Nasr Abdelhadi, owner of the queen-bed-size Hyde Park Computer Center, sits fully surrounded by his repair projects, with keyboards hanging on hooks, stacks of laptops on desks, desktop monitors in the windows, and mouse cords dangling from the wall. He began renting the small space in 2011, and has since then acquired a dedicated client base who come to him for computer repairs and chit chat.
“I was really lucky to find this place,” Abdelhadi said. “This is what I’m looking for. The rent here is expensive on 53rd, but this is kind of affordable, and the location is good. I love the neighborhood and people here.”
Abdelhadi said he had been interested in the inner workings of machines since his childhood, when he would tinker with VCR’s and radios in his home city of Damanhour, Egypt. Eventually, he graduated to building and repairing computers in the early 2000s.
Abdelhadi said, “I always liked fixing things, it was thrilling for me. Of course, half the time you do not fix it — you make it worse. But I wanted to see how things worked.”
Though he went to school for accounting, Abdelhadi said that he only lasted a few weeks at his first accounting job before quitting to resume his favored hobby of fixing computers.
When he came to Chicago in 2009, he worked at CVS for two years, saving up while repairing computers on the side. While he was offered a job at Cleopatra Hair Designs, he turned it down in order to focus on freelance repair work.
When the small space on 53rd Street opened up, he took the opportunity to open a shop, working initially only on PCs. Over the years, however, he has taught himself how to repair Apple computers and now says that he gets more broken Apple computers than PCs.
Another change he noticed has been from a shift away from computer problems arising from malware, and more exclusively towards mechanical issues such as broken screens and liquid damage. In Egypt, Abdelhadi rarely had to deal with malware problems, saying, “I think that hackers target Americans more. The money’s here, not in Egypt.”
Commenting on the most common mechanical problems he faces, Abdelhadi said, “A lot of the screens are broken because people get mad. Little kids break the screens too.”
Abdelhadi said that, as a businessman, he has learned most about interfacing with customers and that he has become friendly with a number of them who stop into his office regularly (including Herald photographer Owen Lawson).
When I called the shop asking Nasr if he was free for an interview, he told me a time and then promptly handed over the phone to a customer who had perked up at the mention of a reporter, and who went on to tell me of another story I ought to report about an apartment dispute involving the Chicago Housing Authority and the federal government.
Abdelhadi is also friends with the owners of the various Egyptian hair salon owners in Hyde Park, saying he was surprised at first to find that people here have so much respect for Egyptian stylists.
“A video was going around on social media showing the Mummy Parade [a parade held in Cairo in which Mummies are carried around the city], and there was one mummy who had curly hair. Her hair was still beautiful. So maybe this is why people love Egyptian hair stylists.”
As other Hyde Park computer shops have closed down in recent years (including Apollo Computers, Chicago Computer Club, and Computer City) Abdelhadi said he has gotten more and more work, almost more than he can handle. He now has to choose to prioritize certain computer projects over others, sometimes recommending that customers buy new computers if repairs would exceed the price of a new one.
“I miss having the other guys, to be honest,” he said. “I used to send customers to them.” He still says that he will take on difficult problems on old computers when sensitive data is concerned.
Abdelhadi said he had not taken a vacation in three years and has used the pandemic as an opportunity for a "part-time vacation," working reduced hours. He plans to return to his old noon-to-7 p.m. schedule soon.
Though he has been considering expanding the business for many years, Abdelhadi said he does not see himself acquiring a new space any time soon. The difficulty of finding skillful labor and the right location, coupled with his busyness, means that he hasn’t had time to seriously pursue expansion. “Even if I did get another shop, I would still work here,” he said.
“I’m lucky because I love what I do. You get a dead computer and get it to start working again. You get that feeling of solving a problem, like, ‘Oh my god, I fixed this!’ It’s that pride.”
Hyde Park Computer Center, 1441 E. 53rd St. Open Monday – Saturday, 4 p.m. – 7 p.m.