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Another Silicon Valley institution died spring of 2019: Halted/HSC (halted.com)
54 points by banish-m4 8 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 42 comments

The closest thing left is the monthly Electronics Flea Market (https://www.electronicsfleamarket.com/). The next one is this weekend (July 14).

It doesn't have the volume or the variety that HSC did, but there's still a variety of stuff there. It's free except for the $3 parking, and it's easily worth that for all the interesting things you stumble across.

It has struggled to find a venue for a few years, bouncing from De Anza College to the Sunnyvale Fry's parking lot, to skipping a couple years due to covid, to the Sunnyvale Library parking lot (cancelled after once due to neighbors complaining), and now maybe settling in to West Valley College. Hopefully it will stick around.

There is still Anchor Electronics (https://anchor-electronics.com/). Not directly comparable, much smaller, but better sorted. There too one might still get a power transistor not manufactured in thirty years ...

Dang, I would have loved to visit this place if I had known about it. I can't believe even Fry's is gone now and Central Computers is the best we have. At least Micro Center is coming supposedly this year.

This is not exclusive to electronics. I was looking for some weird plumbing stuff and had a hard time finding local retail plumbing supply places too. Seems like if it's not at Home Depot then you have to go online and roll the dice with mislabeled products from no-name sellers, probably just dropshipping from China.

Yep. Also RIP Radio Shack, JDR Microdevices, Weird Stuff, NCA Peripherals, Fry's Electronics (and Fry's drugstore / groceries), and Egghead Software. Even the retail hypermart CompUSA died, leaving only their nemesis, Best Buy.

Micro Center and Central Computer (CCS) endure. The latter stocked those phonebook-thick computer advertisement magazines and Linux on CDs.

I'm reduced to crapshooting Aliexpress and eBay with occasional purchases from Mouser and Digikey via findchips and octopart.

The electronics supply chain just doesn't exist as made in America anymore in volume. Meanwhile, the best place for hardware is usually Shenzhen. Offshoring engineering and manufacturing, declines in EE and skilled workers are the limiting factors. Perhaps there ought to be a 300% tariff placed on goods designed or made not in the US with <75% domestic labor or <75% domestic parts.

I've used supplyhouse.com for years for plumbing projects around the house. I'm in New England, so get most items next day if I order by 3 PM (later in metro NY area) and I think I've gotten only one item wrong across hundreds of items and dozens of orders. On a lot of items, they're cheaper than Home Depot as well.

McMaster-Carr not meeting your needs?

Nope. Even their selection of fasteners isn't comprehensive. And not Grainger, TSC, or Ace Hardware either. I could't find ultra low-profile M3 screws while I could dropship zillions from China (with a delay of 3 weeks).

Named, BTW, after Hal and Ted, not the word “halted”.

Weird Stuff is gone; Eli Heffron by Kendall Square is gone…in today’s unrepairable world there’s little place hardware hackers to source the random parts like they used to carry.

Yep. Blame Apple for autocorrection. There are scant few b&m places to explore or source things physically. There's no Radio Shack, Tandy, or HeathKit in the b&m form factor.

Maybe electronics needs a dedicated museum? Somewhere that has ISA 16-bit prototype boards and zillions of examples of ICs, vacuum tubes, connectors, passives, datasheets, and accouterment as a historical "seed vault".

Mendelsons in Dayton was another treasure trove of anything random they thought might eventually sell. Closed in 2020.

I miss HSC, and I miss the crazy stuff you'd stumble on.

But, this store would not have existed at all if in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, we had the internet and and were able to purchase whatever crazy stuff we needed, with a few days shipping, at very reasonable prices.

You can buy a bulk set of common resistors or caps or some other common component for $10 and keep them in a tiny box in your desk. That was very expensive a long time ago.

It was an institution, and I'm sure someone will come darken my mentions with an appeal to instant gratification, but what we have now really is better in so many ways.

