. The earliest ones that were sold at some point in the 1990s have maroonish labeling on them. I’ve seen a used one in the thrifts, but I don’t have any of these. I’m not sure where they were made. The next ones were the Conductor Series ones like the ones I got from the thrift. The ones I have are Made in China, but some may have been made in Korea too. The third type are the current Onn ones from China. There’s a good chance that any tape made in Korea is either an SKC or Saehan tape. Both of those companies made good quality tape so the quality of that Wal-Mart tape was probably at least decent if it was made in Korea.

    1. The electronics departments are really shrinking before our eyes at Sears and Kmart. I noticed in one of the stores where they opened the new connected solutions store, they still had a wall of televisions. Hopefully they will find a way to keep what they have in the electronics section and not completely eliminate it. I think that getting rid of electronics could really devastate what is left of their business.

      I was not able to pull in 89.7 on my boombox, maybe I will be able to get it if I take it to a nearby park.

      The picture you linked is exactly what I found at the store. I think the one's I saw were made in Korea. I guess if I make it back to that shop, I will pick those tapes up.

  52. Part II:

    25 cents is a good price for prerecorded cassettes. It’s good that you found some good items even if you didn’t buy them. At least there are some good items out there in the antique stores.

    I did go back to that thrift that had the early 1980s used Maxell UD-XLII cassette and they still had it. I decided to pick that up along with the used 1990s Eckerd Digitech tape and the used early 1980s Memorex MRX-I cassette. I played back the Maxell and it had some Christmas music on it clearly recorded off a record. It’s odd listening to Christmas music in June, but oh well. I’ll probably tape over that music at some point, but I may wait until after this Christmas season.

    I was reluctant to even put the Memorex in my Denon DRM-800 based on my past experiences, and the experiences of others, of Memorex tapes shedding. The good news is that it did not shed. The tape had a few minutes of someone’s voice interview about life in some small town in Georgia. I decided to make a recording on that tape just to try it out. Wow, I’m glad I did. The tape biased at a very low level. I think I biased it at the 3.5 mark out of 11 points on the bias knob. I don’t think I’ve ever biased a major name brand tape that low. I then put some music on the tape. The recording quality was surprisingly excellent for a run of the mill Type I tape. The highs were crisp, the lows were realistic, and music details were well defined. I was able to record at +3 dB, but I probably could have recorded louder than that without distortion. There was hiss, but it wasn’t bad for a regular Type I tape from that era. I was really pleasantly surprised by the excellent results. Now I will say that maybe the tape will shed if I play it back a few times. These tapes weren’t known for their durability. Also, the dual capstans on the Denon help the tape stability. These tapes aren’t known for stability since they used a large, spongy type pressure pad glued directly to the tape itself instead of the normal smaller pressure pads that are attached to a metal clip. Perhaps the reason why other people find these tapes to sound bad is because they are using them on fixed bias decks that are overbiasing the tapes. That’ll cause reduced treble. Maybe people with adjustable bias decks are biasing them too high thinking that they need to be biased at the same levels as other name brand tapes like TDK or Sony. I’m not sure.

    1. That is my main concern with using some of the older tapes. I found a few newer Maxwell and RCA tapes at a thrift this week, but one of the prerecorded tapes I found was messed up badly like someone had spilled something on it. The outside of the tape was clean, but I kept attempting to play it and it kept slowing down and stopping the player. I tried fast forwarding and rewinding the tape and it did not help. I scrapped the tape, but I could probably find it again.

  53. Part III:

    I did find and buy some interesting blank cassettes at a thrift this week too. I found a couple of 8 hour late 1990s/early 2000s Memorex VHS tapes. I don’t know if they’ll be any good, but the 8 hour tapes can be a bit hard to find so I thought I’d get a couple. The late 1990s Memorex dBS audio cassettes made by SKC were a lot better than the older Memorex audio cassettes (though maybe the older ones are a bit underrated based on my recent experience) so maybe Memorex’s video cassettes improved too. We’ll see, but it might be a while before I use those since I’m not recording much off TV these days.

    I did also buy a late 1980s TDK D audio cassette. I used a lot of those back in the day and still have those tapes, but it’ll be nice to have a sealed one in my collection. I also got a couple of sealed 2000s Made in Mexico Sony HFs. Finally, I got a sealed late 1980s/early 1990s Memorex dBS with the colorful design that is an SKC made Korean tape. The same thrift had an 1985 Yamaha cassette deck. It was a basic model, but Yamaha made good cassette decks and the price was right so I decided to try it out. Unfortunately, it did not work. Rew/FF worked fine, but for some reason the heads wouldn’t stay engaged on playback. It’s probably a belt related issue. I passed on the deck.

    My Xbox 360 has locked up a few times randomly during offline games. It’s probably the games causing the problems, but it could be hardware/operating system related issues as well. My older consoles rarely, if ever, locked up in the middle of a game. I’ve not heard of reliability issues with Nintendo consoles, but I would not be surprised either.

    1. I am sure you will not be surprised to hear this but the Craig player is not very good on tapes that have slight issues. It does not keep up with any slippage and I may have to retire it. My old Sony player works so much better and does not have the issues that this player does. I guess I will look on Ebay and the thrifts to see if I can find a good model.

      I have not seen any decks at the thrift stores in quite a while. The last one I saw was over a month ago. Even VCR's seem to be limited as well at the stores I have been to.

      I just bought a new retro video game system to replace the one that failed. I don't expect much usage from the aftermarket systems, but they are cheap and have a small warranty. It may be a while before I upgrade to one of the latest consoles, but if the price is right I may get one.

  54. Part I:

    I finally saw a Connected Solutions department at a Sears store. Well, kind of. I was at the Baybrook Mall Sears recently. They had Connected Solutions type wireless stuff on one side on an aisle. The other side of the aisle was mostly empty, but it had a sign saying Connected Solutions coming soon. I was expecting the Connected Solutions stuff to take up more than an aisle at the Baybrook store, but that may still happen once they put everything else in. We'll see. I'm sure we'll see more Connected Solutions stuff as time goes on. The Baybrook electronics department hasn't shrunk any since my last visit a two or three months back. I noticed that they were still selling the RCA cassette boombox too.

    Anyway, hopefully Sears will keep some kind of regular electronics department going. I know that they want to put 3rd party sellers in the electronics departments too. We'll see when/if that'll happen. The presence of electronics makes Sears stores pretty unique amongst mall stores. Hopefully they don't lose that edge.

    I also visited Almeda Mall recently. There's not really a lot of changes to report. The center court is still walled off. The Belts of the World store at the center of the mall has been closed on my last couple of visits even though there's still inventory in the store. I don't know what's going on there. The Gift Palace store had three mannikins or something out in the entry of the store. One had Texans stuff on, the other had Cowboys stuff, and the other had Giants stuff on. I always see a lot of Giants stuff at that store. I wonder if the owners are Giants fans. One of the jewelery stores at Northwest Mall has a standup of Eli Manning advertising Citizen watches. I always like seeing the Giants stuff at NW and Almeda Malls.

    I made my first visit to a RadioShack store after the Standard General takeover this past week. They have a good sale on the electronic control cleaner/lubricant that I like. It looks like a regular sale and not a clearance sale so hopefully they'll continue to sell it. The store I went to has a Sprint store in it, but it really didn't look much different inside than it did before. The store still mostly had RadioShack stuff in it. I also brought a microphone from there that was on sale, but I noticed when I brought it home that the microphone was missing the stand that was supposed to come with it. I may exchange it, but we'll see. The store didn't have any more in stock so I'd have to go to a different store. I noticed that they have the Sherwood RX-4109 stereo receiver on sale for $75 (it's actually on sale for $49 on their website if you can get them to match that). Either way, that's a really good price. I don't know if you're still interested in getting a new receiver, but you may have to jump on that if so. Some stores look to be sold out so you'll have to check before you go.

    I was at Wal-Mart recently and I noticed that they are now selling Sanyo branded Funai built VCR-DVD combos. They look just like the Magnavox and Funai branded VCR combos that they sold before. I'd definitely get the DVD recorder version over the DVD player version since the recorder version has a Hi-Fi VCR as opposed to a mono VCR on the player. Anyway, it's good to see that Funai is still making those VCR combos and are selling them for a pretty decent price at a store where they'll be easy for everyone to buy them. Wal-Mart seems to be the place for vintage type electronics these days.

    1. I am glad to hear that we will see a Connected Solutions store in our area. Over the past two years we have seen Sears get rid of so many electronics products. Every Sears and Kmart store I have been to recently has gotten a product reset and it appears that blank cassettes have been eliminated.
      Hopefully Eli can get the Giants going in the right direction again. If he does Gift Palace will be ready, lol.
      I have not been back to Radio Shack since my visit to the last remaining mall store in Houston. I would have to go when they have a good sale and bring a list of items I need.
      It is funny that Walmart has been getting older technologies in before some of their competitors have gotten back into the game. If they would just get a decent quality Walkman in stock it would be great.

  55. Part II:

    I've been playing around with my Sony CFD-S50 some more. In fact, I'm listening to it now as I'm writing this. I am now able to get KACC 89.7 FM pretty easily again after I took the boombox out of my computer room. Perhaps there was just too much interference in there. That's too bad that you aren't getting the station at your house. Have you tried getting it in FM mono instead of stereo? That might help. Just hit the mode button while in FM to switch from stereo to mono. Also, you may want to manually switch between each station using the tune buttons to get to 89.7 instead of holding the tune button down to use "seek" tuning because the signal may not be strong enough for the radio to stop on that station while using seek tuning.

