I Heart City Computer, on Opposite Day

I love to support the local guy, the small business doing what it can to compete against all of the big boxes taking over our fair country. Stores like Best Buy and Circuit City have really driven out the small time computer maintenance retailer, and so in many cases you don’t have a choice. City Computer in Pittsburgh’s Shadyside neighborhood offers just such an alternative. If only the owner cared about his business as much as I cared about attempting to frequent it.

My latest experience was by far the worst, however it was not my first time in the shop. I’ve gone there for all of my computer repair needs, everything from buying a USB cable to trying to recover data from a crashed laptop. The owner sits behind a massively cluttered desk populated by old school magnet toys, 90’s Mac hardware and invoices that show you private information — such as names, addresses and credit card numbers — from his various other customers. Aside from that last bit of unnerving information, it actually does sound like a dream to me. The vast stockpile of completely unorganized games, monitors, printer cartridges and all things dripping wires full of computation makes me reminiscent of the days when the local Radio Shack in my small hometown would be stuffed to the gills with similar items, all incredibly fascinating to a 13 year old boy with a newfound love of the personal computer.

However, this isn’t a romp into my childhood, it’s an attempt to unveil some truth…so back to the owner. First of all, if you don’t just start talking to him, he will rarely acknowledge that you’ve entered the room. Indeed, even if you walk right up to his desk and look at him, he’s more likely to remain fixed in whatever Windows his PC is running than to make eye contact. If he’s on the phone when you come in, he’ll finish the conversation before giving you any indication that he’s realized you’re there. If the phone rings while you’re talking to him, he’ll answer it and, instead of asking the person to hold, will have a complete discussion with them first before getting back to you. Likewise, if there’s a line in the place, forget any sense of order; just because you got there first and have been waiting doesn’t mean he won’t pass your turn and start talking to whatever customers are behind you, seemingly out of completely randomonium. But I’ll provide some examples, rather than just have you believe my summations.

  • In December of 2007 I visited City Computer with an external hard drive that our home computers could no longer recognize. I asked him if he could simply transfer the data from the hard drive to some DVDs. “Okay,” he responded, taking down my name and number, “we’ll give you a call when it’s ready.”
  • Two weeks later, and no correspondence from City Computer as of yet, I call back. “It’s not finished yet.” I inquire as to how much longer and he says a couple of days.
  • Two days go by and I finally get a call from him. “There’s too much data to transfer onto DVDs.” It took him 16 days to let me know that. I tell him that I’ll buy another external drive and will bring it in, and he quotes me $169.
  • About a week later I find out about Time Capsule and, knowing that I’m going to buy one, ask City Computer if they can wait until it comes out. They agree, which is actually very cool considering how long it ends up taking me to get Time Capsule; about two months later Time Capsule actually hits the shelves, but when I finally get it I realize that it’s way too shiny and new to take up there and have them destroy it before I even get a chance to play with it. So I empty the hard drive on my laptop and make an appointment with the owner of City Computer. He tells me, “If you come in Monday at 1:00, it’ll be finished by 6:00,” which, incidentally, is a full business day at City Computer, as they’re only open from 1 – 6.
    I arrive at City Computer at 1:07pm on Monday. One of the employees is sitting out front playing his PSP. Everything inside is dark. “Is this place open?” I ask, a fool’s question as I can clearly see it’s not. The kid tells me that while they’re supposed to be open, the owner hasn’t showed up yet. “He’s never here on time,” he tells me. “Come back in half an hour or something, maybe he’ll be here.”
  • I grab some sushi for lunch and get back over there around 2:15. The owner’s in, the place is open, time to do some business. I give him my laptop and confirm the 6pm pickup. “Ehhhh,” he has a condescending smirk on his face that reminds me of what a penis must look like before it gets caught in a zipper, “better shoot for tomorrow.” Now my laptop is my one and only source of income. I’ve made arrangements to have this all done in one day. He tells me there won’t be time, and tries pulling “I said to be here at 1:00.” I inform him, as smugly as possible, that he is the reason we didn’t meet at 1:00. He basically just says that there’s nothing he can do, it’ll take as long as it takes. I need to get this taken care of, so I leave my laptop there overnight, but to expedite things I tell him to just forget about retrieving the mp3s, as he’s told me that these are the majority of the contents on the drive.
  • I come in first thing the next day to retrieve my laptop, praying that it still exists and everything has been taken care of, which it has. He hands me a bill for $379. Remember that his original quote was for $169, and that included transferring the mp3s as well. I totally call him on it and he stutters a few times but takes the bill back, scratches some things out and writes some new things down. He hands it back to me and now it’s for $173. I’m assuming the extra $4 is simply to prove that he’s the tough guy here, as it certainly isn’t enough to be tax. I just wanted to get out of there, so I pay him what he’s asked. He hands me my laptop bag, which is short the original external hard drive. When I ask for it he looks dumbfounded, “What? You want the drive?” Yes, please…oh by the way, my name is Mr. Obvious. So he goes digging around in the back and after about 10 minutes produces the hard drive, sans enclosure. So I ask him for the enclosure, and he goes digging around in the back for another 15 minutes before finally bringing that out.

I’m sorry to say that I’ll never be able to use City Computer again. Perhaps I’ll be able to find another, similar small business but until then, I suppose it’s Geek Squad from here on out.

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