Wednesday, February 16, 2011

R.I.P. HFE Electronics, Sac's Electronic Part Source

I wrote a post about the HFE Electronics Store last year. They took over the former HSC Electronics store here in the Sacramento area. I drove by today, and the store was empty.

HFE Electronics. A Valiant Effort, but Now It's Gone.

It looks like they went out of business two or three months ago, based on their Facebook discussion page. I only got down there four or five times a year, but I usually stocked up on parts, tools, and supplies on each trip.

Unfortunately this leaves me without a local storefront supplier for electronics. Our local Fry's Electronics carries enough in the way of components and such to make up for what Radio Shack dropped from their line a few years ago. But the selection of parts like interconnects, switches, and prototyping components they had at HFE was far greater than I'd expect to find anywhere other than an old-fashioned electronics store.

I do buy a lot of parts online now, I'll admit. I have about two shopping sprees a year for parts from places like The Electronic Goldmine and BG Micro. Not to mention frequent buys of parts from regular suppliers like Jameco, Mouser Electronics, All American Semiconductor.

But there's a difference.

At a local storefront, the parts are in my hands today. Plus, I can see them and handle them. With items like switches this is extremely important. I can also buy parts in small quantities speculatively then come back the next day if they work out and I need more (I've done this several times over the years at HFE/HSC. I remember once buying over $100 more in components on both days than I had planned on buying on each of two consecutive days. As I recall, the main culprit was some displays one the first day, and some uP support chips the second.)

Another thing that's important about local stores is their accessibility to youngsters getting into the electronics hobby. I know that for me when I was young, and now my daughters, fishing through boxes of parts and imagining what could be done with them is very inspirational. A couple of the fellows at the shop I haunted in my teens (Wenger's Electronics in Walnut Creek, CA) mentored me on several of my early projects. Plus there was advice I picked up from other customers. Not to mention that Wengers had a rack of bubble pack parts from Jameco, where I got my first 8080A.

A Long Time Since

I've been shopping at what was HSC and became HFE since I moved to the Sacramento almost exactly 25 years ago. Back then, I lived just a few blocks away. I not only stopped by in the evenings (if I had to run out in the evening for something, hey, HSC was next door to a Circle K store. How convenient is that? Pick up milk and potentiometers on the same trip out!) They had great flea markets on the weekends. You could pick up most of an Altair or IMSAI for a song back back then, enough that a little TLC would get you there (I wish I'd picked up an IMSAI for the front panel.)

There were other electronics stores* in Sac back then, plus I was right at the north end of town so it was easier to get to places like Natomas and Del Paso Heights for those stores. Since I moved to the foothills, HFE has been where I go.

This is where I met Dave Baldwin. I followed him home to get a treasure trove of old computer and parts he was seeking a home for. It's where I picked up about half of my test instruments, in various states of operability, that I use regularly today. It's where I've picked up interesting bits for many projects, and bits that still inhabit my parts drawers awaiting future fun projects.

I'll miss it.

Note: If you know something else in the area that I don't seem to know about (I already know about Fry's and Radio Shack, obviously), then drop a comment or an email, please!

*I'm using the term "electronics store" to refer to what I consider to be an electronics store, which is not a place that primarily sells consumer electronics. We used to call those "TV shops" or "Stereo Stores". I'm rather perturbed by such places moving in on the term "electronics store" (though many old-line electronics stores were once TV stores or repair shops.)

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