What we lack today is a way to move surplus out of startups and back in to new places. HSC wasn’t just a place to buy stuff, it was also a place to dump excess parts stock. It was part of a cycle of goods that led to better utilization and less waste of valuable materials. And this meant good deals too, so young people like myself 20 years ago could buy some pretty cool stuff for low prices. It was a place of ideation, where you never knew what you were going to find, and those random gizmos sometimes provided a spark of an idea for a new approach to a problem you had been mulling over. It was a place to bump in to other weirdos and talk about projects, learn new things, and make new connections. It was a place where you would walk in and buy one red LED and one resistor for 35 cents, instead of every single pack of items on Amazon containing 100 pieces you will never use and setting you back $10 here and $10 there. It was a place where I learned I could get in to amateur radio really easily if I wanted. And they had one hell of a vacuum tube collection.

It was only accessible to people who lived nearby and that’s a down side for the people who didn’t, but if you worked or lived ten minutes away like I did from college and on for another ten years as I studied robotics and built up my career, it was far and away better than Amazon in almost every way.

Today I rode my bike to Sudo Room in Oakland and picked up three SOT-23 N Channel Mosfets and a couple of 5 amp toggle switches for a fun little project I am working on. There’s bins of switches, caps, wires, motors, power supplies, cables, and who knows what else. It’s all free to members in good standing. Last year my TV died because of bad capacitors. I ordered a capacitor kit for it from Amazon for $15 which actually was missing some important values. I rode my bike to Sudo room and got what I needed for free. I never should have bought the Amazon kit.

There’s a lot to these places where people gather, offer up surplus parts, and take what they need for free when they need it. There’s no packaging waste. There’s no workers pushed so hard they have to pee in bottles to get you a $10 100 pack of red LEDs when all you need is one. Less stuff gets sent to landfill, which means less carbon emissions and environmental damage. It’s like a library instead of a book store. There’s a lot of value there.

For those that no longer have access to places like this, what we have now is really much worse in so many ways.

What's missing is an e-waste recycling diversion stream that doesn't just grind everything into dust and seeks to resell and reuse what is salvageable. The industry won't do it because planned obsolescence profit motives want to grind it all up. It has to be a nonprofit or state-sponsored government entity.

While I agree with you in principle, sometimes you actually don't know what you want until you see it on the shelf. HSC had that magic... I would see stuff and suddenly whole projects would form around it in my head. And the prices were such that you could afford to make it happen.

This will sound mundane, but I remember back in college, I was working on a solar water heater competition project with a budget of something like $200. We'd decided on copper pipes and a metal solar collector spray painted black, but the trouble was making a good thermal connection between the two.

Up until that point, I didn't even realize that solder bars (think solder ingots) existed until I saw them on the shelf for $3 each.

Salt Lake City had something similar, Raelco - Ray’s Electronic Company I think. I spent so much time in there they offered me a job. It burned down several years ago.

Tons of surplus from L3, Hill AFB, ATK, etc…


Following on from my story elsewhere about working for HGST (Western Digital), visiting HQ in San Jose from the UK and making it to Halted a couple of times...

...then WD acquired Sandisk and I found myself in Utah for tech training, and made a trip to Raelco.

Boy was that place a tight squeeze to navigate!

I used to bicycle down from the top of Bernal Rd. as it is very steep. The IBM Bernal (/Almaden?) campus is enormous, with an indoor golf cart for moving people around. I was there c. 1995 for a dark matter conference while I was still in high school (and I looked about 12).

it was packed, and that was just the front. If you got wire, you’d head to the back, and that was also packed. Maybe not a huge surprise it burned down. BUT, tons and tons of milspec parts.

Salt Lake Instrument was another place, but I only got to visit once after the guy had mostly retired. Tons and tons and tons of vacuum tubes

No idea what that exactly was, but here are the videos I could find about it. Looks like mostly surplus electronic parts (like incompletely used reels, etc)?