    Hopefully you'll get the station at the park if nothing else. The other park visitors will be surprised that there's good music like that on the radio in Houston if you're able to get it. One thing that is odd about the Sony CFD-S50 is that the Japanese/Asian version of it seems to have a couple of features that the US version does not have. Based on this picture, I can see that it has a backlit LCD display and a window on the cassette door. Those would have been good features to have on our CFD-S50s, but oh well I guess. Maybe these sell at higher prices in Asia than they do here.

    It's not unheard of for prerecorded tapes, especially older ones, to jam up. I've only had one bad experience with that though. I brought a Chuck Mangione Feels So Good tape from the early 1980s from a thrift a couple years back. It worked fine for a little while and the tape looked and sounded like it was in excellent condition, but eventually it jammed up completely. The shells on these prerecorded tapes, especially older ones, are very cheap in quality. You can take the tape apart and transplant the tape into the shell of a newer tape if you want to save the recording. Anyway, back to Chuck Mangione for a second. He did a pretty famous commercial for Memorex tape back in the early 1980s. Of course, I'm sure the pre-recorded tape that the studio used wasn't a Memorex.

    The more typical problem I see with prerecorded used tapes is that the previous owners must have stored them for a long time in a car, garage, or attic and so the sound quality is a bit degraded. Sometimes there are dropouts, but sometimes the high frequencies are muted. There's not much that can be done about dropouts, but sometimes the music can be saved if the sound quality isn't that good by recording the music to a computer, adjusting the equalization on playback, and then recording it back to a newer tape from the computer. I may have to do this with a prerecorded MC Hammer tape I brought recently. I don't know if the tape is worn or if it was just mastered this way by the studio, but the sound is extremely bass heavy to the point of sounding a bit muddy. It may have been mastered that way given the genre, but I'd like to get the music to sound more natural.

    1. I have a lot of trees around my house so it may not help with the frequency of the radio. I know some cell phones especially about 10 years ago hardly worked because of interference. Having a few extra features would have been nice for the boombox.
      I think the one I was dealing with was probably left in the heat for a while. It would not play on 2 different Walkman players and the Sony boombox so I knew it was done. I tried fast forwarding it would play for a few seconds and then stop again.
      Have you checked out the music store off of Louetta and Stuebner Airline called Music Town. They have new in package cassettes and it is a more expensive than a thrift, but the tapes have been in a climate controlled environment.

  56. Part III:

    I have seen a couple of decks in the thrifts recently, but they were all low end decks that I didn't even consider buying. I was at one thrift this week that had a number of VCRs, but normally I don't see as many VCRs as I used to. A lot of the ones that I do see aren't decent quality Hi-Fi VCRs either.

    I have had some interesting finds at the thrifts though. I found a sealed brick of 6 Made in Singapore General Magnetics made RCA RC60 tapes at a thrift. Obviously I brought that. The same thrift had a TDK CD Power 110 minute Type II tape too. I brought that. I think I already have a few tapes like that already, but I have not tried them out yet. Either way, it's worth buying any Type II tapes that I come across even if they are lower end Type IIs. I've come across a number of good prerecorded tapes recently. I've probably brought more prerecorded tapes in the last 2-3 weeks than I did in the previous six months.

    Perhaps the most interesting find that I brought though is this Radio Shack Realistic illuminated tape deck demagnetizer wand that was first featured in the 1979 Radio Shack catalog as their top of the line demagnetizer. It was at the thrift for $3-4. I decided to buy it as I may never see another wand style demagnetizer at a thrift. I don't even know if it works as I didn't want to try it out at the thrift since I didn't want to accidentally demagnetize anything at the thrift, but it should work even if it is 30+ years old. I don't know if I'll ever use it since my Maxell cassette style demagnetizer seems to work just fine and is safer to use, but I can use the wand style one to demag the capstans and stuff like that. Plus, it'll allow me to demag an 8-track deck or a reel-to-reel deck if I ever get one.

    I'm not surprised to hear that the Craig portable cassette player isn't very good. Perhaps it'll work better with tapes you record yourself rather than used prerecorded tapes that may have slight wear to them. Hopefully you'll be able to find some use for it so you don't feel like you wasted $20, but you'll probably be better off getting another vintage cassette player from an established brand like Sony. I guess I should not try too hard to get one of those new type portable players, but I am still interested in buying one of those USB converter auto-reverse players that can be used as a Walkman too. I'm sure that it won't be good, but maybe it'll work well enough to be able to use as a car player.

    Those retro video game stations are pretty interesting. As you say, they are cheap enough that it might be worth the risk. If nothing else, it might be fine for the kids to play around on so they don't mess up real vintage video game hardware. It seems like the prices on previous generation video game hardware, like the X360, are still pretty high. I guess a lot of people are still playing previous generation games. I wouldn't expect great reliability from those consoles though even if you don't play them much. Maybe a PS3 will be more reliable even if the game catalog isn't as good, but I don't know.

    1. I found another Sony deck like I had in the 1990's but it was part of a $400 package at a pawn shop with speakers, a receiver, and equalizer. I have not been to any thrifts since I last commented, but I may go in the near future.
      I wonder how long I have to exchange the Craig Walkman. I may have to consider bringing it back if I make a trip to a Rite Aid in the future. I hope they give you 90 days, but that is rare these days.
      I am guessing that the prices for the previous generation of video game systems will go down again after this upcoming Christmas. I can see demand falling as more people invest in the current generation of game consoles. I think there will be some good offers this year to get people to switch over. At Target you can get a Wii U for $299 and they give you a $25 Target gift card with the purchase. I can see similar deals with the other consoles later this year.

  57. Part I:

    It’s interesting how each Sears electronics department has evolved in the last few months. I recently visited the Main St. Sears. Although the Main St. Sears electronics department has been downsized significantly since last year, the department is still decently sized. In fact, I was there in February, and at that time, they only had the 6 hour Maxell VHS cassettes for sale. This time they had both the 6 and 8 hour cassettes. That was interesting to see. Also, I was looking at headphones. I checked out some of the SE side Sears (Mall of the Mainland, Baybrook Mall, and Pasadena Town Square) and all of those have a pretty thin selection of headphones. OTOH, the Main St. Sears probably had twice as many models even though the Pasadena and Baybrook Sears electronics departments are about the same size as the Main St. one. I’m not really sure why there is so much variance in the products being sold at each Sears electronics department, but it is what it is. One interesting thing is that every Sears I’ve been to recently still has the RCA cassette boomboxes for sale.

    One thing I saw at the Main St. Sears is that the last aisle of the electronics department near the appliances was being reconfigured. They must have had TVs there before, but all the TVs were gone off the displays and all that was left was the cables for the demos. There was an employee there pulling the old cables. I don’t know what they’re going to do with that space that they were freeing up. Maybe Connected Solutions stuff will go there, but I don’t know. Maybe appliances will go there.

    Anyway, I visited the store at around 6pm on a weekday. The store had a decent number of customers in it even though it was close to the 7pm closing time. I didn’t visit the top floor, but the bottom two floors seemed about the same as they were during my previous visit in February. One thing that I did notice is that the store does have some price scanners. They were probably there during my last visit, but I didn’t see them then.

    As I mentioned earlier, I also visited the Pasadena Town Square mall recently. I actually did a complete visit of the mall including fully visiting both anchors. It’s not too often that I visit all the anchors when I go to a mall. Anyway, a lot has changed since my last visit last spring. Of course, I know you said earlier that the formerly vintage Champs Sports moved to a new location and that the Macy’s has downsized to one floor only. I saw these changes. I also saw the Ventech name on the doors of the ex-Dillard’s building. The old vintage greeting card store at the mall near the Sears closed too. The Macy’s wing seems to be struggling a bit. Also, it looks like maybe the Workforce Solutions office (or whatever that was) by the ex-Dillard’s is gone now.

    The Pasadena Town Square Sears has not changed much since my last visit. The electronics department has been downsized some, but it’s still a decent size for a mid-sized Sears. One odd thing I noticed is that all the wrappers on the Maxell VHS cassette packages they had were cut open. I’m not sure what happened there. Maybe the stockers were going a bit overboard with the knife when they were opening the boxes for those products, but I don’t know. The mall itself was fairly busy actually, but the Sears was really busy. That Sears has always been very busy during my visits. A lot of the shoppers in the mall had Sears bags in hand. That’s a pretty rare sight at malls these days.

    The Macy’s was actually busier than I’ve seen it during my previous visits to the store, but I think the Sears was still busier. It was a bit odd seeing the furniture where the men’s department used to be. In fact, one part of the new furniture department still has a fitting room in it. That’s odd. The men’s department is still a decent size though. It looks like maybe they painted the outside of the Macy’s, but it’s hard to tell.

    1. Speaking of Sears electronics, it looks like at least one aisle at Deerbrook will have the connected solutions products. The televisions have been downsized significantly like at other stores, but the department still has the older look of the 90's remodel.

      It is funny you mention price scanners at Sears. Most of the Kmart stores I have been to recently have one or more broken or missing price scanner. I am not sure why this has become common, maybe the technology needs to be upgraded.

      The Sears at Pasadena Town Square must be a top performer in the area, it always has a good amount of people shopping. Their clothing department checkouts almost always have someone there checking out. I was at that Sears store recently as well. It is funny that Ventech cleaned out the former Dillard's and remodeled the interior, but I have never seen the place open or people going in and out of the building.

  58. Part II:

    Anna’s Linens appears to be going out of business. I noticed that the stores across from Baybrook Mall and the Pasadena Town Square are both liquidating. This isn’t some great loss to me, but I guess another retailer is now gone.

    I noticed that the Mall of the Mainland has updated the billboard that they put up on I-45 South that they put up a few months ago. It’s now red instead of blue and has big logos for Cinemark and World Gym on it. It’s no big deal, but it is interesting to see the change. AFAIK, there has not been any significant progress at the mall itself. I’ll try to get updates if there are any.

