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Normally, we reserve this space for the latest whizbang technologies and devices. Today, we veer to how this gear reaches you. Neighbors create community. Local merchants enrich our community, and they are your neighbors. In an era when big box stores obliterate local merchants, three locally owned audio/video shops serve our community. All suffered financial hardship, if not devastation, during the over-two-month COVID-19 pandemic shutdown.

The big box stores stayed open during the shutdown, selling TVs and audio gear, along with radishes and toilet paper, while the governor demanded that small local shops close. The same applies to other products from bicycles to mattresses. While tamping down the virus was essential, the pain was unfairly distributed.

If the shutdown was not enough, on May 31, looters ransacked Good Vibes, 2010 Round Barn Road, Champaign, in business for 49 years. Steve Suderman, co-founder of Good Vibes, remains the owner.

Looters attempted to break into Glen Poor’s Audio Video, 1745 W. Kirby, Champaign. Run by Geoff Poor, grandson of the founder, the company has served our community since 1949 and evolved from a TV store in Urbana to the current high-end audio and video salon in Champaign.

More recently, in 1993, Picture Perfect Technologies, 2909 W. Springfield, Champaign, opened for business. It was founded by a popular local musician who recently sold the company to a new local owner.

Before automatically heading for the big box store or going online, support a locally owned business.

No big box store or website employs anyone dedicated to the business for 49 years. You can speak directly with the owner. Let me know the last time you reached Jeff Bezos on the phone.

Furthermore, you might be surprised that these local stores match prices advertised elsewhere. They offer free advice and often free delivery. They even can erect an outdoor TV antenna or wire your entire home for entertainment.

Admittedly, they won’t pull up to your house in spiffy vans with a cutesy name, but they sure know what they are doing.

Although Good Vibes carried insurance, it’’s taking time to rebuild stock, since most of the TV factories closed during the worst of the COVID pandemic. It needs your business, but please be patient.

All three local stores assure me they are following proper pandemic protocol when you enter the store and during deliveries and installation.

None of these local businesses ever gave me a discount. I always paid the same price you would pay. I have received a lot of free information chatting with the proprietors over the years. They are a wealth of knowledge and wisdom you won’t find at chain stores or online.

Turning to sunnier topics, Comcast announced another bonus for its best customers. Comcast and WarnerMedia announced a deal to bring HBO Max to Xfinity X1 and Flex customers. As part of the deal, existing Xfinity HBO customers will have access to HBO Max at no additional cost via the HBO Max app and website while the companies work to quickly bring the HBO Max app to the Xfinity X1 platform along with the recently launched Xfinity Flex, a 4K streaming device that is included with Xfinity Internet.

Additionally, new customers will be able to purchase HBO Max directly through Xfinity in the coming days.

Meanwhile, a reader queried about retrieving data from a failed hard drive. A computer store managed to retrieve the actual data from the drive that crashed on his XP computer and copied it to a flash drive. When he put the new drive in his Windows 10 PC and opened his word processor, he saw only gibberish. This is not unusual as software companies updated character encoding over the past decade.

The reader will have to find a computer expert with software to read the original data encoding and translate it to current standards.

Rich Warren, who lives in the Champaign area, is a longtime reviewer of consumer electronics. Email him at hifiguy@volo.net.