What Makes Abt Electronics a ‘Destination’

Even if you're not shopping for TVs or stoves, Chicago-area Abt is a great place to chill out with the family.

Julie Jacobson · July 28, 2010

Earlier this year, the Consumer Electronics Association delivered some bad news for specialty retailers: Their stores aren’t fun.

Obviously, the respondents in CEA’s survey had never been to Abt Electronics.

This Chicago-area store makes a great destination for abstract art aficionados, exotic fish lovers, coffee snobs, kids of all ages, even brides and grooms—several of which have been married in Abt’s sunny atrium surrounded by a fountain and gardens.

Oh, yes, there’s a stunning array of electronics as well.

“We’re the Bellagio of the industry,” says co-president Mike Abt.

All this fun packed into one sprawling place is a big reason why Abt isn’t just a A/V shop. It’s a destination.

imageAbstract Art
You’ll find plenty of it at Abt, like the electronic eyes that stare at you when you enter the store. “It has nothing to do with anything, other than it’s entertaining,” says Mike Abt.

Presidential Fun
If you’re a member of the local Young Presidents’ Organization, you better hope your next meeting is at Abt.

Once, Mike Abt had the forklift operators build a giant maze out of boxes. All of the YPO members managed to find their way out.

imageGood Work-Out
Even for store employees, Abt is a great place to hang out, thanks to a well-endowed gym on the campus - free to all employees.

On Sundays, Abt makes cookies in its full-functioning kitchen. Kids can play with virtual butterflies projected on a huge screen, or take a turn in the giant bubble machine. Plus, you’ll find lots of itty-bitty home theater chairs for the kiddos.

For Cool Kids
The teens may be too cool for the bubble machine, but they’ll never outgrow Abt’s monstrous big-screen playground, where a giant Sony 4K Cinealta projector delivers better-than-cinema quality, and an Alienware gaming PC powers the store’s flight simulator.

imageSomething Fishy
It’s not exactly Chicago’s famed Shedd Aquarium, but Abt’s 7,500-gallon fish tank is quite a marvel. If you’re lucky, you’ll catch a diver in a wetsuit twice a week going down to clean the tank. Watch him dodge the Moray eels, a 2.5-foot Leopard Shark and an assortment of other meat eating fish such as puffers and triggers.

Sun Bathing
During those harsh Chicago winters, you can bask in the atrium under the warm sun, surrounded by a fountain and gardens. Or get married there.

Next door to the big store is a restaurant owned by Abt. It’s not so much that the place makes money, but the area needed a restaurant so Abt built one. The place is just one more reason to spend the day at Abt’s.

Celebrity Gawking
Abt is a celebrity magnet! You can tell by the stars that leave their mark on Abt’s wall of fame. Mike Abt himself is a local celeb. Four years after his last commercial aired, people still stop him in the street: “Hey, you’re that guy.”

imageExperience It!
One big advantage of a giant, custom-oriented shop is that you can watch, listen and touch. “People come here from 100 miles away because they’re gonna get a great demo,” Abt says.


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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at

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  Article Topics

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