    I hope that the Giants can turn things around. It would help if their best players didn’t try to blow their hands off with fireworks though. We’ll see. They did have a few young players who sparkled at the end of last year, but there are still a lot of question marks. Hopefully Gift Palace won’t jack up their prices on Giants gear if they start winning again!

    I looked at Rite-Aid’s website and it looks like they have a 90 day return policy with a receipt. You might be able to get your money back on that Craig player. I have not had any issues pulling in KACC on my Sony CFD-S50 after I moved the boombox out of the computer room. Perhaps you should try putting the boombox in different locations to see if you can pull it in. The trees probably aren’t helping anything, but my area is pretty wooded too. Another common source of interference are fluorescent lights. Other electronics in the room could be causing trouble too. It would have been nice to have the lighted display and the cassette door window features on our CFD-S50s. Those would have been useful features to me, but oh well I guess.

    Hopefully other retailers will see what Wal-Mart is doing and will stock up on the retro electronics as well. Usually retailers try to emulate Wal-Mart, but we’ll see. I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Wal-Mart to sell a quality Walkman style player though. They may, but if they do sell one, it’ll probably be similar in quality to the Craig player you have. In fact, some of the Durabrand players they had before were probably even worse than the Craig.

    I have not gone to Music Town yet, but I would like to visit the store. Are the sealed cassettes that they sell new releases or are they old cassettes that have been saved all these years? I’d like to get some new music on cassettes, but I’m not familiar with most of the bands that are releasing music on cassettes these days. I guess I’ll have to do some homework on the bands that are releasing new music on cassettes.

    One thing that might help with jammed cassettes is to try to manually rewind/fast forward the reels using a hexagonal shaped pencil or pen. As far as pens go, the common Bic Cristal seems to work well. It may not fix the tape, but it’s worth a try I guess.

    $400 is probably way too much for a run of the mill 1990s Sony stereo system. That might be worth it if it is a high end Sony/Sony ES system, but not for regular stuff. Oh well. You’ll probably find your cassette deck at a thrift for a fair price if you look long enough. I see the low end 1990s Sonys all the time in the thrifts. Speaking of thrifts, Goodwill is opening a new location in the Willowchase Fiesta shopping center near Willowbrook Mall. That might be a location to add to your FM 1960 thrifting circuit.

    1. Yes Anna's Linens quickly fell into bankruptcy. The shopping center across from Pasadena Town Square lost the Office Depot last year and now the Anna's Linens. I wonder if Marshalls or TJ Maxx will take one of the empty anchor spots there. Up until recently, that shopping center had empty spots ever the since Mervyn's closed. They just can't catch a break.

      Yeah last week had some bad firework injuries and deaths, NFL players of course got most of the spotlight. That firework injury may have cost JPP millions of potential contract money, hopefully it will not be too much of a setback for him.

      I will have to find my receipt for Rite-Aid and see if I can make it down there. I forgot it on my last trip to the area.

      I will try again with my boombox to see if I can get 89.7 outside. I have mostly LED lights at home, but they may interfere just as much or more than the fluorescent bulbs do.

      At Music Town it appears that the cassettes have been in stock for years. I should have asked the clerk if there were any new releases, but it did not look like it.

      The old Bic trick as we used to call it, yeah I tried that one too. At least I saved the tape case and gave another cassette a holder.

      I will have to check out that thrift when they opened it. I went to a few southside thrifts recently and found a couple of blank cassettes and not much else. They had a Sony VCR with VCR plus like I used to have but it was missing front buttons.

  59. Part III:

    I’ve picked up some more pre-recorded cassettes from the thrifts lately. I also found a 6 pack of Sony HiFi 90 minute cassettes at the Goodwill across from the Pasadena Town Square. That was a great find as those 1990s Sony tapes have a bit of a Type II quality to them even though they are a run of the mill Type I tape. The most interesting purchase I’ve made in the thrifts lately is a RadioShack Optimus Model 66 Hi-Fi VCR from 1998-9. It was RadioShack’s top of the line VCR at the time. I paid $7 for it and it came with a very clean remote. I’ve only seen one or two RadioShack VCRs in all my time thrifting so it was something that I wanted to pick up.

    At first I thought that it was a Sharp-made VCR based on the looks of it and Sharp made VCRs for Radio Shack in the mid-90s, but it’s actually made by Panasonic. The VCR works, but when I tried it at home, the video quality was unwatchable in SP mode and the video was very noisy in SLP mode. I figured that the heads were dirty so I manually cleaned them. They were indeed quite dirty. I was able to get SP mode working after the cleaning and it’s working well, but SLP mode is still noisy like it was before. I may try a second round of cleaning to see if that’ll help. We’ll see if I can get this VCR going in tip-top shape again.

    Speaking of VCRs, I decided to try recording music on my Hi-Fi VHS VCRs this weekend. I got some excellent results even though I used my VCRs with auto level control. First I tried my JVC SR-V10U S-VHS VCR in EP/SLP mode on a 1990s 3M Professional T-120 cassette. I’m not a big fan of those cassettes as the video quality is very noisy, but it’s what I had on hand at the moment so I went with it. The result was good, but I could hear a little bit of companding effects on some dynamic music. I then tried my Mitsubishi HS-U520 VCR and the recording was even better. I didn’t notice the companding as much, but I still need to do more experimenting. I have a lot of other VCRs and tapes to experiment with so this could be a lot of fun.

    I also did something this weekend that I have not done since 2002. I recorded music on a CD-R. Don’t worry, I’m not abandoning cassettes. It’s just that I had some songs that I wanted to record where I’d be listening to some tracks more than others. CDs are easier for track jumping, plus the songs were digital to begin with, so I figured I’d go with a CD. The end result was good, but of course recording CDs are a much more boring process than recording cassettes.

    1. A vintage Radio Shack VCR for $7 is a great pickup. It sounds like you had a lot of work to do to get it working good again. I still have yet to make any new recordings, as you can tell I have not been as quick to update the blog or respond to comments.

      I made some recordings for a relative, but I did not thoroughly test the recordings out. I just went from one tape to the other.

      I need to go through my CD's, I bought some pre-recorded tapes so I can sell off some of my CD's. I went on a CD buying binge a few years ago and I bought a bunch of CD's from the late 90's and early 2000's.

  60. Part IV:

    I also did a cassette recording of some other music too of course. That result was a mixed bag actually. I had not recorded on a TDK D cassette in over 20 years even though I’ve acquired a lot of them from the thrifts. I decided to record on an early 2000s TDK D 90. I’ve heard that some late 1990s/2000s TDK cassettes have various issues including channel imbalance. Well, the tape that I used definitely had that issue. The left channel was recording at about 3 dB higher than the right channel on the Luxman. The issue was just as bad on the dual capstan Denon. I tried to use the balance control on the Luxman to even things out, but it was either changing the balance too much or too little for whatever reason. Unfortunately, and I didn’t think about this while I was recording, but the imbalance threw off my normal bias calibration method so I underbiased the cassette too. Oh well.

    All these issues aside, the tape still sounds good. I could tape over what I recorded to try to get better results, but the imbalance isn’t all that noticeable unless one’s really paying attention. The saturation point was decreased because the tape was underbiased and the tape is a bit noisy, but the TDK D does sound good all in all. The music I was recording probably benefitted from the increase in brightness from the underbiasing. It’s just too bad about the channel imbalance. I hope that the other TDK Ds I have, some of which are newer and older generations, don’t have the same issue. If they do, I’ll record on them using a cassette deck where the balance control works a little better. I’ll also have to bias the tapes by ear only instead of the more scientific approach. I can probably get away with using them on a fixed bias deck since I doubt a TDK D will have a bias point too far off the norm. Of course, I can just set my adjustable bias decks to the center detent too.

    I think you’re right to say that the console deals will be good this holiday season. The older consoles will probably drop in price too as more people buy the newer consoles. We’ll see though. I don’t plan on getting a new console anytime soon though. I think I would lean towards the PS4 if I did buy one, but I don’t see myself getting a new console anytime soon.

    1. I am learning a lot by reading your comments about recordings. I will let you know once I start making some mixed recordings from MP3's again. I probably will try and get a better deck one of these days. The Sharp only has one side that works, the other side has a slow wheel that causes the tapes to get jammed. I tried a little grease, but I think it need more work. I can hook up the cassette adapter to make recordings, but I can't go from tape to tape.

      Sears has gotten rid of all video game consoles, but they are going to carry cards to purchase points which can be used towards the consoles. I am not sure how good those will sell since they are mixed up with other stuff in the electronics section.

  61. Part I:

    Thanks for the update about the Deerbrook Mall Sears. That’s a store that I don’t get a chance to visit very often. I wonder if all/most of the mid-sized and bigger Sears will get at least one aisle of Connected Solutions items. Perhaps that is what will be added to the Main St. Sears. I was at the Willowbrook Mall Sears recently, but I didn’t get a chance to look at the electronics department to see if there is any changes there. As for the video game point cards (as well as phone cards and other things like that), I wonder if retailers buy those like they buy inventory of regular products or if the selling retailer only has to pay for them when someone actually buys the cards. It seems to make sense to do it the latter way, but I’m not sure how that works. I’d imagine that Sears isn’t selling too many of those game cards given that they may not be a hot spot for gamers in recent decades.

    Sometimes the price scanners at Sears are down too, but they have fixed them at least in some occasions. I know I came across a broken price scanner in the women’s department at the Mall of the Mainland Sears (I was trying to scan an electronics item), but eventually they did fix it. Maybe Sears stores are trying harder to maintain their scanners or maybe the Sears ones are more modern and easier to fix than the Kmart ones. It’s hard to say. I have not used a Kmart price scanner in at least 13 years, but I use the Sears ones a lot since it’s not unusual for Sears to have a lower price on an item than what the shelf says.

