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The Byte Shop, 7130 Fire Lane Drive / 7372 Two Notch Road: 1980s   9 comments

Posted at 11:47 pm in Uncategorized

The Byte Shop was Columbia's first computer store, or at least that's the way I remember it. You may have been able to get a TRS-80 at Radio Shack by the time The Byte Shop opened, but Radio Shack was not a computer store.

The place opened in the late 70s, and was very much an Apple shop basing their product line, if I recall correctly, around the Apple IIc. I was in high school at the time, and was, in theory, very much interested in computers. In practice, I knew nothing about them, and had no real way to learn anything. I recall that one of my classmates had a TRS-80 and bought it to school for a presentation in science class. Everyone was fascinated, but looking back, I don't think the machine actually did anything. I think there was a BASIC program which asked a few number questions and computed an answer and that was about it.

A few years after that, one of my friends got an Apple IIc with with a logo interpreter and learned how to write programs using the language's turtle graphics which I thought was amazingly neat. It was out of the question given my total lack of money at the time that I would get a computer, but eventually I did take a "continuing education" class at USC that involved using a statistical analysis program to massage numbers we entered on punch cards and produce ASCII (EBCIDIC, actually..) "graphs" on green and white fanfold line-printer paper. Luckily, this did not quite kill my interest in computers though it came close.

In 1979, VisiCalc for the Apple became the first electronic spreadsheet, and suddenly there was a reason to buy personal computers other than the fact that they were "neat". As displays improved, and daisy-wheel printers became available, word processing provided another reason.

I was only actually in The Byte Shop once that I can recall. After I started college and picked a Computer Science major, I became enamored with the ease of writing with text editors and text processors (the names vi and nroff will be familiar to some..) and convinced my sister that she ought to look into getting a computer for word processing. I still didn't have a computer of my own because I had easy access to school computers, and didn't actually know that much about personal computers, but I think I had in mind that an Apple II with an 80 column CPM card would be a good platform for Wordstar.

I think that when we went to The Byte Shop, she was willing to be talked into a purchase, but in the event it didn't happen because of the staff. Now anyplace can have a bad day, and perhaps we just walked in on theirs, but the staff that day struct me as actively rude. First we were ignored totally for a good while, and then when someone deigned to talk to us, and I started to explain the capabilities were were looking for, the reaction I got was more or less If you don't know exactly what you want to buy, why are you here?. Now I'm a doormat in these situations, but after a few minutes of this, my sister got her dudgeon up and we walked out and never went back. In the end, we waited another year, I learned a bit more about PCs (and IBM compatibles started to appear) and I set her up with a Leading Edge Model-D with NewWord and a Brother daisy-wheel printer from Softek. After using that for a surprising number of years, she did eventually end up with an Apple (Mac), but not from The Byte Shop, which had anyway gone out of business in the interim.

I had completely forgotten that the original location of The Byte Shop was on Fire Lane Drive. When I was taking pictures of the old Taylor's Restaurant the other day, I saw a building down past the firehouse with a kind of new-agey mural. I had noticed it off and on when I would go to Lowes, and it had always seemed to be empty. I got to wondering what kind of place it had been, walked over, saw the nameplate on the front stoop, and it all came back to me (though the mural may postdate The Byte Shop).

There's currently a builder's permit on the building, and some sort of renovation is going on, so perhaps something new may show up here. On the other hand, the permit is more than a year old, so I wouldn't hold my breath. I'm not sure if the horseshoe pitch dates from The Byte Shop era, or if they firestation next door unwinds there. The final picture is the Two Notch location where, I believe, The Byte Shop ended its tenure.

UPDATE 22 March 2010: Added full street addresses to post title, and added some tags.

Written by ted on September 5th, 2008

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