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Halted Electronics

The New York Times has a writeup on Halted Specialties Company, which I can’t wait to visit in person:

MOST retailers would recoil in horror at the thought of keeping unsold products on their shelves for 30 years. Not Halted Specialties Company. It’s willing to hold on to a few thousand vacuum tubes just in case the right buyer happens to wander into the store, be it this decade or the next.

For close to 50 years, Halted has supplied the do-it-yourself electronics enthusiasts so common in Silicon Valley with just about anything they could imagine. Like the many electronics stores once populating the area, Halted helped turn entrepreneurs’ inklings into huge success stories. These days, however, Halted caters more to hobbyists than titans of industry because much of the fundamental computing manufacturing has moved to Asia.

Halted’s cluttered shelves, stacked with everything from transistors to testing ovens (for baking semiconductors), point to a rich part of Silicon Valley’s history often lost in current discussions about smartphones, virtualization software and social networking applications. Before there was any silicon here at all, a flood of electronics pioneers were doing their best to compete with more mature, larger companies on the East Coast.

I’ve never been there before, but I’m looking forward to checking it out when I’m in the area for O’Reilly’s Emerging Technology Conference. Halted will certainly come in handy if I forget anything for the hands-on workshops I’m helping Tom Igoe and Leah Buechley put on.

A Haven for Spare Parts Lives On in Silicon Valley

[via Michael Shiloh on SFmicrocontrollers ]

Brian Jepson

I’m a tinkerer and finally reached the point where I fix more things than I break. When I’m not tinkering, I’m probably editing a book for Maker Media.


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Comments

  1. mark rehorst says:

    when I lived in the bay area. Halted always had great stuff at great prices. It is one of the few things I miss about not living there any more.

    Another place that was really great for electronic surplus was Alltronics, but they’ve moved away too.

  2. Anonymous says:

    It’s like some mad science warehouse – Bins of stepper motors, walls of components, it’s mind boggling. When you first walk in, its intimidating and you can’t find anything, but spend some time wandering around and it all starts to make sense. I bought an old radio calibration tool that I have no idea what I’m going to do with, but the case was super cool and it was dirt cheap.

  3. borgie says:

    What a great surprise to see one of my favorite haunts in the NYT, of all places!

    I make it out there about once a week, whether I need to or not, just to SMELL the place and poke around for odds and ends. Yes, smell the place. My dad worked at AMPEX for years and both AMPEX and HSC had/have a certain smell that speaks of great times spent with my dad at work, in the garage, and just doing fun stuff. I was probably one of the only people (and I was a kid!) in the valley that had a laser at home back around ’85 thanks to parts dad and I scored at HSC. Good times.

    Two things to add to the article:
    1. Yes, HSC is chock-full of stuff crammed into every dark corner of the store, but the place is actually remarkably well organized at it’s core. Rarely will you have difficulty finding that exact connector, cap, resistor, etc.

    2. HSC, while primarily electronics based, has all sorts of hardware, too. Screws, nuts, knobs, grommets, pneumatics, etc.

  4. The Daily Spank says:

    The HSC in Sacramento was sold to some other person/investor/company and they renamed it HFE (close enough, eh) and while a lot of the stuff is there, it’s all the bottom of the barrel now.

    I still go there, but it’s just not the same.

  5. mendelson says:

    see also Mendelson’s, dayton, ohio.

    their 3rd floor electronics selection is truly of epic proportions.

  6. Eric says:

    Every year, around September, HSC has a big sale. They have crates full of loose components for dollar a bag:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/tubetime/1398830969/

    It’s a wonderful source for very cool and strange looking switches, knobs, indicator lamps, and things to dress up projects so they don’t get that cheap Radio Shack look.

  7. Andrew says:

    I go to halted every few weeks for parts on projects I’m putting together. Recently, I’ve begun to complain that the store is getting more and more disorganized and an absolute mess. Also, they are out of stock on MANY common parts, having only obscure parts. And, contrary to what other folks have said, their prices are NOT very low at all.

    I also recently found a nearby competitor that is well organized, Excess Solutions over in Milpitas. I went there recently and was hugely impressed with their huge inventory and super organization. You had better bring a flashlight though. Halted is much better lit and is warmer. Excess Solutions prices seem a bit lower.

    There’s also “Weird Stuff” in Sunnyvale (over by Yahoo) which has tons of old systems, computers, networking gear and every other thing under the sun (not components though) and their prices are pretty good as well. They drive a great bargain as well.

    -Andrew
    Frequent Project Maker

  8. Andrew says:

    For components aslo there’s a place a little ways away which is REALLY GOOD. Al Lasher’s Electronic in Berkeley on University.

    Not a surplus store, but a hobbyist’s dream of a place. Lots of new stuff IN STOCK on many many components. Stuff Halted and Excess didn’t have. Newer stuff. Knowledgeable people… I cannot say enough about them…

    One day I critically needed some parts late on a Saturday afternoon. They had it ALL (Some driver chips and wire-wrap sockets) No problem and great prices. I was sooo thankful Al Lasher’s was there… I can’t recommend them highly enough.

    Andrew
    Frequent project maker

  9. ellisgl.myopenid.com says:

    HSC and Weirdstuff… The original Fry’s Was right around the corner from HSC IIRC.

  10. Joebob says:

    I visited HSC once while working in the Bay area.
    I wandered around for at least an hour, just soaking in all the cool, bizarre, and obscure items for sale.

  11. George says:

    The weirdest experience for me was finding something I had designed there and that happened 20 years ago.

  12. Lenore says:

    South Bay resources are wonderful: Excess Solutions, HSC, Weird Stuff, Anchor Electronics, and don’t forget the Electronics Flea Market starts back up in March at De Anza!

  13. mightyohm says:

    There’s a list of surplus shops in the bay area that I refer to here:

    http://www.bluefeathertech.com/technoid/calswapindex.html

    HSC recently opened an annex to the store where they are selling large bags of stuff at sidewalk-sale prices.
    http://mightyohm.com/blog/2009/01/hsc-electronics-clearance-annex-open/

    It is one of my favorite places to shop for parts. I go there for every project. I always stop at Weird Stuff as well. If HSC doesn’t have it, Weird Stuff will!

  14. Anonymous says:

    is there a list of surplus shops elsewhere in the US, or is this a one-of-a-kind place?

  15. Rose White says:

    This looks fantastic — maybe we can have a field trip from ETech!

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