Lafayette Radio Electronics
Uppercase letters and a picture of Marquis de Lafayette were commonly used as Lafayette's logo through the 1960s and '70s
|Headquarters||Syosset, New York|
Lafayette Radio Electronics Corporation was a radio manufacturer and retailer based in Syosset, New York. The company sold radio sets, amateur radio equipment, citizen's band (CB) radios, other communications equipment, electronic components and tools through retail outlets and by mail-order.
Established in the 1920s, Lafayette Radio Electronics (LRE) became a thriving mail-order catalog business; the electronic components it sold were useful to amateur radio operators and electronic hobbyists in areas where such components were unavailable in local retail outlets. Lafayette's main competitors were Radio Shack, Allied Radio, Heathkit, and "mom and pop" (independent) radio dealers throughout the United States. Early Lafayette Radio stores were located in Jamaica, N.Y. and Manhattan in the mid-1950s. The electronics kits were produced in the Jamaica facility.
Lafayette advertised heavily in major U.S. consumer electronics magazines of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly Audio, High Fidelity, Popular Electronics, Popular Mechanics, and Stereo Review. The company offered a free 400-page catalog filled with descriptions of vast quantities of electronic gear, including microphones, speakers, tape recorders, and other components.
Until the 1960s, many independent retailers in some markets became Lafayette Radio "Associate Stores", which were displaced when the company expanded. These stores were supported from headquarters at 111 Jericho Turnpike in Syosset, NY and a warehouse in Hauppauge, NY. A limited selection of product was stocked, with full access to a catalog with a wide variety of parts, tubes, cameras, musical instruments, kits, gadgets and branded gear that could be ordered and delivered through the local store. The company made major investments in what were called sound rooms to demonstrate hi-fi equipment, using custom switch panels and acoustic treatments in an attempt to duplicate a home listening environment and offer fair comparison with an assortment of branded hi-fi gear.
Managers were rewarded for maximizing gross profit margins and inventory "turns", which led to frequent out-of-stock situations, often remedied by frequent cross-town inter-store transfers. Each store had a repair shop on site with a part-time technician. Some locations had multiple full-time service technicians. Others had service departments that operated independently of the store but under the same ownership. Stores ranged in size from 2,000 to 5,000 square feet (460 m2).
By the late 1970s, Lafayette expanded to major markets across the country, struggling to compete with Radio Shack, which was purchased by Tandy Leather Co. in 1963. Lafayette ran into major financial difficulty when the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expanded a new citizens band radio ("CB") spectrum to 40 channels in 1977. Lafayette's buyers had firm commitments to accept delivery of thousands of older design units capable of only 23 channels, and were not able to liquidate the inventory without taking a serious loss. Eventually, all of the old CB radios were sold for under $40.
With fewer than 100 stores, far fewer than the aggressively expanding Radio Shack's thousands of local outlets, Lafayette Radio remained more of a dedicated enthusiasts' store than a mass marketer. The company was also hurt by the advent of electronics retailers relying on aggressive marketing techniques and competitive pricing in the late 1970s. Many experienced managers departed. Formerly a national chain, the remaining Lafayette stores in the state of New York closed by the end of 1981.
Some local Lafayette stores remained open until 1981. For example, the Long Branch, New Jersey, store closed in the fall of 1981. Unsold inventory was literally shovelled into dumpsters overnight to vacate the store. One store in the Trenton, New Jersey area became known as "Laraco Electronics". Laraco had one retail location that served the area on Business Route 1 in Lawrenceville until its closing in late 2002.
Several Lafayette stores were purchased by Circuit City of Richmond, Virginia. In order to keep the Lafayette name, which was popular in New York, Circuit City changed the store names to "Lafayette-Circuit City". However, these store locations were much smaller than a standard Circuit City, and did not carry major appliances, which Circuit City carried at the time. The stores were eventually closed as Circuit City left the New York Market (only to return later). The Syosset repair center was kept open a year after the last store closing to handle warranty coverage. Lafayette-Circuit City used the phrase "no haggling" in its ad campaign, which featured celebrities such as Don King, in trying to demonstrate that the lowest price was always posted, unlike many competitors in where you would have to bargain with the sales person for a lower price. This approach, however, did not work, and Lafayette-Circuit City fell due to competition from other New York area electronic retailers such as Newmark and Lewis, Trader Horn, The Wiz, Crazy Eddie, and PC Richard.
