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Issue date: May 05, 2000

Haltek manager Chris Chalfant and customer Jamil Shaikh chat about the store, which closed last week.

@vcredit:Karen Willemsen

Electronics store with a soul closes Electronics store with a soul closes (May 05, 2000)

Haltek inspired two generations of do-it-yourself computer whizzes

By Karen Willemsen

Before Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak became the gurus who founded Apple Computer, they were just a couple of college students obsessed with computers and electronics--and like others of their generation, they were also regular customers at what was then a Mountain View landmark -- Haltek Surplus Electronics.

This week manager Chris Chalfant shared such stories and best wishes with his longtime customers during Haltek's last two days in business. Tucked into a warehouse on Linda Vista Avenue's small electronics row, the store closed its doors for good on April 30.

According to owner Dan Burfeind, Haltek lost its lease after the landlord found a tenant willing to pay much more than the 50 cents per square foot that Burfeind paid.

Started in 1972, Haltek, like other surplus electronics companies, found a niche for its goods in the early days of Silicon Valley. Fed by the culture of invention that developed in the area, the company built up a loyal following of customers.

"I'm told we got a lot of college students trying to create their own PC's or to network their homemade computers," said Chalfant. "These days we get dads from that generation bringing their kids in, which is really cool."

Among the store's biggest fans is Jamil Shaikh, a computer consultant who also owns the Moffett Laundromat.

"To me this is a store with a soul, because you see people here from all ages and races and you share your ideas. You ask, 'What are you making?' and it leads to a conversation and you get to know them," he said.

Shaikh calls himself the typical customer because he loves to tinker. He just finished installing a device made from parts he found at Haltek, a mechanism that automatically opens the washer doors at his Laundromat. Another invention: his store's security system, which he modestly described as "a small but very complex thing to put together."

Shaikh said he enjoyed patronizing Haltek because he found inspiration for projects by talking with other customers and looking at the wide range of merchandise there.

"Look at these computer ribbons and server boxes," he said, grabbing things off the shelves and the floor, as if to celebrate the power of invention itself. "Everyone has the vertical ones now. What if you need a horizontal one? You can't get it, except at a place like this. It's wonderful to just come here and try different parts. And if they don't work you try some other ones, because everything is so inexpensive you can just do that," he explained.

Chalfant added that the store was also frequented by students seeking parts for their senior projects. One local teacher brought his electronics class in; the store staff later received cards from the students.

But customer loyalty isn't enough to keep the store afloat in the age of the Internet and mass retailers like Fry's Electronics. Owner Burfeind sees these as the real threat.

Burfeind said that he traditionally had a "friendly competition" with other small surplus stores, like Weirdstuff in Sunnyvale and Halted in Santa Clara.

"We each specialized in different things, and hobbyists would just make the rounds," he explained. "Nowadays if you want a keyboard you don't hook it to some home-brewed computer box you've made; you just order one with the specifics you want. It is sad, because while the electronics industry has grown rapidly, the interests of hardware people who like to build it themselves have fallen by the wayside."

Burfeind's employees--all three of them--won't be out, though. He's bringing them to his second business, Redwood Electronics, a wholesale distribution company that caters to start-ups and other companies ready to buy in bulk.

"It'll be no more rockin' with the customers, which we'll miss," he said. "They've been beating a path here for two decades now." Cashier Dena Gingerelli, who was the only woman in the store some days, said she'll miss the camaraderie she has shared with her customers.

"Chris lured me away from the deli I used to work at, and I just loved it. I learned more than I ever thought I would about this stuff. I can take things apart, but I haven't put any inventions together yet. But I like to play with other people's toys," she said.

Folded together, the new company will keep the store's name alive through its website, If you can't beat 'em ...


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