    Yeah, the Pasadena Town Square Sears is always a buzzing place when I visit it. The clothing departments in particular seem busy. Of course, that is one of the nicest Sears that I’ve seen especially in regard to the clothing departments. It is the newest Sears in the Houston area too. Perhaps the nice quality of the clothing departments is leading to more sales, but it’s hard to say. It’s nice to see a community that seemingly appreciates their Sears store though. As for Ventech, I didn’t see any activity at the building either, but I was there in the evening so maybe they were closed for the day already. Hopefully the Goodwill shopping center across the street will be able to survive some of the recent losses.

    I came across pictures of another Sears with current signage at the Great Northern Mall in Clay, NY. Here is the mall entrance with the new signage. Here’s what it looked like with the old signage. You can also see the evolution of the Payless Shoe Source signage next door in those pictures. The store had red signage on the outside before, but it has new signage there too. The mall still has a Taco Bell according to the mall website, but I wonder if it is still retro looking with this kind of tiling like it was in 2007. That retro Taco Bell kind of reminds me of the one at the West Beltway Auchan. The Auchan one was smaller, but I think it had tiling like that too.

    I know I mentioned this before, but the Willowbrook Mall JCPenney is looking like it is in sad shape on the outside. I drove by it on the way to Sears recently and the paint on the building, especially on the south facing side, is in terrible condition. It’s getting to the point where that side of the store is looking like a cinder block because the paint is so worn out. I know that JCPenney does not have a lot of money for repairs right now, but I think that it’s odd that they’ve neglected the outside of the store when they spent so much money putting the Ron Johnson interior on the 2nd floor of that store. Well, they went with concrete floors up there so maybe they want the outside of the store to look like a plain concrete brick too.

    1. The connected solutions stuff is cool, but I will probably be a few years away from investing in it. It will take some bold moves from Sears like these to get them going again.

      Thanks for sending over the photo links, I will check them out later and comment on the next two posts possibly tomorrow.

      It is a shame that the JCPenney at Willowbrook is not aging well. I remember when that store opened. To me the layout of that store is strange. I still prefer the JCPenney layouts from the mid 1980's era stores. There are not many left that are two stories but a few outside of Houston are from that era. Hopefully JCPenney will invest in some electronics like Macy's and Sears and bring more variety to theit stores.

  62. Part II:

    Older sealed tapes are probably more interesting to me than new release cassettes. I guess it depends on what is on the old cassettes. I may have to check Music Town out one of these days. We’ll see when I can make it there. The place would have been on my way when I was working in The Woodlands, but it’s kind of out of the way now.

    The Willowchase Goodwill has opened now. I visited the store the other day. They definitely have a lot of CRT TVs. In fact, they had so many that they didn’t have enough shelf space for other electronics. They kind of threw them wherever there was a little bit of room. It looked like something I’d see at a Family Thrift Center rather than what I see at Goodwills normally. Maybe they need more shelving for electronics. I did buy a couple of things from there. I got a late 1990s/very early 2000s Made in Mexico sealed Maxell UR 90 cassette and a Radio Shack/Realistic Arthur Fielder 90 minute compilation record from 1976. I don’t know if the music on the record is any good (I can’t imagine that the fidelity on a 90 minute record would be the best, but we’ll see), but it’s a nice piece of Radio Shack memorabilia from the glory years. As you can tell from the images on this link, the back of the record sleeve has a nice collage of Radio Shack Hi-Fi equipment from the time including a couple of tape decks.

    Speaking of RadioShack, I did some more work on the RadioShack Optimus VCR that I purchased from the thrift. I did another round of intensive head and tape transport cleaning to see if I could improve the quality of the video and audio in SLP mode. I think the video quality improved a little bit after the cleaning, but the audio still has some static in it in Hi-Fi mode (it works fine when using the linear mono track, but I’d prefer to get Hi-Fi sound obviously). I don’t think I’ll get any improvement by doing further cleaning so I don’t know what the issue is. Maybe the heads are worn a little bit or misaligned a little bit. Perhaps there is a bad capacitor in the audio circuitry somewhere (though I don’t think so since it works fine in SP mode). I’ll have to continue to troubleshoot it to see if I can find the cause.

    It may just be that late 1990s/early 2000s Panasonic VCRs aren’t that good or don’t hold up well. Panasonic VCRs certainly had a reputation for working well and being reliable back in the day, but perhaps that reputation was built on their older models. I have a 2001 Panasonic branded VCR that works fine, but it probably has the worst image quality of all of the VCRs that I have that fully work. The user reviews for that model aren’t very good either so I’m not the only one who feels that way. I have a 1997 RCA Hi-Fi VCR made by Panasonic that fully works, but the image quality isn’t as good as my Mitsubishi, Sharp, Hitachi, and other VCRs. The image is pretty jittery in SLP mode. That RCA VCR probably has a very similar design (probably the same design) as the Optimus VCR so I may want to look at the two and compare them to see if there is anything off with the Optimus VCR. I may just re-donate the Optimus VCR if I can’t get it working the way I want it to in SLP mode since it works well in SP mode and I figure that is what most thrift shop buyers want since pre-recorded movies are almost always recorded in SP mode. We’ll see though, maybe I can get that VCR going at 100% again.

    1. The Radio Shack record has a collection of popular 1970's electronics that would be great to have today. I am not a fan of the Family Thrift Stores, everything I have bought from them has either been broken or broke shortly after purchasing. Goodwill and other thrift stores have been much better quality items for sale.

      Hopefully you will not have to get into the VCR too much more to get it up to standard. I guess with these older electronics that have not been used for a while, you never know what you will get.

  63. Part III:

    I see late 1990s/early 2000s Sony Hi-Fi VHS VCRs in the thrifts pretty frequently. They were certainly popular for a while. I’ve actually never owned a Sony VCR, but I did use them a bit at my previous employer before they got new Funai built DVD-VCR combos. We had a bunch of industrial and consumer Sony VCRs. I didn’t find them to be all that remarkable and Sony’s VHS VCRs had a pretty middling reputation back in the day in terms of performance and reliability, but I know that some people like them. Perhaps you liked your old one. If so, it makes sense to buy another one especially if you can find one with the remote. It may also do a good job playing back some old recordings you have. Sometimes tapes play back the best on the same VCR (or the same model at least) as the deck that the recording was made on.

    It’s good to hear that you’re making cassette recordings for relatives. I hope that they are enjoying the cassettes. It’s hard to say what the issue is with your Sharp cassette deck. It could be belt related. Perhaps the pinch roller is dirty or bad. You may want to try cleaning it with isopropyl alcohol to see if that’ll improve the traction. You’ll also want to clean the capstan and the heads with isopropyl alcohol too. There could be issues with the capstan motor as well. Sometimes it helps to lubricate the capstan motor with machine oil if you can get access to the motor from the inside. Not all decks have an independent capstan motor though.

    One thing you can do is to use the Sony CFD-S50 deck as the playback or recording device when dubbing tapes. You can play a tape on the Sharp and then hook up a stereo RCA cable to 1/8” cable and connect it to the line-in jack on the Sony. You can also go the other way with the same cable by playing a tape on the Sony, hooking up the two decks using the headphone out jack, and then record on the Sharp deck. The one issue with that is that the Sony cassette deck has a pretty limited frequency range compared to Hi-Fi component decks. You’ll want to get a real deck for dubbing eventually, but it’ll work.

    On the topic of the CFD-S50, I don’t think LED bulbs cause major interference. I can’t say that for sure, but I think they’re okay. CRT TVs and computer monitors (and some flat panel TVs) create a lot of interference as well. It’s just best to keep the radio away from other electronics when trying to pull in distant stations. Hopefully that helps.

    It might make sense to sell/donate some of your duplicate music. Of course, you can always record your CDs to tape if you prefer the cassette sound. You may even get better sounding cassettes that way versus just buying the songs on pre-recorded cassettes. Some pre-recorded cassettes are better than others. You can also rip your CDs to MP3s, FLAC, WAV, or whatever computer format you prefer if you want the music on your computer’s hard drive or MP3 player/phone. One thing you can do if you want to free up space and keep the CDs is to put them in a binder or in paper disc envelopes and then throw away the plastic jewel cases. Discs tend to get scratched more easily in those binders/paper sleeves versus the jewel cases, but at least you’ll have the discs if you ever want them.

    I actually don’t have a lot of CDs. Most of the pre-recorded CDs I have are classical/instrumental type music and CDs are probably the best format for that type of music (though there are some excellent classical music Type II pre-recorded cassettes) so I probably won’t get rid of those. I’ve never had many/any rock CDs or anything like that. I’d prefer to listen to that on tape anyway. I literally only have a handful of audio CD-R discs that I’ve recorded myself. CD-Rs have their place for certain types of music and for certain playlists, but I generally prefer the sound, reliability, and the process of making mixtapes on cassettes.

    1. My Sony VCR did not last very long so I am not partial to that model, but it is always interesting to see electronics that I used to have.

      I still need to get some of the lithium grease, I saw some the other day at an auto parts shop but it was expensive. Once I get the grease I will have everything else to work on the rollers.

      I forgot all about using the boombox for recordings through an aux cable. I may be able to make some good recordings from CD's as well. Going outside with the boombox may help get the station, I will let you know if it works.

      I will probably backup the CD's to cassettes before getting rid of them. I may be able to sell some on Ebay and recoup some of my money, but if not I will go to Half Price Books to at least get something back. Most of my collection is CD-R discs recorded from cassettes so it is funny that I am going back to cassettes with some of this music.

  64. Part I:

    I did have another observation about Willowbrook Mall that I forgot to mention in my previous post. I don’t know exactly what is going on, but a construction company has the parking lot near the food court blocked off. My guess is that they are repaving the area or restriping the parking lot, but maybe they are doing some actual construction there. I have not heard any news, but we’ll have to keep an eye on the situation.

