Oct 2, 2020

Tract Computing, Inc - My days in computer retail


Back in 1989, I worked for a retail computer company called "Tract Computing." The operation had two locations: one in the Potomac Mills Mall in Woodbridge, VA, and the other in an office complex in Alexandria, VA. I have tried to research information about the company since, but have come up empty.

What I do remember, however, are a few of the things that I will probably never forget. They help lay the foundation for some of my core beliefs regarding business and handling employees. In this post, I'll share some of the things I remember (which may or may not have anything to do with business practices, but are rather memories).

  • I worked with several guys at the store. There was Rick and CJ (I cannot remember their last names to save my life). There were at least two other guys as well. The place was managed by a woman named Karen (I believe her name is/was Karen Williams, but that could be wrong). The company was run by a man named Alex and his wife (also named Karen, I believe). Alex's brother did the books, but I'm afraid I cannot recall his name. Their last name was either Nassif or Nassir, perhaps.
  • Alex had a vanity license plate with "DOS EXE" on it. So appropriate for the late 80's/early 90's.
  • One of the guys had an Amiga 1500 or perhaps 2000. We would go to his house to mess with it and eventually cobbled together a very cool PC/Amiga hybrid. I don't remember the details, but we used an IBM-PC bridge card from the Amiga with a ribbon cable that led to an AT chassis where a separate board served to add expansion ports to the PC side. That was crazy.
  • One of my most memorable moments came by way of a woman who came into the store one day. She held a computer mouse in her hands, and she approached me asking if we happened to sell just the balls that went into the computer mouse. In those days, we didn't have optical mice. Mice had a little ball that rolled around inside for movement. When I told her that we only sold complete mice, I asked her why she just needed the ball. She opened her hands and showed me a computer mouse that had been marred and scarred with a cable that looked like it had been chomped on for quite some time. She said, "Well, you see, my cat was playing with my mouse, and I think she killed it." Truly one of the funniest moments I've had. We sold her a replacement mouse.
  • Another stand-out situation came by way of an older couple. The woman had come to the store early in the day, picked out some software, then asked if it would run on an IBM-PC. I assured her that it would and she bought it. Later that day, she came back with her husband. Her husband was angry about something. When I asked what was wrong, he barked, "Are you the one that sold this (holding up the box) to my wife?" "Yes, sir," I said, confused. "Well, it will NOT work on an IBM-PC! This has five and quarter inch disks and we need three and a half! Where's your manager?" I tried to explain that the software WOULD work, but that I was not told the computer only had 3.5" drives. Didn't matter. He found the manager and proceeded to tell her how incompetent I was (using pretty colorful words to do so), and that I should be fired on the spot. She got him calmed down. One of the other guys copied the program to a 3.5-inch disk and sent the couple on their merry way. The manager got my side of the story and we decided it was a lesson learned - one I still practice as best I can to this day: ASK ALL THE QUESTIONS, ASSUME NOTHING. From that day on, I have tried to ask all the possible questions I can when given a task or a project.
  • Even though I couldn't find information online regarding Tract Computing, Inc, I do recall that the company had folded not long after I left in 1990. I was offered a manager's position in late 1989 as an enticement not to back to college (I was out for a semester, taking time off). They offered me a decent amount of money, but in the end, I thought it better to get my degree and return should the opportunity and offer still stand. By the time I graduated, they no longer existed. Plus, I wouldn't have gone back by then anyway. Life had taken me in a different direction.

In those days, we sold everything from hardware including PCs, Amigas, C64s, all kinds of peripherals. We were basically like Computer Shopper magazine in a little store. We weren't anything like Software, etc or Babbages or the myriad of other computer-related stores, but we were one of the few in the area. Sometimes, just being there is enough to have a moderately successful business. 

Shortly before I left, the manager was fired for allegedly stealing money from the company. Apparently, she wrote company checks to herself, which she signed, and then she endorsed on the back. The bank raised a few questions after the check amounts continued to grow, and things spiraled from there. Note: this is the story as I heard, so if facts are askew,  I am not making any accusations nor legal claims here. Nor am I trying to slander/libel anyone.

Anyway, I thought I would write this post in case any of the folks from back in the day started poking around looking for info about Tract Computing. Thanks for reading.