For all of its flaws as a business, nobody can accuse The Sharper Image of over-promising. The name explains precisely what it can do for you. Spend money here, it says, and we will improve the way you are perceived.

For all of its flaws as a business, nobody can accuse The Sharper Image of over-promising. The name explains precisely what it can do for you. Spend money here, it says, and we will improve the way you are perceived.

You want an actual enhancement? Try the Greater Substance store, if one opens up. Until then, drop some money in this gleaming gadgetorium and bask in the regard of your awestruck friends.

Until last week, this seemed like a surprisingly durable premise. Then the company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and announced it would close 90 of its roughly 180 stores "as soon as possible." Two days ago, it added to the air of doom by announcing that its shares, which were recently trading for a mere 45 cents, would be delisted from the Nasdaq.

But where will I kill time while my wife shops, you hear a few million husbands murmuring to themselves. Fair question. The company is likely to remain alive in some kind of dramatically altered shape, analysts say. (A few messages left at the company's headquarters in San Francisco were not returned.) But you don't need to stick the Grill/Fork Thermometer — which "measures the internal temperature of chicken, beef, pork and fish" — into the Sharper Image to grasp the obvious: The place, as we've known it, is done.

What are we losing? A world of luminescent safety leashes, hideaway gyms, telescoping ladders — an entire chain dedicated to the idea of streamlining your life by .002 percent. The Sharper Image is a place that sells a lighted nose-hair trimmer, which is to say it targets men who already own a regular nose hair trimmer in the hopes they'll think it's worth $40 to get a better look up their nostrils. Bought a fine bottle of wine? Why throw it in a bucket of ice when for $99.95 you can treat yourself to a "professional wine chiller" with 33 built-in settings, and chill that Chablis to its optimum temperature.

This was a Sharper Image forte: taking the guesswork out of realms in which you never knew you were guessing. The ideal product is a contraption that stands this close to the realm of the purely inane. Which is to say that although the product mix now includes hair dryers and "miracle food storage" containers, it's basically a store for men. Especially men in desperate need of a gift, especially a gift for a man — arguably the most desperate creature in all of giftdom. The store is filled with objects that say, "I had no idea what to get you, but I spent some real money."

Here's a NeatReceipts Scanalizer 3.0. Enjoy.

Of course, if you don't have your heart set on a Scanalizer, odds are good you won't actually use it. For countless Sharper Image products, there is the sad and inevitable migration that starts in the office, moves to a closet, then to the attic and finally, a year or two later, to the front lawn for a yard sale, where the $50 desktop power shredder is priced to move at $15. It waits next to an old adding machine and a red plaid thermos until a neighbor picks it up from a table ("Does this thing work?") and the journey starts all over again, at a different address, with a fresh set of batteries.

Given that the product mix hasn't changed much since the store debuted in 1977, why is the Sharper Image hurting now? Certainly, this is a lousy time to be in the luxury gizmo business. As market researcher Jack Plunkett put it in a phone interview: "If you're suffering economically, how important is it to run out and buy a $3,000 vibrating chair?"