    The Willowbrook Mall JCPenney does have a slightly confusing layout. The departments are laid out on the ring of the store, which isn’t unusual for a department store, but it can be difficult to know where certain departments are without walking the full ring since they are kind of closed off from the center of the store. Again, I’m sure this was done on purpose and it isn’t a totally unusual department store design, but it does make it difficult to find things if you’re unfamiliar with the layout of the store. It’s not nearly as bad as the Cypress freestanding JCPenney though. That layout is a total disaster. There’s no logic to it at all as far as I can tell.

    It would be nice if JCPenney brought back electronics and other hardlines, but I guess JCPenney is just focusing on survival at the moment. If nothing else, I hope that they can improve their fashion designs and the quality of their softline goods because they’re pretty disappointing right now in those areas. Hopefully they can continue to maintain their stores too. It’s such a shame that they wasted money installing those hideous Ron Johnson interiors in some of their stores like the 2nd floor of the Willowbrook Mall location.

    The Connected Solutions stuff is an interesting trial by Sears to see if they can generate some electronic sales. It sounds like Target and maybe even Wal-Mart will try similar showrooms. I think Sears may have a unique advantage in that they can integrate smart appliances and smart fitness products with the other smart electronic products. I’m really not that interested in most of the “smart home” products. Most of them seem like a waste of money and some of them even seem dangerous because of the hacking/security risks. The one thing that I might be interested in are the Wi-Fi home security cameras. I wouldn’t want to put Internet cameras on the inside of my home, but it might be useful for monitoring the outside of my home. I’m not sure if Sears currently sells Wi-Fi security cameras, but I’m sure that they will through Connected Solutions.

    I remember mentioning a few weeks back that Sears had not sent out as many SYWR promotions this year as they had last summer. Of course, their latest quarterly results reflected that. It looks like Sears is starting to issue more promotions now though. I’ve received a few of them in the last month or so. It certainly has caused me to visit Sears stores more frequently. I don’t know if my visits are as profitable for Sears as they were in prior months, but at least I’m at the stores more often.

    1. Hopefully they are redoing the parking lot. Most of the area malls could use a fresh parking lot repaving.

      JCPenney and Kohl's have been criticized for the quality of their merchandise lately. It seems like they have been getting cheaper quality goods and their regular prices are still on par with other department stores. Hopefully things will change, but that is not likely. JCPenney is in survival mode now, and lost a lot of money from the failed Ron Johnson experiement.

      I like the idea of the comnected products, but the security issues have to be fixed. I have a regular Nest thermometer and it is good that I can control it anywhere, but some of the other products would probably never be fully used. I like their new 500 lumen/phone charger flashlight. I am not sure if that is going with the connected solutions stuff or tools since I found it on an end cap on the edge of the tools section. The same end cap also had a few smart electronics mixed in. Speaking of connected solutions it looks like about an aisle and a half in the Deerbrook store will be dedicated to these new items.

      My email has gotten several new emails from Sears. I also got an extra $10 reward that I can use anytime.

  65. Part II:

    I’m not a huge fan of the Family Thrift Center stores either. The stores are fairly unorganized, dirty, and checkout times are long. Also, their prices on electronics are generally higher than they are at Goodwill. They generally don’t sell VHS and audio cassettes, but I have found some there on occasion. I have found some interesting electronics at Family Thrifts, but I rarely buy anything there due to the prices. Also, as you say, a lot of the stuff they sell does not work. I can only think of two major pieces of electronics that I’ve brought from their thrifts. One is a 1989 Mitsubishi HS-U20 mono VHS VCR that needed new belts. I still have it. It’s a great VCR (I put some rubber bands in it to replace the bad belts), but it needs real belts if I’m going to use it long-term. I really don’t have much use for a mono VCR so I may donate/recycle it at some point, we’ll see. The other is a 1987 Panasonic built GE Hi-Fi VHS VCR that is very high end. It has audio meters with level controls, Picture-in-picture (a very rare feature on VCRs), and a neat flip down control panel. That VCR works (at least it did the last time I tried it), but it has bad capacitors on the power supply board which causes odd behavior and degraded performance. Panasonic VCRs from that era are known to have that power supply board issue. Anyway, I had to buy that VCR just because it’s such a rare high-end VCR with features that were eliminated from newer generation high-end VCRs. I may fix that one eventually.

    The RadioShack Optimus VCR is a bit frustrating because it almost fully works, but the aspect of it that does not work correctly causes just enough of a performance degradation for the VCR to be fairly useless to me. Maybe I can get it going again though, we’ll see. I’ll certainly report back if I get it going 100%. The odd thing is that the VCR is very clean inside and outside, but it had really dirty heads. I guess the previous owner never cleaned the heads. I’m guessing they watched a lot of rented tapes on that VCR. Oddly enough, it works fine in SP mode so pre-recorded movies and such play back fine on it now that I’ve cleaned the heads.

    It is interesting to see familiar models in the thrift store. Once I came across a JVC Hi-Fi VCR that is the same model as a VCR I brought new in 1995. I didn’t really like that VCR since it had cheap build quality so I never considered buying it again, but it was neat seeing it. I guess you had similar feelings about that Sony VCR. I’m not surprised that you had issues with your Sony VCR. A lot of Sony electronics from the 1990s and 2000s, including TVs and VCRs, had subpar reliability. Some of their products were good, but not everything for sure.

    Proper lithium grease is pretty expensive, but it lasts a long time and works well so it’s worth having on hand. Machine oil is pretty cheap and can be used in a lot of different things for stuff that requires oil instead of grease. You may have some on hand already. Isopropyl alcohol (91% or higher if possible) is very cheap and can be used to clean all kinds of electronics so it’s worth keeping that on hand too if you don’t already. I use my 91% IPA all the time, but my bottle from Walgreens has lasted me years since you really don’t need much of it for each cleaning.

    I’m not sure how much CDs are going for these days, but you might as well get something for them. I don’t know if Half Price Books will give you much, but something is better than nothing. It is interesting that your cassettes went to CDs and are now going back to cassettes. I guess that is where they were meant to be! Anyway, it sounds like you might be using a lot of the blank cassettes that you’ve been buying. Perhaps you’ll buy some new Maxells too. It might be a good idea to back up your CD-Rs to new CD-Rs at some point even if you don’t put them on cassettes just in case the CD-Rs go bad.

    1. It sounds like you have to be prepared to work if you buy a thrift store VCR. Thanks for the tape cleaner checklist, I need to see if I can fix that bad tape player side that eats tapes.

      Yeah I need to expand my tape storage space again. I found about 10 tapes in two different half price book stores so I need to find another cassette holder. I have had much better luck with pre-recorded tapes at HPB than at thrift stores. I have found several 80's-2000's rock and hip hop tapes at HPB and very few at thrifts. Nearly every thrift I go to seems to carry blank cassettes though which is a plus.

  66. I found an interesting article today discussing a number of Houston retail news items. I figure that I should post about it now before I lose the link. The article mentions the sale and redevelopment plans of San Jacinto Mall, but I discussed that further in the San Jacinto Mall post a few days back. Also, it seems that Dick's Sporting Goods has scouted the area and has some places in mind for new stores. I don't know if they'll ever open here, but it looks like they are certainly considering it.

    It also seems like German supermarket chain Lidl, which is similar to Aldi, is looking to get into the Houston market as they expand to the United States. The thing about the stacked power center on I-10 near downtown is very interesting. I wonder what that would look like. I guess there's nowhere to go but up when land gets limited in an in-demand area. I'm not so sure if shoppers will approve of the potential hassles of a vertical shopping center, but maybe it'll be organized well. It may be difficult to repurpose/retenant a vertical shopping center if the initial tenants leave early. We'll see.

    1. I heard a rumor several months back that Dick's was planning on taking the last empty anchor spot at Deerbrook Mall. They were planning on expanding here several years ago, but they did not finalize the leases of their stores. One of those stores would have been on I-10 at Bunker Hill near where the Comp USA/Circuit City was.

      It sounds like retail is heating up again around the area. Grocers are probably expanding too fast too soon and several long-time chains here are going to get squeezed out.

  67. Part I:

    A lot of JCPenney and Kohl’s clothing, especially the house brands, are basically Target/Wal-Mart type quality now. I’m not sure why these stores think that people will continue to buy Wal-Mart quality items at inflated prices instead of just shopping at Target and Wal-Mart, but oh well. I guess that Kohl’s is doing okay, but we know that JCPenney is struggling big time.

    I was looking at the RadioShack website and it looks like they have completed their large clearance sale that they’ve had basically since the bankruptcy. A lot of the products that were clearance priced, like some of their speakers, are now regular price. I guess that means that they will still sell those products. Who knows if they are getting new shipments of them or what. I was also looking at the latest RadioShack ad on their website and some of their sale prices are pretty bad. They have a Class 4 speed 32gb SD card for a whopping $50. Those can be had for $20-25 on sale (sometimes even cheaper than that) at most stores. In fact, $50 is more than the regular price for that type of item at most places.

    I was on the Kmart website the other day and they now have a 2 pack of Maxell UR 90 cassettes listed for $3.99 (the same price they sold the Sony HFs for). That wasn’t listed before. It’s only available in stores, but I looked up the Lufkin and Killeen stores and neither of them had it in stock. Maybe they will get those soon. You may want to keep an eye on that in your future Kmart visits.

    I recently ordered something on the Sears website since I had an excellent coupon I received that was only valid on the Sears website. I had the item shipped to the store for pick-up, but I had a bad experience with that. They’re supposed to send an e-mail saying that the item is available for pick-up when it arrives at the store, but I never received that e-mail even 3 or 4 days after UPS said that the item was at the store. I finally went to the store and they were able to find the package pretty quickly, but they should have sent the e-mail that they were supposed to send. Oh well. I guess Sears still has some kinks to work out with their online system. My previous Sears online order (a Kmart order actually) wasn’t a flawless process either.

