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Hail, Caesar! Now Where Are The CD-Roms?

From Ancient Rome to Lunar Landscapes, Fry's Electronics Stores Go Otherworldly

October 08, 2000|A. GREY LE CUYER

Family and friends coming to visit again? They've seen Third Street Promenade once too often, done CityWalk, couldn't care less about the La Brea Tar Pits, but still want to be entertained? Take 'em to Fry's.

While it's debatable whether the legions of techno-geeks marching through the aisles of Fry's Electronics stores are even aware that Martians are attacking the refrigerator section or that a giant hookah-smoking caterpillar perches on an outsize mushroom above the iMacs, even the most jaded shopper has to admit that these stores are uniquely cool. The brainchildren of Eric Christensen (as inspired by CEO John Fry), each Fry's store from California to Texas features its own individual theme. Customers can wander through a Wild West show in Palo Alto, a Martian landscape in Burbank, ancient Rome in Fountain Valley, Egypt in Campbell, Mayan ruins in San Jose, the 1893 Chicago World's Fair in Fremont or the South Seas in Manhattan Beach, all while picking out replacements for high-tech gadgetry that often becomes obsolete as soon as it leaves the store.

Christensen, 52, working from his offices at the end of a pier in Sausalito, admits that the cost of implementing these dreams, covering an average floor space of 150,000 square feet, can run as much as $1.5 million per store. Christensen has become quite the world traveler, journeying to exotic locales for research: Sailing up the Nile, he imagines a toppled block of stones as a checkout counter. A Mayan temple will make a great lobby. The aqueduct glimpsed in Rome yields a TV display area.

Christensen was no stranger to high-profile design projects before he began turning electronic retail areas into Alice's Wonderland. While at the Skywalker Arts and Crafts Studio during the early '80s, he helped design George Lucas' ranch. He segued to the Industrial Light and Magic model shop, creating movie-set pieces, building spaceships and designing cool "things" for Lucas' home and ranch. When John Fry approached ILM to design a "Star Wars"-themed store in Fremont (since replaced), Christensen got the assignment between movie gigs.

Today, Christensen juggles about 15 projects, all contracted for Fry's. "I didn't know it was going to be a career," he muses, "but I could certainly do this as long as they want me to. It's fun."

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