Some guy showing off is haul:


Halted was an electronics surplus store. A really good one. They had old tubes, old ICs, stuff left over from Atari. They had aisles of capacitors, some with date codes in the mid '80s, and newer surface mount stuff. They had a whole wall of 1/4 W resistors at two cents a piece. They had all kinds of random parts for keeping old electronics running, and making new stuff. And they had a receipt for an oscilloscope they sold in the '60s to some kid in Palo Alto named Steve Jobs.

Unfortunately, the owner retired and sold it off for parts.

The most incredible wonderland for anyone doing electronics. You could spend days digging in there and always find something new and bizzare. Best part was that the building was practically a Faraday cage and there was no cell reception to help you identify what you were looking at.

I bought an old ADF there (cheap avionics), great vacuum florescent displays, tubes, reels of SMD parts I still have, PIC microcontrollers for unreasonably good prices, and bags and bags of other old parts. The back wall of the office area was entirely lined with Halicrafters S-38 longwave radios.

Can't remember if it was Haltek or Halted, but one of them had a big bin full of motherboards with a sign above it that said:

"Guaranteed not working. If yours works, bring it back and we'll exchange it for one that doesn't."

My favorite memory of Halted is finding an Atari 2600 in a box with an Atari company store sticker on the box, and someone’s DIY controllers with it.

From Portland, I miss Wacky Willy's. https://everything2.com/title/Wacky+Willy%2527s

As a kid, I somehow obtained a vintage Xerox 860 IPS (awesome once crazy-expensive word processor, which I used to type my resume for my first teen software engineering job), and was missing a small part... and a back corner of Wacky Willy's just happened to have a rare incomplete 850 or two.

Another time, right after I got that job, I was in Wacky Willy's with my brother, and was trying to trade in something for a store T-shirt, saying I worked out by Tektronix/Intel/Sequent/etc., and it would be good advertising (still thinking like a teen, trying to make a deal for something I wanted), and the guy kindly gave me two T-shirts (one for my brother).

Today, eBay fills much of the role of being able to find what you need, and sometimes good deals, and even some browsing fun. (I'd be very sad if eBay went away.) But eBay is not hands-on and physical awe, and of course it's more transactional.

yes, and in 2022, the company that bought their stock, Excess Solutions, also shut down. https://twitter.com/TubeTimeUS/status/1548349563936722944

I'm from the UK and used to work for HGST (Owned, then assimilated, by Western Digital) and used to travel to SJ 2-3 times a year for specialist tech training and business briefings.

I made it to Halted a couple of times and would spend a good few hours hunting around for bits and pieces. I saw some lovely test gear and other things that were just not compatible (logistics and cash-wise) with air travel.

I did however pick up a pristine TS1000 (Sinclair ZX81) with 16K RAM cartridge that was hiding in a plan box, for $15.

It was sad when Halted closed - we've nothing like that in the UK, at least in my region.

Halted was like my Disneyland.

Back in the 80's I used to know how to get to half the surplus electronics places in the valley by heart.

One of the things about it was there wasn't an internet. Everything was paper catalogs. Even if you had them they didn't have prices. Just being able to browse and see all the things that existed was a big leg up. And being able to buy small quantities of stuff for a project.

JDR Micro devices was just down the street on Bascom ave.

Catalog from 1994.


I preferred Weird Stuff, but we still used Halted for same-day popcorn supplies we needed in 2013-2014. The day Weird Stuff closed was the day "old" Silicon Valley died for me.

Despite not being a surplus store, I would add Frys to the list of culturally relevant Silicon Valley electronics stores now lost to time. It was worth taking a day to visit all the SV locations to compare the hokey aesthetic choices (I was closest to the Wild West Palo Alto branch, but I think the Campbell Pyramid was my favorite).

Told all my Michigan friends when they visited the Bay area to be sure to visit Frys, Weird Stuff and Computer Literacy Bookstore.

Saddest about Fry's, when I worked for a hosting company we had a data center in Virginia. The boss would drive out there with servers from Michigan to rack and on the way back he'd go hundreds of miles out of his way just to stop at Fry's in Indianapolis.

