Independent electronics store pulling the plug after 54 years in Hellertown
Ryan Kneller, May 29, 2018
A 1950s Motorola console television harkens to the days of “I Love Lucy” while a 1970s Zenith cassette recorder could be straight out of a “Brady Bunch” episode.
The items aren’t part of an antique or thrift shop, but rather a Hellertown electronics and hobby store that is closing after more than 50 years in the borough.
Hero Electric at 520 Main St. is expected to close within the next couple months in advance of owner Robert Hero’s retirement.
In an age when consumers purchase smartphones, TVs and watches within mere minutes — and without human interaction — on the internet, the Hellertown mainstay holds true to offering “unique electronics and old-fashioned customer service,” Hero said.
“I enjoyed talking to the public and getting to know everybody in town,” Hero said. “Everybody knows you. You know them.”
The retail aspect of the business has been steadily declining the past 10 years and Hero, 70, of Lower Saucon Township, attributes it to the growth of big-box stores and online sales.
A few items that consistently sell well include 24- and 32-inch flat-screen televisions and parts for radio-controlled airplanes, boats and cars.
“Over the past few years, the business has mostly been repairs and service, and now the repairs are dying down, too,” said Hero, noting he’s recently been consumed by lamp and vacuum repairs.
According to retail expert Jeff Green, owner of Jeff Green Partners in Phoenix, mom-and-pop electrical shops such as Hero are nearly extinct and the Hellertown shop deserves kudos for “providing something you couldn’t get at the big-box retailer.”
“It used to be that service was important and service was the point of differentiation for the independent electric stores,” Green said. “But now, the younger people don’t need that at all. They’re focused more on price and they’re focused on internet buying.”
Green said the convenience of purchasing items online and the competitive prices offered by big-box retailers have nearly wiped out independent electronics stores nationwide.
Friendly one-on-one customer service remains important among older generations — from baby boomers on, he added, but the support is not enough to sustain smaller, brick-and-mortar shops.
Further complicating the situation, statistics on independent electronics stores do not exist because so few of them remain, Green said.
In the Lehigh Valley, a handful of remaining shops include Coughlin’s TV in Allentown, Easton Computer & Electronics and Kleckner & Sons in Emmaus and Whitehall Township.
“I live in Phoenix and I can’t think of one,” Green said. “And Phoenix is a big market.”
Hero’s late parents, Michael and Irene Hero, established the business in Bethlehem in 1952 before opening the Hellertown shop in 1964.
Owner Robert Hero, of Hero Electric is retiring and hoping to find a buyer for the 520 Main St. building within the next couple months. Next to him is a 1950s Philco's Predicta, the world's first swivel televison (APRIL GAMIZ / THE MORNING CALL)
Robert began working at the family business in 1971 and took the reins in 1993.
Over the years, he’s introduced more merchandise, including hobby items such as model rockets and pinewood derby supplies; electronics such as Blu-ray players and camcorders; and accessories such as cables and extension cords.
Hero Electric, which was once an authorized service center for Power Wheels battery-powered ride-on toys, also sells a variety of collectible NASCAR trading cards and miniature cars.
All items in the store are discounted and whatever doesn’t sell over the next couple months will be auctioned off, Hero said.
“I know a couple guys who have hobby shops, so I’ll let them make me some offers first,” he said.
The shop’s 19th century building, which the Hero family claims is haunted by three friendly ghosts, previously housed other businesses, including Nicholas Department Store and furniture retailer and funeral director P.A. Bergstresser.
A second-floor apartment is occupied by Hero’s son.
In addressing his upcoming retirement, Hero said he is looking forward to sleeping in and spending more time with his wife, Victoria, who retired in January from B. Braun’s kits department.
The two met on a blind date, set up by mutual friends, in 1970 in Grand Forks, N.D., where Victoria worked as a hairdresser and Robert was stationed in the Air Force.
“I’m excited about not having to get up early anymore,” Hero said. “For so many years, I opened the business’ front door at 8:30 a.m. and stayed until 5 p.m. I’ve also got a lot of grass to cut.”