    There probably are too many grocers in the Houston area especially with Lidl trying to come on board and with Whole Foods trying a cheaper version of their store. I think it is inevitable that one or two chains will slowly fade away from the Houston area. I’m not sure which ones those will be. Randall’s is always the first name that people mention, but I doubt that Lidl will affect Randall’s too much since they are very different types of stores. The newer Whole Foods concept could be a problem for them though. Chains like Sellers Bros., Aldi, and Food Town will probably be impacted by Lidl. Of course, who knows how successful Lidl themselves will be. Sometimes grocers will come here to Houston and end up leaving very soon afterward.

    Who knows whether Dick’s is serious about Houston this time or if they’re still in a discovery mode. We’ll have to see.

    1. I think Kohl's gets by because of their massive sales. If people buy a bunch of sale items and then one or two items for regular price they still make a decent profit. JCPenney obviously still has a lot of work to do before they can get back to where they were before.

      I will keep my eye out for those cassettes. I had seen price stickers for the Sony previously but those were taken away after their latest product reset. Their online process does need work, it is probably a hassle for employees who don't like searching for items. They should probably have dedicated well trained staff to handle online orders and no other responsibilities.

      I think any further grocer growth is overkill at this point. Companies have to look at what happened to Safeway in the 80's and more recently Albertsons. I can see people getting Aldi and Lidl confused as well. Also Walmart is expanding their neighborhood market concept and possibly their smaller concept will also come to Houston. Dick's expansion into Houston will probably really hurt sports authority.

  68. Part II:

    A combo flashlight and phone charger sounds interesting. It seems like a handy item to have in an emergency or to keep in the car. I’m really not that interested in a smart thermostat. I keep my thermostat pretty high all the time during the summer anyway so I don’t think I could save that much with a smart or even a regular programmable thermostat. I’m not sure if you’ve heard the news stories this week, but a couple of people were able to hack into the “smart” radio of a new Chrysler/Jeep SUV and were able take control of the driving controls. Obviously these “smart” products need much better protection from hackers and malware. I’m sure the government will require car companies to release security patches at some point if they don’t already for things like the Chrysler situation, but it’s probably going to be a different story with other “smart” household items.

    You should be able to find some cassette storage cases in the thrifts. I’m still seeing them there all the time. In fact, I saw a car cassette carrying case new in the box in one of the thrifts a few weeks ago. I have not been able to make it to a Half Price Books recently. I did buy a cassette there during my last visit though. I agree that HPB has better music cassettes than the thrifts though. You don’t have to sift through a lot of bad cassettes at HPB in order to find the good ones like you do at the thrifts. I’ve been finding and buying some blank cassettes from the thrifts recently, but none of the blanks are anything spectacular. They are just run of the mill Sony HF/Maxell UR type cassettes.

    I was recently at a thrift that I normally don’t go to very often. They had a Sony Dolby S dual cassette deck for ~$20. It wasn’t a high end model, but Dolby S decks are rare and the only one I have does not work so it would have been nice. Unfortunately, the auto-reverse head in the playback only well was stuck in an odd 90 degree vertical angle. It may have still worked, but the thrift did not have a single power outlet available for me to test the thing on. I wasn’t going to spend $20 on a deck in questionable condition without being able to test it so I left it at the thrift. Oh well. I prefer to not use Dolby anyway so it’s not like it’s a huge deal, but maybe one day I’ll actually find a working Dolby S deck at a decent price.

    Most of my thrift store VCRs that I’ve purchased, especially the 1990s ones, work just fine without any additional work. Granted, I do test the tape transport before buying a VCR. It’s probably a good idea to clean the heads on a thrift store deck, but most of them have not even needed that. The Optimus is an odd deck in that the transport works fine and everything like that, but the image/sound quality is not where it should be. I’m really starting to think that the heads may be damaged or worn on that VCR. Perhaps the previous owner watched too many movies on it with dirty heads, but I don’t know. It still works okay in SP mode, and it works okay in SLP mode if the audio is set to linear mono, so I may just redonate it at some point since it should be useful for what most people use VCRs for these days. We’ll see.

    1. I am not a fan of vehicles that have the smart features. I don't have a vehicle with any of those features but I am sure in the future you will have no choice unless you want to fix up a really old vehicle.

      Testing out the electronics is always a good idea especially since you can't bring them back. I am going to start looking for yet another backup cassette walkman since the Craig player is not any good.

  69. Part III:

    Earlier I talked about some construction going on at Willowbrook Mall near the food court. I did some searching around and found the answer to what is going on. It looks like GGP has started renovating the food court at the mall. A new entrance (to the food court presumably) will be built as well.

    Also, it seems that Northwest Mall may have been sold a few months back. The details are sketchy and I don't think there have been any updates on the matter. I'm not sure what is going on. I was at NW Mall a few days ago and Levcor's stuff was still up throughout the mall so I'm not sure if the sale is still on or what. Well, anyway, we'll have to keep an eye on the situation. The sale could have huge implications for the mall, but it may not. We'll see.

    Anyway, you may have to go around to the Houston malls to chronicle the changes that will or may happen to many of the local malls here soon. This is certainly a time of change it seems. It'll be interesting to see what happens.

    1. Thanks for the update on Willowbrook. I guess the mall is overdue for some kind of remodel. I would not be surprised if we see several malls remodeled in the next few years.

      I read that article not too long ago, but I don't know if it will be finalized. The office and rental markets are becoming oversaturated. There is talk that office space may be overbuilt and it will take until 2017 or beyond to lease the space currently under construction. We will see what happens.

      San Jacinto and Northwest will be worth watching in the near future for updates. Since HEB is involved with the new development at San Jacinto I can see things moving fast with the closed anchor demolitions. HEB has been moving forward with several new openings lately and I cannot see them slowing down.

  70. Speaking of remodeling , Macy's Westoaks is going through a major remodel with several areas being reconfigured. It seems that the children section has been relocated to the first floor , with that area upstairs blocked off, it remain to see if that section will be closed. The moving of the children's area seems about right since that section of upstairs does not get a lot of traffic. The store is getting new painting and carpet. I guess Macy's sees this store still viable and the necessary remodeling is important.

    1. That is good news for that store. Is the second floor also getting remodeled or are they focusing on the first floor only? If the first floor is getting all of the attention, they may be preparing the close the second floor. In the past few years the Greenspoint and the Pasadena Macy's stores have closed off their second floors.

  71. Part I:

    I’m not really sure why the Sears online/in-store pick-up system is so buggy. Perhaps the people at the store never scanned the item when it arrived saying that it was ready to pick up, but maybe there is some issue with the computer system. It’s hard to say. Hopefully they can figure things out though. Sears wants to become powerful in online sales, and they already kind of are, but they’ll have to do better if they want to eat into Amazon’s sales. Amazon, AFAIK, has a strong reputation for getting the details right.

    The first thing I thought of when I read that article about Dick’s Sporting Goods is that The Sports Authority might be in trouble here in Houston if Dick’s actually opens stores here. It’s interesting that you think the same way. The Sports Authority might be able to compete decently enough in markets where Dick’s is the only competition, but they already seemingly struggle against Academy. Add in Gander Mountain, Bass Pro Shops, and any other sporting goods stores in this market and it’ll be tough for them to compete. Of course, I’m sure Dick’s is thinking about the same thing because it’s possible that the shoppers here will stick with The Sports Authority instead of moving over to Dick’s.

    I agree that people are going to confuse Lidl and Aldi. Perhaps they should pick another name for the United States. I wonder if Lidl stores will be new construction or if they’ll be in existing buildings. You mention Safeway and Albertson’s, two companies who built a lot of stores here and then left due to underperformance (granted, Safeway did last a lot longer than Albertson’s), but there are others like Food Lion and Eagle too. Wal-Mart’s Neighborhood Market expansion is going to hurt a lot of grocery stores too like you’re saying. I think that there’s going to be some attrition in the Houston grocery market, but we’ll see which ones fall and which ones rise.

    Willowbrook Mall has only received small piecemeal updates since it’s only major renovation in 1992. It really does not need a major renovation IMO, but I guess some updates will be good to keep the mall fresh. We’ll have to see what food outlets will be in the food court after the renovations. I remember writing a few months ago that a lot of places in the Willowbrook food court had closed. Perhaps we know why now.

    We’ll have to see what happens to Northwest Mall. I wonder if the new owners are keeping Levcor on as the mall operator until a decision is made about what to do with the property. Hopefully it’ll remain an indoor mall, but I certainly wouldn’t be surprised if the mall is demolished. It may become office space, residential space, a hotel, a shopping center, or who knows what else. We’ll have to keep an eye on the situation.

    You’re right about HEB. I’m sure Fidelis does not want to drag their feet and risk losing HEB with the project. I’m not sure if HEB would be willing to build a store in an indoor mall even if they don’t have a mall entrance. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. Hopefully a small part of the indoor mall will remain if/when changes are made. Who knows if the redevelopment will even have a food court. They may prefer to just get some restaurants/fast food places as outparcels. Either way, I’ll try to visit San Jacinto Mall sometime before the big changes start. I don’t know if I’ll be able to since it’s really out of the way for me, but I’ll try to visit it.

    1. With Amazon opening express centers in major cities, Sears has to get it right if they want to compete.

      Sports Authority is a higher end sports store and so is Dick's. Many Sports Authority stores is our area have not been renovated since they were opened as Oshman's Superstores back in the 1990's.

