Legendary tech merchant Bernie Appel, who was instrumental in building RadioShack into an iconic national tech chain, died Sunday at the age of 85 from congestive heart failure.
The son of Russian immigrants, Appel joined RadioShack as a buyer in 1959, when the company was still a Boston-based catalog business with three stores. Over the next 33 years, as he moved from buyer to chief merchant to president and chairman under visionary leader John Roach, Appel’s sourcing and merchandising prowess helped build the Tandy-backed chain into a neighborhood fixture, with some 7,000 tech shops across the country.
Along the way he ushered in the age of the personal computer with the introduction of the TRS-80, and helped open the door to retail sales of telephones by taking on AT&T in a case that went before the Supreme Court.
His work earned him the moniker “Mr. RadioShack,” as well as a TWICE Distinguished Achievement Award in 1994, and entrée into the Consumer Technology Hall of Fame in 2002.
He later told TWICE that his Hall of Fame induction, and the recognition by his peers that it represented, was his most memorable industry moment of the previous two decades.
Appel is welcomed into the Consumer Technology Hall of Fame in its third year by CTA head Gary Shapiro in 2002.
Appel left RadioShack in 1993 to start a marketing consultancy, and remained active in various civic and Jewish causes in his hometown of Fort Worth, Texas.
RadioShack would go on to face mounting hardships as it searched for a contemporary identity and compelling role in the digital age, and last month filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection for the second time in as many years.
According to the Fort Worth Business Press, Appel passed Sunday after a long battle with congestive heart failure.
Former colleague Henry Chiarelli, industry relations executive VP at Gibson Brands and past business development senior VP at RadioShack and president of RadioShack.com, remembered Appel in a statement released through the Consumer Technology Association (CTA).
“Bernie was my boss and my mentor for many of my years at Tandy,” Chiarelli wrote. “He was known by all within the Tandy family as ‘Mr. RadioShack.’ Bernie had an extraordinary impact on the consumer technology industry and pioneered many of the early innovations that made our industry what it is today. He will be missed by many but he has left a legacy that will live on forever.”
Added CTA president/CEO Gary Shapiro: “Bernie was truly one of a kind. He helped build RadioShack from a small local chain to a national retail powerhouse. His passion for the industry was infectious and inspirational, and his merchandising expertise helped introduce generations of Americans to the latest consumer technology innovations. Our sympathy goes to Bernie’s wife, Ellen, and his extended family and friends.”
Funeral services will be held today at Congregation Ahavath Sholom in Fort Worth. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that contributions in Appel’s memory be made to the synagogue or to a charity of one’s choice.
Hat tip to the Fort Worth Business Press.