If the overgrown weeds at the base of the front steps don’t give it away, then the sale advertisements in the windows say it all.
The signs mark the end of an era for Warren Electronics Distributing at 2824 Avenue of the Cities, Moline. The retail and repair shop has struggled to stay relevant in the digital age.
“The internet gives the consumer another venue to get their parts, so we’re not as needed as we used to be,” said Nancy Gabriel, 78, who co-owns the business with her 83-year-old husband, Jerry. "We're a little slow in adapting to change."
Before they close for good on July 14, the Gabriels hope to sell most of their inventory. From “rabbit ear” antennas and floppy disks, to printing calculators and VHS cameras, everything is 50 percent off.
“It makes me shudder,” said Nancy, noting the overwhelming amount of small parts they still have in stock. “I have a couple of leads I have not pursued, but I’m hopeful that a larger company could buy all this.”
Interim City Administrator J.D. Schulte shared his disappointment this week when he heard the news about the closure.
He said the Public Works Department has purchased electronic components, including diodes, relays and switches, from Warren Electronics to modify squad cars and other vehicles.
"They have high-quality electronics that we had real low-failure rates with," said Schulte, who called the store one of the city's "preferred" vendors.
From radars to TVs
The couple's retirement comes almost 55 years since they launched their first business, Jerry’s 23rd Avenue TV, in 1963 at 3101 23rd Ave., Moline. (In 2002, 23rd Avenue became Avenue of the Cities.)
Jerry developed a knack for electronics during his service in the U.S. Air Force in the mid-1950s. The Moline High School grad repaired aircraft radars, which closely resemble televisions, he recently uttered between sips of coffee at his desk.
Although a stroke in 2004 hindered his communication skills, the craftsman probably still could take apart and put back together many electronic devices on the market, his wife said.
Looking back, Nancy recalled the day in the early 1960s when her husband first disassembled a color television on their kitchen table to "learn what made it tick."
Early on, Jerry installed a wide range of home appliances.
"When you start a business, you want to make sure there's food on the table, so he saw a lot of people and did a lot of work," Nancy said.
In need of more room for their merchandise, the Gabriels built a two-story structure in 1976 at 1940 31st Street, directly to the north of their original location. They still own and rent out both buildings.
The entrepreneurs operated in Moline until 1992, when they purchased Warren Radio at 1205 E. River Drive, Davenport. The riverfront property later became The Waters Edge, which houses luxury condos.
During their prime in the early 1990s, the Gabriels said they employed as many as 18 people.
In 2000, they moved to their current space in Moline, where former Mayor Bob Anderson ran a bicycle shop for 40-plus years before his death in 1997.
Soon to be history
Over the years, their sales have slowed, which Jerry partly blames on the loss of their parking spots in front of their property.
The spaces were eliminated in 2008-09 during a major reconstruction project on Avenue of the Cities. Since then, visitors have had to park in the few available spots in the alley behind their store.
The Gabriels let their last employee go at the end of 2016.
"Years ago, there were lots of repair stores, because people needed them," Nancy said, adding that most of their counterparts have closed. "We should’ve seen the writing on the wall when business wasn't as fluent as it had been."
However, longtime loyal customers will miss their services and products.
Doug Taylor, a retired electrician who worked for the Deere & Co. cylinder division in Moline, said he frequents the store in search of items he can’t find anywhere else.
“I would much rather go to a place like that and get my parts and accessories than look at them on the internet,” said Taylor, who builds and maintains radio-controlled model airplanes. “They’re really nice people, and they know their stuff.”
More than anything else, Nancy said, she will miss their daily interactions with regulars, whom she credits for keeping them afloat.
“It's kind of sad," she said, referring to their impending retirement. "But we're OK; we’re not going to go into the breadline.”