      The grocery wars are going to get really interesting here in the next few years. I really think that too many grocery chains are expanding here right at the time the economy is beginning to slow down. I hope that this downturn is temporary, but the damage is already beginning. Layoffs, a slightly increasing unemployment rate, rising property values, and several postponed developments indicate we are in a slump.

      I did not know that Willowbrook lost food court tenants, but it sounds like management is doing their best to improve the mall. With the recent crimes at the mall, I am sure they want to improve the image of the mall quickly.

      You are right about Northwest, I am sure we will see a new site plan released soon.

      It is a shame we are losing the last vintage 1980's mall in our area. San Jacinto has remained mostly the same after all of these years, but the mall is in really bad shape. I am glad that I was able to capture several images of the mall over the years and post them here. I will continue to follow the progress at the mall.

  72. Part II:

    I looked at the Kmart website again and it now says that both the Lufkin and Killeen stores have the Maxell UR 90 2 packs in stock. I guess this means that Kmarts will be selling audio cassettes again after all. That is a good sign that cassettes are still selling decently enough to justify placement at major retailers like Wal-Mart and Kmart. Of course, the Panggung Made in Indonesia Maxell URs are the same as the Panggung Made in Indonesia Sony HFs that Kmart used to sell so people who liked those tapes should like the new Maxells too. They’re a better option in most cases than the Wal-Mart Onn cassettes for the same price. It’s kind of odd that Kmart was selling the Sonys to begin with since they had so many Maxell products otherwise, but maybe Sony gave them a better deal.

    Speaking of the Onn cassettes, I was at a Wal-Mart the other day and I decided to see if that Wal-Mart still had the Onn cassettes in stock. They did, but the ones they have had different looking J-cards than the ones I brought a few months back when they first started showing up at the stores. Mine has a pink and grey J-card, but the ones at the store had a blue and grey J-card. Also, the little “B” logo on the spine of the J-Card wasn’t on the blue ones. I don’t know why they are different, but I think they are the same tapes otherwise. I may have to buy a package of the blue J-card Onn tapes to see if they are any different than the pink ones I have. I doubt it, but who knows. If nothing else, it’s an interesting packaging oddity.

    As far as Kmart goes, I found a picture of what is left of the Kmart video game department at a store in NY state. I guess the Grease Nintendo DS game was not a hot seller. Shocking. Ok, not really. I don't really see the Nintendo DS crowd being John Travolta fans, but I could be wrong.

    I always like testing electronics before I buy them. Sometimes it’s really not possible with things like Walkmen since the thrifts don’t have batteries and/or headphones to test the things on. I do test VCRs and cassette decks, but it’s mainly a test of the tape transports since that is the main problem that these devices have. I usually don’t hook the devices up to a TV or an amplifier to do a proper test, but it’s hard to do that at the thrifts. Usually I can tell if something is going to work without doing a full test, but that isn’t foolproof. Obviously my testing method didn’t work with the Optimus VCR, but I’m only out $6 or $7 so I guess it was worth the risk.

    The “smart car” features are becoming more and more popular. A lot of these mobile data connected cars require a subscription that a lot of people aren’t going to pay for. Granted, it’s unfortunate that people have to pay for features that they’ll never use. Keeping the cars off cellular networks is probably a good way to protect the security of cars, but there may be other ways for malware and hackers to get into cars. It’s still pretty crazy to think that someone can hack into the driving controls by gaining access to the entertainment system, but perhaps car companies weren’t thinking about safety when they designed those systems. I’m not sure what made the car companies think that people wouldn’t try to hack into them.

    1. I wonder where they put the cassettes at the stores. After their latest reset they got rid of the peg where they had cassettes in the past. Maybe they are going to put the cassettes with the boombox on a peg. It is interesting that you noticed the differences in the Onn cassettes at Walmart. I still have yet to try those out.

      That is a nice Kmart store, it must be either a newer store or a former Super Kmart. The game prices are really good if you can find a game you like. I wonder if they are going to bring back games around Christmas time, but that seems unlikely. I could not imagine a Grease game being worth even 90% off of regular price, lol.

      Being out of a few bucks is no big deal, but it is always good to do your due diligence on any purchase.

      It is crazy that the car companies did not think of this before hand, or if they did they were willing to take on the risk. At least the hackers can't mess up our cassettes or tapes. Oh wait, they can just tape over the recordings, darn.

  73. Part I:

    Anonymous, thanks for the update about the West Oaks Mall Macy’s. As je says, I wonder if the 2nd floor will remain open after these renovations. The Almeda Mall Macy’s also lost it’s 2nd floor in recent years in addition to the stores je mentioned. I know that the 2nd floor was partially blocked off already, but I hope it survives. That store reminds me a lot of how the Willowbrook Mall Macy’s/Foley’s used to look before being renovated and divided between the Men’s store.

    Although it’s a shame to lose San Jacinto Mall as a 1980s retro mall, we still have one left in the Houston area. Pasadena Town Square was built in the 1980s and still retains many, if not most, of it’s 1980’s features. The Macy’s there looks older than the 1980’s (since it is older) and the Sears looks newer than the 1980’s (since it is), but the mall itself is quite 1980s looking. Of course, who knows what the future of Pasadena Town Square is if Triyar is selling off their malls. Of course, they may plan on keeping Greenspoint Mall and Pasadena Town Square unless someone makes a good offer for them.

    The Wendy’s was closed at Willowbrook Mall during my last food court visit in May or early June. I don’t know when it closed exactly, but it was open in December 2014. There were one or two other walled off food court spots, but I don’t remember exactly what was at those spots before. Hopefully those spots will be leased out when the renovated food court opens up. I thought that the food court was in good condition otherwise (it did get a bit of an upgrade a few years ago when GGP renovated part of the old theater spot into new restrooms), but hopefully the updates will make the mall more attractive to people who stopped shopping at the mall for whatever reasons in the last few years. Obviously, the mall has suffered some setbacks recently with the crimes that have happened there, but there’s still a lot of positive things going on at the mall too.

    The new grocery chains are really testing themselves by coming here. The local economy probably isn’t as strong as it once was as you say. Plus, Wal-Mart, HEB, and Kroger, the power trio in the Houston market, are all in expansion mode here. Fiesta seems to be expanding too, albeit much slower than the others, and them and the other Grocer Supply owned/supplied local chains are very good at providing the products the diverse population of Houston wants. It seems to me like Aldi stores are not very busy by looking at their parking lots, but who knows. Maybe they are successful and Lidl wants a piece of that, but maybe Lidl thinks that Aldi is weak in this market and that they can push them out. Who knows. It’ll be interesting to see how things shake out, but I think some grocers are going to end up quite disappointed.

    I have not been to a Sports Authority store in many years. Of course, I really don’t have much reason to go to sporting goods stores these days. If I do, Academy is usually the go-to place. I did shop at Oshman’s back in the day (usually the one in Willowbrook Mall, the early Supersports store near Memorial City Mall, or the newer Supersports store that was built near Willowbrook Mall), but even then Academy seemed to be cheaper and had more diverse products. I also shopped at Sportstown USA quite a bit when it existed in The Commons across from Willowbrook Mall. Service Merchandise was also a great place to go to for sporting goods.

    1. I did forget about Pasadena which has also had very little change since the 1980's. Wendy's has left most malls here in Houston. Willowbrook, San Jacinto, and Greenspoint have all recently closed. Baybrook still had one last year, but are there any others left? Hopefully Willowbrook will continue to be a profitable mall.

      Hopefully the grocery wars will lead to lower prices all across the board. It seems like the cost of food is going up much faster than it should be.

      Sports Authority is a last resort for me. The prices are not competitive and they don't carry a large selection of the items I look for. I have wondered how they survive and now they are open later to match Academy's hours.

  74. Part II:

    I’ll combine my reply from the Sears Grand post and put it here since it’s related to both topics. I’ve been getting some excellent e-mail promotions from Sears recently as well, but I found another annoyance about the Sears online sales procedure. I recently received a $25 off a $25 Sears online purchase coupon after buying something in the store. Obviously I wanted to use that. It was restricted to only regular price and regular sale items. A lot of stuff on the Sears website have special sale prices though. That’s kind of an annoyance, but I can deal with that. The issue is that some items, even though they are sold by Sears and not a 3rd party, are not eligible to be shipped to the store for some reason. I was looking at a phono preamp and a turntable stylus, but neither could be shipped to the store for whatever reason and I didn’t want to pay for shipping. Neither objects are large so that can’t be the issue. I don’t know. I guess maybe those products ship directly from the manufacturer to the customer and not from a Sears warehouse. I don’t know, but Sears should try to expand their free in-store pick-up options. I’m not sure if this is still the case, but they should allow Kmart online purchases to be returned to a Sears store and vice versa too.

    The Olean, NY, Kmart store in that picture appears to be a 1990s-built store. It looks like it might have been a store that was built with expansion into a Super Kmart in mind, but I don’t think that it was ever a Super Kmart. I could be wrong about that though. It’s interesting that they now have the appliances with the electronics and have furniture where the appliances used to be (here’s what it used to look like earlier this year). That wouldn’t have been a big deal normally, but the old appliance spot was painted up with Sears appliances logos that are now out of place. I wonder if they’ll ever change that wall design. I guess they had to do something to make room for more appliances (apparently appliance sales have been a bright spot for Kmart recently) and the downsized electronics space was the perfect spot. Plus, associating the furniture with the Sears name might actually work if people assume that they are Sears quality goods and not Kmart quality furniture (the Kmart furniture item I purchased a few months back is holding up very well, but even the Kmart chairs I brought in the 1990s are decent quality all things considered).

    The Walkman woman is still up at that Kmart. She'll be happy to know that Kmart is/will be selling cassettes again.

