When Barney Miller set up shop in downtown Lexington in 1922, television — what his store would become known for — hadn't even been invented. Radio barely existed. The big thing people were buying: automobiles.
The Model T was changing the world and, after seeking some advice from his future father-in-law in Kentucky, he established Miller's Auto Accessories at 224 East Main Street, before moving up the street to its current location, 232 East Main.
Everything from tires to parts and accessories was offered. About a year after he opened, Miller sold his first radio.
According to family legend, it was the first radio sold in Kentucky, said his grandson, also named Barney Miller.
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The original Barney Miller, an MIT graduate, had been in the Army Signal Corps during World War I; he understood electronics. When the Depression hit and auto sales dried up, he switched to radios and never looked back.
He and his son, Harry, saw their first television at the 1939 New York World's Fair. Ten years later, after returning from World War II and earning a degree from the University of Kentucky, Harry Miller sold the first TV in Kentucky — to Calumet Farm, Barney Miller said.
"That was the next great thing they saw coming down the pike," Miller said. "As the business changed and technology changed, we've always been on the cutting edge. We're a very agile business."
The store, celebrating its 90th anniversary Monday, is the quintessential "early adopter," jumping on every new thing.
When records were big, Barney Miller's opened a music department and sold portable turntables alongside huge cabinet consoles.
In 1964 came the transistor radio. Kentuckians could dance at the shore of Lake Cumberland just like Frankie and Annette on the beach in Malibu.
"My father had a distributorship for eight-tracks, for CDs, ... was in cable TV for a while," Miller said. They even rented videotapes long before Blockbuster came (and went).
Today, people think of Barney Miller's for high-end home installation TVs such as giant flat-screens or projectors, or concert-quality speaker systems. But even that doesn't cover the spectrum.
The whole home entertainment market has exploded, Miller said, and a lot of it is in the yard.
There are TVs, speakers, remotes and furniture that could stay outside in even the heaviest storm, he said.
"A lot of people think of us as a TV shop. That's very low-margin. That means 70 percent of our business comes from something else," Miller said.
That something else is the wave of the future: total home/business control, Miller said. Lights, heat, air- conditioning, locks, music, movies, anything you can think of ... all at your fingertips.
Cooking dinner and want to hear a little mood music? Just ask the system for Johnny Mathis and touch the song you want on your iPad.
Want to know if your teenager has cracked open the liquor cabinet? A message to your phone will tell you.
Is the basement leaking in that big storm? Your house will text you.
The house could even figure out when you aren't likely to be there, turn the thermostat and lights down and lower the window shades to save you a little money.
"If it's simple to use, you will actually use it," Miller said. "We want to make your life easier, better and more fun."
And maybe a little scary. But don't worry, the staff at Barney Miller's will know how to talk you through your technophobia.
"We try hard to create what works for you," Miller said. When people come to Barney Miller's, he said, "they know they're going to talk to someone who knows what they're doing."
And after 90 years, the business isn't going anywhere. The customers might have moved to the suburbs, but the store never will, Miller said.