The Akihabara Radio Store, the shopping center of small merchants that pioneered the development of Tokyo’s Akihabara neighborhood as the world’s largest commercial district for electronics, will be open for the last time this Saturday.
Facing a decline in customers, the owners decided last year to throw the off-switch on the mall’s 64-year history.
The Akihabara Radio Store opened in 1949 after merchants selling radio components in the area were forced to discontinue street trading under the orders of the Allied Occupation. Ten merchants joined hands to reopen their businesses on the current site.
In the decades that followed and as the “Electric Town” grew up around it, only one of those founding companies withdrew from the business, while the other nine, together with Akihabara Radio Store company, which has managed the building, soldiered on.
The mall is located under the Sobu Line tracks just a few steps from JR Akihabara Station. The warren of small stores selling paraphernalia such as resistors, capacitors, LEDs and soldering irons became a symbol of Akihabara over the years.
In its golden era, Radio Store was popular with engineers working at manufacturing companies who came in search of parts for prototype products, and with electronics buffs who relied on the incredible variety of components and staff members’ expertise.
“There was a time when you couldn’t move ahead unless you walked sideways,” store manager Motohide Takemura, 61, recalled.
Although parts for radios eventually gave way to computer components, its popularity continued.
In recent years, however, the shops suffered significant sales drops owing mainly to the growth of cheap online retailers.
It was amid these circumstances that many of the stores replaced their product lineups with anime-related goods, leaving just a shadow of the Electric Town’s heart. The decision to shut down completely was made by the shop owners in spring 2012.
“Buying something online is different than purchasing something that you have seen for yourself,” said Masaji Kamata, 63.
He said he has been going to Radio Store on a monthly basis to look for parts for his electric guitar. “This place is indispensable and I was hoping it would remain as part of the landscape.”
Many of the stall owners will be moving elsewhere within the district or will shift to Internet sales only.
“I owe a lot to Akihabara,” said Takemura. “I hope this site will become ground for new businesses that will contribute to the district’s development in the future.”