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The Surplus Survivors

I’m trying to clean up the shop a little and free up space, and one of the places I need space the most is in my file cabinet. I’ve been accumulating catalogs for electronic parts and equipment for years untold, and each gets a folder in the top drawer, so that invoices and catalogs can live together. (I want to know what I ordered from who, when. The system works well.)

So I asked myself a week or two ago, How many of these firms are still in business? I began looking them up on the Web. An amazing number are still out there and still selling parts and odd junk like they were back in the 90s. Here is a list of the survivors so far:

There were, of course, some casualties:

  • Brigar Electronics, Binghampton NY.
  • Burghardt Amateur Center. Still there, but now a repair shop only.
  • Classic Radio, Houston.
  • DC Electronics, Scottsdale. Sold to Philmore.
  • Edlie’s Electronics, Levittown.
  • Fertik’s Electronics, Philly. Leon was a character. Appreciation here.
  • Ocean State Electronics, RI. Flood apparently did them in.
  • Two Fox Electrix, Tivoli, NY

I didn’t list firms that vanished prior to 1990. I used to order lots of stuff from Poly Paks in the 70s, but they’ve been gone a long time. Ditto Tri-Tek, with their embarrassing mascot Amp’l Annie. Nor am I counting the manufacturers’ distributors like Mouser, Digi-Key, and so on. The file drawer has folders for tool vendors, wood products dealers, and non-electronics firms of many sorts, which also had winners and losers that I won’t tally here. (Many of you may know that Small Parts, Inc. has been bought and converted to Amazon Supply.) A number of used book dealers I bought from regularly in the early 1990s are, not surprisingly, gone. One survivor in that category is Bequaert Old Books, which I knew as Rainy Day Books in the early 90s and heartily endorse, especially for old ham books and “boys'” electronics and science books. Frank survived by moving his sales fulfillment to AbeBooks, as the others did not.

The upshot is that the file drawer isn’t a great deal emptier than it was yesterday. I’m good with that, since some of these firms (like Playthings of the Past) are very nearly the sole source for certain items. What I marvel at is how long some of these companies have been around, and how well they’ve weathered our near-constant recession since 2008. The Web helps. Print catalogs and postage are expensive. The good news is that there seems to be enough people like me to float a quirky industry that looks like everybody’s picture of a hoarder’s basement. As grim as these times may be, there’s always something worth celebrating!

25 Comments

  1. Tom R. says:

    What a great list Jeff. I recognize many of them and have bought from a number of them and still do.

    I probably wouldn’t have noticed the typo in the name of Mendelson in Dayton, Ohio except that I used to go to their place in Dayton back in the early 1970’s when it was in an old multistory industrial building and you had to ride the freight elevator between floors. Wonderful place, but even with the prices back then my enlisted Air Force salary constrained what I could buy!

    I do think I splurged on the very first LEDs that I got my hands on there.

    I am going to have to bookmark this page of Contra. So I can come back whenever I need some unobtainium.

    1. I fixed the typo. Sadly, I missed MECI the one time I was in Dayton, for the Hamvention in 1986. I did go out with some friends to see the Air Force museum, which was breathtaking. The only model aircraft I now own is an XB-70, and the only XB-70 left is at Dayton.

      There may be unobtanium sources I’ve never run across, so if you don’t see one in the list pass it along!

  2. Jack Smith says:

    The STF link is wrong – it points to A.G. Tannenbaum instead of http://www.stf-electronics.com/

    1. Fixed! Thanks for spotting it, and double thanks for letting me know.

  3. William Meyer says:

    Also now long gone: Haltek, in Mountain View, CA. In the 70s, they were my primary scrounging source. When I was there in the 90s, they had closed. A very great loss. Among other things, they used to sell copper-clad PCB stock in pieces useful to me for analog (video) breadboarding — cheap! I mean, something like $0.02/sq. in., for two-sided stock.

    1. Boy, that name rings a bell, but I have nothing in my files on Haltek. I may have gone to their store while I lived in California, which was 1987-1989.

      Getting single-sided PC stock is trickier now than double-sided, and it’s useful for certain things.

  4. Lee Hart says:

    A great list, Jeff. I’ve bought from many of them as well.

    One more “silent key” for your list is Glenwood Sales, In Rochester NY. They lasted until the late 1990’s.

    But there are a couple of bright spots here in Minnesota. AxMan Surplus in Minneapolis is a “must see “surplus dealer in Minneapolis. They moved surplus out of the dingy warehouse and into strip malls. Lots of electrical and electronics components, equipment, and just plain weird stuff. The stores are decorated with wacky projects built by their staff and customers. http://ax-man.com/

    Another one in Minneapolis is ABC Electronics. It’s the classic run-down warehouse, but the parts are exceptionally well organized. If I need some relatively normal R, C, L, diode, transistor, IC, or other electronic part, it is a virtual certainty that they have it… and at a reasonable price!

