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Abt Electronics: a Carnivalesque Place to Get a TV

A conversation with Jon Abt, copresident of Abt Electronics in Glenview, the nation’s largest — and funnest — single-store electronics and appliance retailer

Photos: Peter Ranvestel

What’s with the huge fountain in the atrium?

My father loved Las Vegas — Steve Wynn was his idol. So the fountain is inspired by the ones at the Bellagio. It is programmed to different songs, and the water shoots all the way to the ceiling.

And the giant aquarium?

It was originally a display to showcase the image quality of our cameras and camcorders. Ours is the largest privately owned saltwater aquarium in Illinois. We hired one of the guys from Tanked to revamp it. One of our salespeople, Tim, cleans the coral once a week. He puts on a wetsuit and jumps in. Our original moray eel, RJ, had cataracts when he died at 29. My brother had him stuffed and put on display. Kids really like it.

Do you ever get the feeling you’re running an amusement park and not a store?

This place is an experience. We want people to bring their families and dogs. People spend hours in the big TV room. I’ve seen someone come in during their lunch hour and order Jimmy John’s to the massage chairs. We had a prom here, too.

Your showroom is 107,000 square feet and counting. I’m guessing it was a bit smaller starting out?

In 1936, my grandparents opened a little shop called Abt Radio at the corner of Milwaukee and Wolfram in Logan Square. If you go to that corner today, there’s an honorary sign that says “Jewel and David Abt Way.”

You’ve been serving freshly baked chocolate chip cookies on weekends for years. Why?

It makes the atrium smell great, and we get to show off our lovely ovens. We used to have a cookie kitchen on wheels that we would roll out. Now it’s a permanent kitchen, and we make over 5,000 cookies a day.

Abt introduced a Dylan’s Candy Bar in 2017. How are you going to top that?

Cannabis and wine have come up. Wine makes a little more sense, considering it’s legal.

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