I bumped into this ageing hippy (grey hair, cheesecloth shirt, pony tail, shorts and sandals), in Frys (East Brokaw Road) during one of my trips from the UK to the USA.

He was a really nice guy and wanted help choosing some kind of adapter for his mac laptop.

We got chatting about why I was in San Jose, Western Digital being in the old IBM buildings, what I did for work etc., and then he mentioned that he was one of the early day SV computer crew and hung out with other members of the The Homebrew Computer Club. He also said his brother played Spanish guitar at a restaurant in Mountain View and recommended the food!

He finished off with "...yeah, I knew Steve Jobs quite well - boy, he could be a dick at times!"

HSC was awesome...I used to love just browsing in there. It was like computer archeology just seeing all the different generations of gear. Some good deals too :-D

I think the archaeology was part of the problem. Through its last days there was a lot of, well, garbage that absolutely nobody would be interested in. Like iPhone 3GS cases c.a. 2018 - who's gonna buy that?

I left the valley in 2010 - so maybe I only saw it at its best? I can remember part of the fun was just figuring out what the hell you were looking at :-) There was another place not to far from there that was mostly ham gear - they had a electron microscope at one point!

I'm in Tokyo now. It's interesting how Tokyo can still support electronics parts and surplus stores, but Silicon Valley cannot. Granted, it's a bigger, denser metropolitan area, but I'm puzzled that the demand isn't there in California (or New York, where Canal Street was similar to Akihabara 45+ years ago.

I suppose you could say 40 years ago London had Tottenham Court Road full of little electronics shops, the rest of the UK had at least all their local Maplins, all of Germany was plastered with Conrad Electronics, plenty of car boot sales for vac tubes, military spare optics (man, Russia-made stuff in 1990 - great optical quality, built to not just survive a nuclear strike but to be used for yhr counterstrike ... sold for a song), and so on. Nevermind the cornershops for electronic spare parts. Beijing had its block of electronics shops somewhere near Tsinghua University 20 years ago when I was there selling questionable CPUs to retail by the tray (half of them ceramic blanks).

I'm not sure why and when exactly things have changed, but it looks that between pihut and amazon, not much "toyz" were left. I must admit though that the web has made it easier to learn/work alone; you used to go somewhere that taught you how to solder, somewhere that told you resistor color coding, tra nsistor number meanings, yadayada - now you watch it on youtube. The social aspect is gone; even makerspaces are often "just" the 3D printing and woodworking crowds, with little electonics.

It's worldwide. If it hasn't quite reached Japan yet, it will soon enough.

I've seen discussion that it really boils down to tax/rent combination that allows small places to survive on lower income, while the bigger places that would normally muscle then it would have to pay much more.

But we would need a local expert to verify

Greater Tokyo has a population of over 40 million, which is greater than that of all of California (38 million), let alone the SJ-SF-OAK CSA (9.7 million).

Economists since at least Adam Smith have noted that larger cities and regions can support a more complex and richer economic system.

One of California's problems is that rising real estate values and rents are both pricing out more activities (and people), and increasing costs of business: higher rents -> higher wages, the bulk of which are paid to landlords or mortgage lenders.

NYC Canal Street was similar to Akihabara 45+ years ago, for electronics? When did that change? 80s financial boom?

Yes! This NY Times article talks about it a bit: https://www.nytimes.com/1987/10/29/garden/shopping-canal-st-...

and see this discussion here: https://www.practicalmachinist.com/forum/threads/end-of-an-e...

Even in the 70s I'd find radio parts on "radio row" there.

Silicon Valley also got really expensive. Akihabara has always been, eh, not the highest rent place. Like Silicon Valley used to be like that.

There used to be brick-and-mortar electronic distributors all over Silicon Valley. They're gone. Not just Fry's. More serious places. Now we have online ordering, and all those little stocking distributors just can't compete. Mouser and Digi-Key are the way to go. The last things I bought at Halted were some open-frame 120VDC power supplies.

I hear that Huaqiangbei is not what it used to be, either.

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