Filed Under Businesses

Barnes Radio Service

An early radio entrepreneur on South Virginia Street

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 outside 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.


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. Source: Nevada Historical Society
Grand opening, 1940
Grand opening, 1940 An advertisement in June 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 Source: Reno Evening Gazette Date: June 28, 1940
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. Source: Nevada Historical Society Date: 1986
James A. Barnes, Jr.
James A. Barnes, Jr. The son of the founder took over the business in 1977, himself retiring in 2013. Source: Northern Nevada Business Weekly
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 Date: 2015


888 South Virginia Street, Reno, NV


Alicia Barber, “Barnes Radio Service,” Reno Historical, accessed July 14, 2024,