As of 2003, the Lafayette brand name was re-launched at the CES show that year. Their products are only offered through special dealers and limited retail stores.
Lafayette's products ranged from stereos to two-way radios for amateur radio, CBers, and shortwave listeners. Many were dedicated types with special functions, such as VHF receivers for police and fire channels built into a CB radio. The company's best selling products were often shortwave receivers, parts, and portable radios. In the 1960s, many Lafayette brand radios were rebranded Trio-Kenwood sets. A significant share of 1960s and 1970s vintage Lafayette hi-fi gear was manufactured by a Japanese subcontractor named "Planet Research". "Criterion" brand speakers were built by several offshore and some domestic assemblers. Science kits were popular, and Lafayette offered a small Atom Smasher (van de Graaff generator), Model F-371.
While the catalog heavily promoted their own branded products, Lafayette also carried models from many other hi-fi manufacturers of the era, including Marantz, Fisher, Pioneer, Sansui, AR, Dynaco, KLH, Wharfedale, Bozak, BIC, BSR McDonald, Garrard, Dual, TEAC, Akai, Shure, Empire, Pickering, Electro-Voice, JVC, Panasonic, Sony and others. The catalogs and advertising helped promote the concept of high-fidelity sound to customers, some of whom lived many miles away from major electronics stores, during a time when only the largest urban areas had dedicated "stereo" stores. Lafayette also offered TV vacuum tube testing, for customers who wanted to service their own televisions.
Lafayette was quick to jump on industry trends, embracing first open reel tape recorders and later 8-track cartridge recorders and compact cassette recorders, along with an amazing array of gimmicks, supplies, and accessories. During the mid-1970s, the company was one of few places one could actually experience four channel ("quadraphonic") sound. However the lack of a single industry standard (Columbia SQ vs. JVC's CD-4 and Sansui's QS) dampened sales, and the experiment ended in 1976.
Lafayette also sold a variety of electronic musical equipment made by different manufacturers. There were solid-body and hollow-body electric guitars, probably made by Teisco or Harmony. Microphones, amplifiers, and various electronic effects such as reverbs were available, many of which sported the Lafayette brand name, most notably the Echo Verb and Echo Verb II. One of the most famous effects that Lafayette sold was the Uni-Vibe, used by many musicians, most notably Jimi Hendrix. Robin Trower, Stevie Ray Vaughan and others later used the effect to emulate Hendrix's sounds and achieve new ones of their own.
Lafayette retail store locations according to catalog listing. NY/NJ/MD/MA listings augmented by reference to ads in Popular Mechanics. and Popular Science. Rainbow City, AL opening notice.
AL: Rainbow City (Rainbow Plaza, Associates Store)
CT: W. Hartford, Stamford (later, Trim Fashions, now CVS), Hamden, Bridgeport, Enfield, Groton, Manchester, Torrington, Waterbury (Colonial Plaza)
CA: Hawthorne, Hayward, Canoga Park, Carson, Cerritos, Costa Mesa, El Toro (Lake Forest), Huntington Beach, Inglewood, Long Beach, North Hollywood, Northridge, Orange, Panorama City, San Diego [4606 Mission Bay Drive], San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, Studio City, Torrance, West Covina, Whittier, Lancaster
FL: Orlando, Tampa, Miami (2 Locations), Hollywood, Jacksonville, Lake Worth
GA: Atlanta/Buckhead, Clarkston, Columbus, Decatur, Dunwoody, Forest Park, Greenbriar Mall/Atlanta, Marietta, Valdosta
IN: Indianapolis (4 Locations), Kokomo (one location)
IL: Chicago metro area (Chicago, Ford City, New Town), Arlington Heights, Evergreen Park, Morton Grove, Norridge, Schaumburg, Springfield, Villa Park
MA: Boston metro area (584 Commonwealth Ave., Prudential Center, Brookline), (110 Federal St. Boston 10), Worcester, Burlington, Danvers, Saugus, Natick (1400 Worcester St.), West Roxbury/Dedham, Springfield (Sumner Ave.) and Stoughton (Washington St./route 138)
MD: Baltimore metro area, Prince George's County-Mt. Rainier/Hyattsville (3191 Queens Chapel Rd.), Dundalk, Glen Burnie, Marlow Heights, Rockville, Towson
MI: Store #1 on Broadway Ave in Detroit (aka Barton Electronics), Store #2 on Maple in downtown Birmingham (store was lost due to fire), Store #3 on Plymouth Road in Livonia (aka Robbie), Store #4 on Van Dyke in Sterling Heights, Store #5 Ann Arbor, Store #6 Kalamazoo (aka Kaltronics), <<10721 West 10 Mile Oak Park - Main Office, Warehouse and Store #7 (aka Eric)>>, Store #8 Trenton, Store #9 Farmington (aka Nancy), Store #10 Grand Rapids, Store #11 on Gratiot in Roseville, Store #12 on M59 in Waterford, Store #14 in Lansing.
