On a busy street just off 6th Avenue in the Flatiron district of Manhattan sits a humble storefront. Rows of Apple Macintosh computers in a variety of colors and shapes line up on shelves behind glass, each one slightly less cuboid than the one to its right. At some point, the beige transitions into candy colored monitor cases.
This is the “Mac Museum” at Tekserve, the computer sales and repair shop that served techies in New York City for 30 years, and it’s about to go dark.
The store is a wunderkammer for tech geeks. Next to the computers stands a tall, wooden 1950s Bell telephone booth. Opposite is a cabinet overflowing with transistor radios and next to that, old adding machines. One of the very first models of television lies on the floor. Dick Demenus, Tekserve’s founder, owns everything here.
He picks up a radio and runs a finger over one edge as if to admire the workmanship. Demenus views technology and mechanics through his engineer’s eyes. The older things were built to last, he says. Too much of today’s gadgets are mere fads.
“I’m very critical of contemporary design,” says Demenus. “A lot of very frivolous stuff that doesn’t stand the test of time.”
Tekserve’s lease on the building expires at the end of August and the rent will triple, prompting Demenus to shut it down for good. Tekserve will be buzzing on August 23rd, however, when almost every item here goes up for auction—by Thursday afternoon, the highest bid for the “Mac Museum” stood at $23,000.
The auction will be a swansong for a main street store that was considered the original Apple store. When Tekserve opened in 1987, its staff catered to the few Mac enthusiasts in New York City. It grew into the nation’s largest Apple reseller. Demenus started the business in his loft apartment and then moved around several locations, before they found a permanent home in 119 West 23rd Street, some 15 years ago. Demenus lives next door and will continue living there as the new tenants move in.
Way before there was a Genius Bar, Tekserve operated as the city’s one-stop-shop for artists, architects, graphic designers and writers who used Apple products. Demenus and his engineers took it upon themselves to learn how the first Apple computers were built. The team became indispensable for users in the city. The business grew from a simple idea: to provide a quality and cheaper alternative to authorized repair centers.
But it soon became apparent that they had the space, and the ambition, to move into retail. The building has two floors and occupies the width of a block. Classical-style columns stand from floor to ceiling. They started selling the technology too. At the company’s peak, Tekserve employed 200 people.
Demenus has a long-standing fascination for gadgetry; his collection of computers, radios, microphones, cameras and technological miscellany is huge and will fill the store floor on the day of the auction. He built the collection from years of going to auctions and flea markets across the county.
His desk is on the lower level of the building, where many of the antiques were kept hidden away. Behind his chair, and the obligatory Mac desktop, is one item not for sale: a cardboard cutout of Princess Leia. Leia, says Demenus, has been watching over him.
That afternoon, he had just received a book full of signatures and good luck messages from members of staff past and present. Tekserve employees filled out a local pub on Monday night for an impromptu farewell party. Demenus was surprised and touched at how many people turned up, but says he always looked after his staff.
“We tried to provide a humane and very supportive work environment. We did things Google are now famous for,” says Demenus. He referred to the company’s policy of free lunches.
Roland Auctions organized Tuesday’s sale, which will take place inside the store and also online. It will mark the closure of another New York tradition; an independent main street-style store. There are seven Apple Store’s within walking distance of Tekserve and Demenus says the company simply couldn’t compete anymore.
The store will close but the collecting may not. Recently, Demenus says he bought a vintage Bakelite radio, to add to his collection of dozens. It’s the thrill of the hunt, says Demenus, that will never go away.
“If you want a hobby, it’s better than Las Vegas.”
Update, 8/23: An earlier version of this story stated, incorrectly, that Dick Demenus bought a Baker Light Radio. We regret the error.