Burb's Eye View: Electronic City is turning off its lights

Electronic City is hidden in plain sight on Burbank Boulevard. People drive by it a lot, never thinking to go in, until one day that one unique light bulb blows on the flashlight and nobody carries a replacement.

Howard Pollyea probably stocks it. Since 1957, when he and his father opened Electronic City, he's provided thousands, if not millions, of spare parts to fix the tube on the television, then later the transistors and stereo equipment, and most recently the security camera systems.

You may remember Electronic City as a kid, going there for radio parts to complete a science project. It helped local businesses save money by supplying replacement parts for their electronic equipment — an analog business for an analog age.

Then the world went digital, and Hollywood went worldwide. The movie crews and post-production houses that were the bulk of Pollyea's business started shooting elsewhere, hiring local non-union crews to work the sets. Electronic City reinvented itself many times to keep up, but eventually Pollyea decided it was time to retire.

"I'll be 75 soon, and it's just time," Pollyea said. "Life has to go on. Everybody hugs you and they have such fond remembrances … (I'm appreciative) for the people who have been so loyal to us."

Pollyea opened the shop with his father on April 13, 1957. Friday the 13th, he says laughing.

He remembers spending hours with people explaining how things worked. This was a shop for the tinkerer and inventor — practical effects artists and sound engineers were some of his biggest clients.

On Friday, one of the shop regulars passed the giant closing signs that are hanging outside the building. Employee Linda Hammel gingerly delivered the news.

"Oh, that's terrible," said Steven Quick of Burbank. He stopped smiling for the first time since entering the store.

Quick has visited Electronic City over 25 years to fix post-production equipment at studios nearby. He counted on Pollyea and his staff for his parts supply.

"I can't order a part online and wait three days," he said. "And I can't stock all this stuff," then motioning around the store, "I'd need a room this size."

Electronic City was near another Burbank Boulevard landmark — Barron's restaurant, where "we celebrated together, laughed, cried, supported and cared for each other just as small businesses in neighborhoods have done for so many years," said Connie (Barron) Trimble.

Before Barron's burned down in 2001, Pollyea would have every meal there — and would sometimes conduct a little business as well.

"Howard interviewed me at Barron's," said Rich Colton, who has worked at Electronic City since 1998. "He asked me a couple silly questions about how to read a transistor … (I've) been here since."

On Friday night, Colton, Hammel and manager John Baustian were running the show. The shelves behind the counter were sparsely stacked with DVRs, security cameras, a door lock model. Colton remembered as a kid getting in line on a Saturday morning and bringing in the household television set so Electronic City employees could "check the tubes."

He looked around at the dwindling shelves, the one or two customers looking to spend a few dollars on small things.

"The Internet is what caused this," Colton said.

But the Internet can't replace great customer service, and Pollyea and his shop are responsible for helping people on both sides of the counter. Some of his former employees went on to very successful careers in the recording industry, and about 10 years ago, Pollyea gave a job to a homeless man who lived in the camper parked behind the shop. He's still there, stocking shelves and helping where he's needed.

They'll all be there until the end of the year, selling whatever anyone will buy. On a recent evening, Patrick Haley came in for those elusive light bulbs — Home Depot and the Do It Center didn't have the right size. Neither did Electronic City — but that didn't stop them.

"Bring in one of your old bulbs and I'll get it for you," Hammel told him.

Haley stayed in the store for a while. He lingered at the counter a few moments, searching the shelves for nothing in particular.

"I remember coming here as a kid," he said. "You've been here forever. I'm sorry to lose you guys."

BRYAN MAHONEY writes about Burbank neighbors and the place they call home. He can be reached at 818NewGuy@gmail.com and on Twitter at @818NewGuy.

 

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