Barnes Radio Service

James A. Barnes was a true Reno radio pioneer. His lifelong passion began as a hobby during World War I, as he learned to assemble kit radios he had ordered from magazines. By the early 1920s, he was selling a few radio sets out of his garage and his mother’s store, Barnes Cash Grocery on West 4th Street.

His interest only grew in the years to follow, even as he pursued full-time work as an oil truck driver, and then as a mail carrier for the United States Post Office. Things got a bit more serious in 1930, when Barnes moved into a new house he had built on Nixon Avenue, where he sold radios out of his living room in the evenings, after punching out from his day job.

Finally, in 1940, Barnes quit the post office for good and paid cash to have this multicolored brick building constructed at 888 South Virginia Street. Its architect was Laurence Gulling, whose other local designs include the Southside School Annex (1936) on Liberty Street. The arched roof is supported by a steel truss that exerts pressure on the inside walls, requiring no additional interior walls for support.

Advertised as Nevada’s only exclusive radio sales and service shop, Barnes Radio Service offered retail and repair for radios of all kinds—home, car, and portable. The business closed for 42 months while Barnes served as a commissioned officer during World War II, and triumphantly reopened to the public in December 1945. After that he began to deal in televisions, too.

Barnes suffered a heart attack in 1976, and a year later, his son, James A. Barnes, Jr., and daughter-in-law Elizabeth took over the company. Jim, Jr. had grown up with the business, working for his father since his high school days. Changes in technology and the increasing tendency of consumers to replace rather than repair their electronic devices took their toll, and Barnes Radio Service closed for good in 2013.

Images

Iconic sign

Iconic sign

A familiar sight on South Virginia Street, the Barnes Radio Service sign presided over one of the street's longest-operating businesses, open from 1940 to 2013. Image courtesy of Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

Grand opening, 1940

Grand opening, 1940

An advertisement on June 28, 1940 announced the debut of the building, which featured brick work from Smith-Petersen, steel from Reno Iron Works, and glass and glazing from Alpine Glass. Image courtesy of Reno Evening Gazette View File Details Page

A corner landmark, 1986

A corner landmark, 1986

In the decades following the building's construction in 1940, the surrounding landscape changed considerably, but Barnes Radio Service remained a fixture on the corner of South Virginia and Taylor Streets. In the mid-eighties, the business moved to the east end of the building. Image courtesy of the Nevada Historical Society View File Details Page

James A. Barnes, Jr.

James A. Barnes, Jr.

The son of the founder took over the business in 1977, himself retiring in 2013. Image courtesy of Northern Nevada Business Weekly View File Details Page

Familiar form, new function

Familiar form, new function

The iconic sign on the building's front facade was removed after the closure of Barnes Radio Service in 2013, but signage still remaining on the building's south end in 2015 revealed its origins. | Creator: Alicia Barber View File Details Page

Street Address:

888 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV [map]

Cite this Page:

Alicia Barber, “Barnes Radio Service,” Reno Historical, accessed August 17, 2017, http://renohistorical.org/items/show/151.

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