Computer Reset was a large used computer dealer in northeast Dallas whose heyday was in the 1980s and 1990s, but it remained a go to source for vintage computer parts into the 2010s. Its fame grew after it closed in 2019 when several prominent Youtubers visited the facility and made videos about it.
Computer Reset history
Computer Reset’s owner, Richard Byron, founded the legendary store in either 1984 or 1985. Newsletters from the 90s said 1985, but the website said 1984. A native of Oklahoma, Byron had two degrees and worked for Boeing, Dresser Industries, and ARCO before starting Computer Reset. The business operated out of a facility on the 9500 block of Skillman Street in northeast Dallas, near the suburb of Garland.
Computer Reset had its own newsletter/catalog it sent to customers on a periodic basis. And of course it had a website, when the Web became mainstream. Computer Reset’s facility was about 18,000 square feet, which included about 11,000 square feet of retail/office space and 7,000 square feet of warehouse space.
Although it sold most major brands, it was the go-to place for IBM equipment, especially the PCjr, Portable PC, and the PS/2.
How big was it?
It’s been described as a 38,000 square foot warehouse, but that may be overstating its size. The property records describe the building as closer to 18,000 square feet, sitting on a 39,976 square foot lot. So 38,000 square feet was closer to the size of the land, not just the building. A typical Best Buy store is 38,000 square feet. So imagine a half-size Best Buy store packed to the brim, rather than a full one. It’s no less impressive.
For comparison, the shop in St. Louis that was most like Computer Reset was 6,000 square feet. It closed in 2000.
If you knew the right person, you could still get in and make purchases in mid 2018. But the store’s website wasn’t updated after 2011. Between that and the looks of the storefront in late 2018, it looks like the business was trying to wind down sometime in that 2011 to 2018 timeframe.
The store unofficially closed in 2018. Richard Byron was in failing health by then, and died in September 2019 at the age of 75. The liquidation of Computer Reset became a story of its own.
Why Computer Reset was liquidated
It’s easy to ask why Richard Byron’s family liquidated the inventory. Their reasons are really none of our business, but from an economics perspective, it makes sense. The Youtube videos of the facility in 2019 show a building that had seen better days. According to the local government’s property records, the building was worth $1.6 million for tax purposes. The tax liability on the property was $46,000 a year. Theoretically the facility could be rented out for $200,000 a year, but not in the condition it was in. Potentially it could be redeveloped if someone didn’t want it for industrial space. But nothing could happen while it was full of obsolete computer gear.
As it was, the building was a liability to his survivors.
The challenges of selling the business
The alternative to emptying the building was finding a buyer for the whole business. I’m sure there were enthusiasts in Dallas who fantasized about that. It’s one thing to fantasize about it, another to talk about it, and yet another to make it reality. Coming up with the capital to make it happen was another problem. Going to a bank with a business plan that consists of words that can be construed like “dilapidated warehouse” and “obsolete computers in unknown condition” isn’t exactly a time tested way to get a business loan. It sounds too risky.
Even if they could get the money, getting the permits needed to reopen the business under new ownership could have been a problem. The building needed repairs in order to legally change hands. And all that inventory was in the way of those repairs. It was a case of not being able to sell stuff because they couldn’t reopen the building but not being able to reopen because of not being able to sell the stuff that was in the way.
The family considered selling the inventory as scrap. In the end, what happened was a good compromise. An army of volunteers helped empty the building over the course of about three years. They got the family a better deal than the scrap value. Richard Byron’s legacy ended up in the hands of people who appreciate it. The whole thing could have turned out far worse than it did.
Where the inventory came from
How does one end up with 18,000 square feet full of obsolete computer equipment, packed three stories high? You advertise that you’re willing to buy it, that’s how. Sometimes people will just give you the stuff to be rid of it. But most of what you get that way is too old to be incredibly useful, and not old enough to be cool again. I never had that kind of square footage to work with, but I am speaking from experience to an extent.
But it’s not hard at all for me to see where the inventory came from. In some cases Richard Byron purchased it from the manufacturer directly. Some of his inventory was still in original factory boxes with shipping labels from the manufacturer. He specialized in orphan IBM gear.
The newsletter he sent out to customers stated that Computer Reset would buy computer equipment. He didn’t publish specifics, at least not in the issues I have seen, but there was a phone number to call. On the website, he published what he was looking for and willing to buy at the time. If you were a company with a room full of aging machines and a tight IT budget, you made that phone call. I’m speaking from experience there. I wasn’t the one who made the phone call, but I was the one that compiled the list of what we had.
An unexpected source of good inventory
Some of the inventory, especially the parts, probably came and as a side effect of their other lines of business. If you had an aging computer and didn’t want to replace the whole thing, you could send it to them, and they would replace the motherboard and anything else that needed to be replaced, to make the machine more current. In a 1993 issue, they offered to upgrade your XT or AT class IBM or clone to a 40 megahertz 386 for $279 plus shipping both ways. It was cheaper than buying a whole new 386, and not everyone was comfortable doing that work themselves in 1993. The parts they took out of the systems they upgraded ended up in inventory. If someone needed to repair that type of system with original parts, they could buy that motherboard for $70 or $100, depending on the speed and type.
That’s how a lot of IBM motherboards ended up in boxes, separated from their original cases and power supplies. I did a lot of onesie and twosie upgrades like that, so did a lot of other computer savvy 20 somethings, but shops like Computer Reset could do it on a very large scale. There was a healthy inventory of old used boards at the time of liquidation, so some sat vanquished for three decades, but some went on to keep machines alive for another day.
The legend and legacy of Computer Reset
If you were into the vintage computer scene in the 2019-2022 timeframe, you got used to hearing references to Computer Reset. When something particularly odd turned up, like the IBM 7496 workstation, they became the subject of Youtube videos.
But beyond that, you’d hear rumors. A casual mention of some obscure piece of hardware would include the comment that a couple of them turned up at Computer Reset. Or if someone you knew lived in the Dallas area, knew you were into the sort of thing, and they liked you, they might mention they had an in at computer reset and might be able to get something for you.
And even before prominent YouTubers made videos about their visits to computer reset, the place wasn’t exactly a secret among Dallas area retro computer enthusiasts. Everyone knew it wouldn’t last forever, but they also knew there was plenty of stuff to go around, so nobody was exactly shy about talking about it.
Unfortunately, all good things eventually come to an end, and the Computer Reset story seems to be pretty much over at the time of the writing. But a significant percentage of the equipment ended up in the hands of people who could put it to use and enjoy it, and that kept Richard Byron’s legacy from ending up in a landfill. In some of the surviving newsletters, Richard Byron touted the benefits of recycling, both from an ecological and a monetary standpoint. So it’s fitting that a good amount of the computers and parts in his warehouse are back up and running again as someone’s hobby machines.
Finding the next Computer Reset
Is there another undiscovered Computer Reset out there? Probably not on the same scale. But businesses like Computer Reset used to advertise in a trade magazine called Processor. If you stumble across any old copies of that magazine, that would be a good starting point.