  5. passerby says:

    One nice big place I have been to is:
    C&H Surplus (formerly of Pasadena, CA), now in Duarte, CA.
    http://www.candhsurplus.com
    http://stores.ebay.com/candhsurplus
    reviews: http://www.yelp.com/biz/c-and-h-surplus-duarte-3

  6. MikeSyr says:

    Re: Brigar Electronics,
    The city is Binghamton (no ‘P’ – the Hamptons are on LI, LOL)

    Sad to see that these stores are gone.
    I used to visit Edlie’s in Levittown quite often

    I also ordered a lot of stuff from Poly Paks and one you didn’t mention – HAL. Wish I had the catalogs still.

  7. Rich Stoller says:

    Edlie was a great place. I went there so often as a kid that I could still draw you a decent floor plan of the place 35-40 years later. And the catalog was cool too.

  8. Nancy k. Neenan says:

    I used to use Edlie’s in Levittown (I know long ago) when I needed electrical parts. Now I am at a loss as to where to go. I need a new power port (Connector) for my Magelln GPS. It is a small circuit borad with a 4-pin female plug. If there is any place on Long Island in NY that I can go to that would be great! If you have a lead for someone on line that would work too. Any help would be greatly appreciated…

    Nancy.

  9. Mike Roe says:

    Others I miss include Burstein-Applebee, McGee, Olson, John Meshna, EDI, Delta (near Atlanta) and Brooks. Brooks was pretty small – sort of a mini-PolyPaks. Not the same sort of thing, but a supplier of crystal radio and one- and two-tube projects and parts was MRL (Modern Radio Labs) in, I think, Redwood City, CA.

    1. Is your EDI the one based out of Chicago? If so, I used to go there too, to their store somewhere on Elston Avenue, I think close to where Elston hit Milwaukee and stopped. Unless I misremember, the firm had been founded circa 1935 as Lukko Sales, and changed their name to Electronic Distributors Inc. when they started to get successful around 1963. It was closer than Olson Electronics and I could go there on my bike once I was 13 or so.

  10. al says:

    EDI was on Elston Ave. in Chicago, but closed down 10 years ago or more. It was located just North of Lawrence Avenue intersection.

    FYI: Milwaukee Ave actually intersects Elston Ave in TWO places. EDI isn’t close to either intersection.

    A.

    1. Well, those are now 50-year-ol memories, but thanks for clarifying here. I remember EDI fondly because their counter people were willing to help a 13-year-old kid find parts from articles in magazines, and didn’t brush me off as a waste of their time. I remember buying a surplus chassis punch there that was (almost) the right size for octal tube sockets, which made tube projects on metal chassis a whole lot easier.

  11. Chris says:

    Looks like Hosfelt is now out of business as well.

    I couldn’t believe how long Edlie manged to stay in business.
    I don’t think their catalog (typos and all) changed for over 15-20 years.
    I got the feeling they were just slowly selling off the inventory they had accumulated over the years and not replacing or adding anything.

    I miss PolyPaks!

    1. Yup. There’s still a ghost Web site, but it’s not functional. I admit I haven’t even tried to order anything from them for most of ten years. I still get catalogs from All Electronics, and still order from them now and then. Ditto Antique Electronic Supply.

      I had a fraught relationship with Poly Paks back in the 70s. A lot of the parts I ordered from them were DOA, and while they gave me refunds, it just gave me a bad feeling about the company generally.

      Fair Radio is still out there selling. Got a lot of greasy crap from them over the years. Definitely an American institution.

  12. Fred Kennedy says:

    Great resource, Jeff. I was working thru a list I found in the 1996 February issue of Popular Electronics.
    Had just checked Debco Electronics and Edlie Electronics brought me to your website. Your list will save me some time and head scratching.
    I’m a Canuck vintage radio restorer and the resources for old parts are limited.

  13. Michael says:

    great list. poly paks got a lot of my cash when i was a kid.
    🙂
    What about Delta Electronics in Mass? Many years ago when I was buidling my fist analog synth, i got heat sinks, transformers, power supply caps and both slide and rotary pots from them.

  14. Tom Lock says:

    I, too, ordered a good bit from Poly-Paks.

    I’m surprised that you don’t have Electronic Surplus Inc. listed (http://www.electronicsurplus.com). They started with a store in downtown Cleveland and over the years have moved further and further to the suburbs. I’ve bought a bunch from them, too

  15. Steve Hollis says:

    Some additional names come to mind: Bullet Electronics & Canyon Electronics; in S. Western US; ETCO in Plattsburgh, NY. Solid State Sales in MO? Steinmetz, seller of radio tubes in IN? Then there were the downtown NYC Radio Row places: Edlie’s of course; Cortlandt Radio; Metro; Hudson; Harrison; Leo’s; and Barry Electronics up on West Broadway. Remember “Barry’s Greensheet?” Those were the days!

  16. james earthenware says:

    hi, i was wondering if any of those catalogues have prices for NEC or HITACHI microcontrollers from the early / mid 80s.

    I would greatly appreciate if i could get a scan of relevant pages.

    1. Could you give me specific device numbers? I’ll take a look. Most of that stuff can still be had, though you sometimes have to dig for it.

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