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Abacus North: A Brief History

Boom Times

In a shockingly short time we were selling lots of Apple computers! Our first big challenge came from taking a second floor office instead of mall shop, or something in a strip mall. Apple told us we needed windows at street level to be a dealer, and so, we could not be authorized. We knew of an Apple dealer in Hawaii selling out of a surf shop, so we were a bit surprised how rigid the brand was becoming. For awhile we sold "gray market" Apples that we purchased from a authorized dealer in LA, but getting parts for service was a pain. Eventually we did talk the LA dealer out of service manuals and parts and we continued to provide service on Apple and all the other models we sold for as long as we could get parts for them. In the case of Apple, we still had parts for the models we sold until we closed.

Epson QX-10 Computer System

Epson QX-10 - The Beauty Queen of CP/M Machines!

We experimented with selling an Apple clone from Germany, the Basis 108, which was built like a tank. Its advantage for us was that it shipped standard with dual processors. The 6502 allowed Apple software to run and the Zilog Z-80 would run CP/M, then the microcomputer OS of choice for business software. Some of our most gnarly shop problems involved making the Apple ][ into a dual processor machine with Microsoft's Z-80 Apple accessory board or a competing model. Our tech Paul, called Microsoft tech support once and actually spoke about some problems he was having with Bill Gates who was taking support calls that day on the Z80 board. Bill essentially blew him off in true tech support style that we would experience over and over from vendors in this business. And this was before it all got out sourced!

These dual processor machines allowing customers to run things like word processors (WordStar, then WordPerfect) and accounting software were kludges at best, so when Kaypro suddenly announced the Kaypro II in an all-in-one case with monitor we jumped at the chance to become authorized for that vendor. Drank the Kool-Aid to the extent I took its claims of being a portable seriously enough that I toted it along to the 1982 Comdex in Las Vegas. What a back breaker that was, but its 26 pounds did fit the overhead bin!

At about the same time we got a look at the Epson MX-80. Our first printer, a classic Centronics model had no descenders on the characters it printed, and could be difficult to configure. This one had great characters and was easier to setup. Later models even did a decent job of printing graphics. Cool then, laughable by today's standards. I took a trip to Tarzana, California for the training needed to become an authorized servicing Epson dealer, and remained so 'till the day we closed the shop in 1995.

We hired help for accounting and the shop. We were rolling pretty good at this point and even managed to win a big bid to supply the Anchorage School District with a large quantity of Epson printers.

It occurs to me that the surf shop in Hawaii might be more appropriate than my first thought about it... The business of the computer store over the coming years was more like surfing than a regular business. Before we closed all our initial local competition had left the business. Along the way we were always on the verge of being swamped by some new wave. ComputerLand would come with big bucks and better marketing and get most of the school business and then Dell would rise with its direct marketing model and on and on. Even IBM was on the ropes for awhile. Kaypro put Osborne out in short order but then didn't get into MS-DOS quick enough and went down in their turn (I owned stock, joke's on me.)

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