MN: Brooklyn Center, Edina, Roseville
MO: St. Louis (Bridgeton, Crestwood, Jenkins), Columbia (Wittenborn Electronics, a distributor)
NJ: Camden (Benjamin Franklin Bridge Plaza), East Brunswick, Newark (24 Central Ave.), Newton, Netcong (Route 206), Paramus (182 Route 17), Parsippany, Pennsauken, Plainfield (139 West 2 St.), Rockaway (Route 46), Somervllle, Totowa, Trenton, Union, Vineland, Watchung
NY: New York City - Manhattan (71 West 45th St., 17 Union Square West, 100 Sixth Ave.), Brooklyn (2265 Bedford Ave.), Bronx (542 E. Fordham Rd.) Jamaica Queens (165-08 Liberty Ave.); Staten Island (Richmond Avenue); Buffalo (Main Street near Tupper St, Amherst, West Seneca, Eastern Hills), Glens Falls (Queensbury, 707 Upper Glen St.), Lynbrook, L.I. (381 Sunrise Hwy.), Massapequa (Sunrise Hwy.), Rochester (Irondequoit, Greece, Pittsford), Scarsdale (691 Central Park Avenue), Schenectady (141 Erie Blvd.), Syracuse (E.Syracuse), Elmira (Church St.), Hempstead, L.I. (Franklin Ave.), Syosset, L.I. (111 Jericho Tpke.), Flushing, New Rochelle (216 North Ave.), Watertown, NY (Court St.) Lake Grove ( intersection of Hawkins ave and Middle Country road ), Albany (79 Central Avenue)
OH: Cleveland (Parma Heights, North Olmsted, Mentor, Warrensville Heights), Toledo, Columbus, Cincinnati, Dayton.
OK: Sapulpa (Creek Hills Mall, later moved to Rock Creek Center before becoming a Radio Shack)
PA: Pittsburgh (Bridgeville/Collier (Great Southern Shopping Center), Monroeville, North Hills, Pleasant Hills), Allentown, Lancaster, Philadelphia, King of Prussia, Oxford Valley/Langhorne, York, West Chester, Springfield (Delaware County).
RI: Providence, Warwick
TN: Murfreesboro 318a North Maple Street, closed in 1981, reopened as Audiomasters
TX: Tyler (closed 1980)
UT: Salt Lake City (Store still exists as an electronic supply and surplus outlet, now known as Ra-Elco)
VA: Richmond (in 6600 block of Midlothian Turnpike), Falls Church, Fredericksburg (Fredericksburg Shopping Center, Jefferson Davis Highway, closed in the mid 1970s), Harrisonburg (Rolling Hills Shopping Center, East Market St.). Hampton and Virginia Beach
WI: Milwaukee (Bay Shore, Greenfield, Wauwatosa)
Shop By Phone Department
An early Shop By Phone Department telephone number was WAlnut 1-7500
- http://rigreference.com/lafayette Rig Reference - The Reference Guide To Amateur Radio Equipment
- "History Of Lafayette Radio Corp.". The Radio Museum.
- Lafayette Radio Electronics Catalog, 1977
- Popular Mechanics Magazine Ad, September, 1964 (p55) http://books.google.com/books?id=QOMDAAAAMBAJ
- Popular Science Magazine Ad, October, 1965 (back cover) http://books.google.com/books?id=4SUDAAAAMBAJ
- Gadsden Times, January 28, 1973 http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1891&dat=19730128&id=-BRHAAAAIBAJ&sjid=nv0MAAAAIBAJ&pg=2224,4237612