Google ousts the decades-old Sunnyvale hardware bazaar, and techies with a long memory and breadboards in their garages are in mourning.
Story by Mark Noack / Photos by Charles Russo
A true relic of Silicon Valley’s early days, the electronics warehouse WeirdStuff is closing up shop for good this week. For more than 30 years, the Sunnyvale surplus retailer has been a favorite hangout for a loyal crowd of garage tinkerers, bargain hoarders and metal scrappers.
For some, WeirdStuff was like visiting the junkyard; for others it was like the free version of touring the Computer History Museum. Since it first opened, the electronics store has hawked all manner of surplus electronics, much of it ranging from the obscure (tablet prototypes, LaserDisc players) to the obsolete (classic floppy disk drives, 56K modems).
It all started back in 1986, when WeirdStuff founder Chuck Schuetz was working as an engineer at a floppy drive manufacturer. He hated how his company would discontinue product lines and then callously send thousands of perfectly good units into the landfill. He was convinced there must be a business niche in acquiring these surplus products on the cheap and then reselling them. So he opened his own store.
“If it had a plug or it’s an electronic device, we’d apply our knowledge to figure out how we could sell it,” he said. “We’d get all these people coming into the store and saying, ‘What’s all this weird stuff?’”
Hence the name, WeirdStuff.
Over the years, the store and its sprawling inventory attracted a dedicated group of customers and employees, some of whom have been with the shop for more than 25 years.
In some years, the business model worked like a charm, he said. WeirdStuff would buy up discontinued units from manufacturers. Then a couple years later, his shop would be the only source for finicky customers wanting an exact replacement for their aging computers.
But like many other local small businesses, WeirdStuff could no longer make it work as a retail shop amid a changing Silicon Valley. The writing was on the wall about six months ago when Google acquired the shop’s Sunnyvale location with plans to build a new campus. The tech giant gave Schuetz notice that he would need to move out, but the cost of rent made it infeasible to reopen elsewhere, he said. But he doesn’t begrudge the company for it.
“I have nothing bad to say about Google; “they could have been nasty,” he said. “But it’s just a shame that a lot of small companies can’t make it in this area.”
WeirdStuff closed for good on Monday, after signing a deal to liquidate all its remaining inventory in a sale to the Outback Equipment Company, a Gilroy-based computer parts reseller. It’ll take weeks to clear out the warehouse, Schuetz said, and he expects it’ll be a bittersweet experience.
“What’s going through my mind? Nostalgia and sadness,” he said. “There’s so much equipment here. When you pick something up, you remember the story behind it. It’s a shame that all of this won’t exist anymore.”
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