    1. It seems crazy that Sears would limit their coupons. I also had a small issue, I wanted to buy items on the Sears and Parts Direct sites. When I went to the Parts site from the Sears page, I had to sign in again and my cart was empty. I wanted to save on shipping, but instead I had to buy my Sears item separately. My experience with in-store pickup has been good, I have been in and out each time. I actually had to return a flashlight bought at Kmart to a Sears store and had no issues. I am not sure about online items, but I know they changed their return policies lately.

      It seems like they are going to focus on appliances at Kmart with some of the former electronics space. It is a great idea, and hopefully they will figure out some ideas to use at Sears to fill the empty electronics space. The connected solutions items is a start, but what else can they add to help out.

      The walkman lady is happy for sure, she can make some mix tapes once again. The Walkman lady will probably still on the wall to look at many future generations of Kmart shoppers who will wonder what those items are in those pictures.

  75. Part III:

    I’m not sure where Kmart is going to put the new Maxell audio cassettes. I’m guessing they’ll make a new peg for them near the CD-Rs and VHS tapes, but we’ll see. I’m looking forward to seeing any pictures of them that you get on your upcoming visits to Kmart stores. Hopefully the stores you visit will have them. It might be worth buying a pack or two to show Kmart your appreciation for them selling cassettes again. One user on a cassette forum recently noted that the Maxell cassettes at their local Walgreens or CVS (I forget which) had slightly different packaging than before, but sometimes people say that when they have not seen cassettes at a store in a few/several years. Maybe you can tell if there are any obvious packaging differences with the Kmart tapes as I assume that those are all going to be brand new 2015 made tapes.

    I went to another Wal-Mart to see if they had Onn audio cassettes with pink or blue J-cards. That one had the pink ones. I decided to go back to that Wal-Mart that had the blue J-card Onns last week to pick up a package just because of the packaging difference. That's probably not a great reason to run out to buy cassettes, but hey. Anyway, that Wal-Mart had 5 or 6 packages of cassettes on the peg about 5 days ago, but they only had one package left when I went to buy. Obviously they were out after I brought my pack. I wonder if those cassettes are really popular and are flying off the pegs or if someone was doing some serious recording over the weekend and brought several packages of cassettes. It's hard to say, but perhaps it's clear why Wal-Mart and Kmart got new cassettes to replace the discontinued Sony HFs.

    I'd probably leave that Grease game there even if I had a Nintendo DS. It wouldn't surprise me if Sears/Kmart carried a few very popular games for the Christmas season. Perhaps they'd sell family type bargain X360/PS3 games. I don't know. It wouldn't surprise me either if they didn't sell any games though.

    There's a video game place called Game Guys on I-45 near the South Loop that recently painted their big metal shack looking building up with a Mario Bros. theme. It really sticks out when you're on I-45 S. I don't know if they sell video games, but they seem to repair consoles and have tournaments there. Anyway, it's a pretty strange sight.

    Well, I assume that hackers aren’t going to break into cars just to tape over the cassettes in them. Then again, who knows. Someone may walk around with a giant high-power bulk cassette eraser to try to cause some trouble. I feel pretty safe with my cassettes though! The car companies (well, Chrysler at least, but I'm sure there are others) were really dumb to think that people wouldn't try to hack into their cars. Perhaps they just didn't think about the risk, thought it would be too expensive to fix, or were too rushed to release the product to do proper programming. Hopefully other manufacturers will take security more seriously. Car companies will have to release security updates for years after a model comes out to repair all the vulnerabilities that will be discovered. I wonder if they'll actually do that (they may be forced to do so by the government). Of course, drivers will have to spend time updating their cars too. Personally, I'd rather just have a regular radio with a line-in jack and a USB port so phones/Walkmen/MP3 players/flash drives can be plugged into them in a simple way without risk to the car.

    1. I will let you know about any new Kmart adventures. It would be a good idea to get a pack and let them know to keep carrying the tapes. Maybe cassettes are going to come back like records have.

      Speaking of tapes, I finally took apart my Sharp player and attempted to clean and grease my faulty tape player. It did not work, but I got a lot of buildup off of the tape roller. I cleaned the roller with the 91% alcohol and a Q-tip. Then I greased the gears and put it back together.

      Sears will probably at least offer game bundles online for the Christmas season. I am going to have to check out the Game Guys store, I have never noticed it before.

      I would bet that deadlines are the root cause of the issues with the car computers. Each year the car companies seem to release their new models earlier and earlier to meet the demand.

  76. Part I:

    The Baybrook Mall Wendy’s was still open on my last visit to the Baybrook food court a month or so ago. That is the only remaining Houston mall Wendy’s that I can recall, but I have not been to several popular malls in many months. To be honest, I don’t totally remember which malls had McDonald’s and which had Wendy’s. Those seemed to be the popular burger chains at malls in Houston.

    Pricing is a very important factor for me when I choose which grocery stores to shop at. I check the ads and everything to try to get the best deals, but pricing is not the only factor for me. Convenience and selection are important too. A store like HEB has good prices usually and their selection is okay for the most part, but the parking lots/stores are packed, the stores are ugly inside, and the store layouts are inconvenient for shopping. Another bad thing about HEB is that they mail out location specific ads. That’s tough for me because I shop at multiple locations. I like that HEB does not have a card and their checkout times are usually pretty good given the size of the crowds, but I just don’t like shopping at HEB because of all the drawbacks. Thus, I probably go to HEB the least out of the major grocers in my area.

    Anyway, I hope the new grocers, or old grocers trying to improve their effort, will focus on trying to improve the whole shopping experience. I’ve noticed that Randall’s has become even more competitive on pricing lately (though they are probably still higher than HEB and Kroger) and their stores are usually laid out well and are not crowed. Hopefully that will be enough to get them to maintain/gain some shoppers so they can stick around. I shop at Kroger a lot and I don’t really have any huge complaints about them. Fiesta and Food Town are another couple of places that I shop at regularly. Fiesta has excellent selection and decent pricing. Food Town, although they are not as cheap as they once were, is a pretty affordable and convenient place to shop at.

    Your description of Sports Authority is pretty similar to what I found there many years ago when I last shopped there. Maybe they’re good for shoes, apparel, or something, but I’m not really sure what strengths they have over Academy and others. They have a lot of locations here so maybe they get a lot of shoppers, but I never hear people say that they shop there. Of course, it should be noted that Kmart owned The Sports Authority at one time.

    I guess that Sears Parts Direct is a different division within Sears. If nothing else, it is operated as a different division. It would be nice if they could integrate things better, but oh well I guess. It’s good to hear that you were able to return a Kmart item to a Sears store. I’d feel a lot more comfortable buying things from Kmart’s website if I knew that I could return them locally. Was that an in-store Kmart purchase or an online purchase?

    1. I also forgot to mention the Wendy's locations in the Houston tunnel system. I am not sure if there are any still left, I know there was at least 2 a couple of years ago. The tunnels are kind of like an underground mall in some spots. I know Deerbook and Memorial City malls still have a McDonald's. Most people may not remember this but the McDonald's at Deerbrook was in the center of the food court where the cinema entrance is now. They had a large indoor playground. The Chik Fil A was also larger and had a seating area inside of the store.

      HEB has their fans across the metro area, but they don't have consistency in their stores. Pricing and product selection varies greatly from store to store so you don't know what to expect. Randall's stores have eliminated a lot of clutter from their stores lately and I have noticed they will only stock a small quantity unless the product is popular. Some of their sale prices are only activated if you buy large quantities so this can become an issue. There are not a lot of discount grocers in NE Houston. Maybe Fiesta will eventually come back since they are growing again, but who knows.

      Maybe the Sports Authority survives by supplying school sports programs. I just don't see what the draw is. They are going to have to do something or the sports store competition is going to leave them behind.

      The Kmart purchase was an in-store purchase of a flashlight. It is the same model sold at Sears stores, so I am not sure if non-Sears items can be returned. I have put all of my items on the Parts Direct site so I can easily find parts as I need them.

  77. Part II:

    I think that it is good that Kmart is focusing on appliances since they seem to be selling well there. It gives them something unique that Wal-Mart and Target does not have. Plus, having durable goods around the store might send a message to shoppers that Kmart’s products as a whole are more durable than what other discount stores are selling. Selling some of Sears’ furniture items might also be a good idea for Kmart. The only drawback might be that Kmart might eat sales away from Sears stores and Sears Appliance/Hardware/Outlet stores if they are all located in the same area.

    It’s hard to say what else Kmart can sell in the freed up space they have in the electronics departments. There’s really not a lot of new electronics items to sell these days. Thus, it makes sense to try something different like appliances I guess. It’s good to see Kmart continuing to sell items that sell well like audio cassettes though. We’ll have to see how Sears does with Connected Solutions. Supposedly some Kmart stores are getting Connected Solutions stuff too, but I have not seen pictures of that being implemented yet. Perhaps Kmart should just sell some kind of portable cassette player just to justify the continuing presence of the Walkman woman at many of their stores.

    It’s hard to say what the issue is with the Sharp cassette deck if it still isn’t working correctly. Is the rubber on the pinch roller still soft or is it hard and glazed over? It might not be getting sufficient traction if it’s hard, glazed over, or misshaped. It’s good to hear that you were able to clean the tape transport though. Hopefully that will keep the other side of the deck in good operating condition.

    I have made several visits to thrifts lately, but I’ve had a bit of a dry spell lately. I have not purchased equipment in quite some time aside from that Optimus VCR a few weeks back. I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the popular Now That’s What I Call Music series of compilation albums. They’ve been sold in the US since 1998, but they were started in the UK in 1983. Anyway, I found and brought the original 1983 cassette at a thrift. Someone must have brought that over from Europe at some point. I don’t know if it’s worth anything, but it has some good music on it and it’s interesting to have the first edition of a popular series that’s still being published.