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Bob Abt: The House That Bob Built

It’s hard to describe Abt Electronics unless you’ve actually been there.

The privately held company’s lone Chicagoland mega-showroom is part department store and part CE and appliance specialist, with a bit of amusement park thrown in. In addition to the latest and greatest in tech and white goods, the emporium features a Las Vegas-like atrium with dedicated stores for cutlery, gourmet foods and mattresses, and enough attractions like a giant-bubble machine, 7,500-gallon aquarium, and fresh-baked cookies to keep kids busy while parents shop.

Throw in a vast selection at competitive prices, and a customer-friendly vibe that’s an extension of the Abt family’s own personality, and you begin to get a sense of the Abt Electronics experience.

The man behind the legendary retail institution was Bob Abt, the son of founders David and Jewel, who grew their small radio store into a favorite of Chicagoans (both famous and not), and of myriad manufacturers who also tested and launched their products from his sales floors.

A soft-spoken and self-described “average guy,” Bob was regarded within the industry as a creative genius with a knack for marketing and merchandising, and who always kept the customer front and center. As the company’s one-page policy handbook simply states: “The answer is always ‘yes’ to any reasonable request.”

The CE Hall of Famer died this year at the age of 77. Beloved by all, his legacy will live on, through his four sons who head the business; in the memories of industry friends; and by that testament to brick-and-mortar retail, the house that Bob built, Abt Electronics.