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.