Circuit bending master and artist Reed Ghazala has some sobering thoughts on the state of surplus supply shops: “My deep connections in surplus tell me the whole thing is dying.” (See comments on Circuit Bending Tips: Resistance Substitution Wheel is Dead; How to Make Your Own.

That’s sad, as the trend comes just as the generation of MAKE magazine, homebrewed gaming and musical instruments, and hack-a-day are trying to start a new era of of repairing and treasuring old electronics and DIY designs. So, brave CDMers, what do you think? Are these stores dying? Is there anything left to do? Where do you shop for your parts? And has anyone seen a great airfare deal on New York – to – Dayton? I’m going to MECI, and my credit card will never forgive me!

Reed writes:

Any electrobrain, bent or not, OWES THEMSELVES a trip to Mendelson’s, 3rd floor, Dayton, OH. Go with someone who knows CPR… …I’ve been shopping there for 20 years and still haven’t seen it all.

… Mendelson’s is unique in the world (I’ve poked around the planet a little – colored bakelite, fine brass and blue glass make you do this, as well as explain your stash at the border).

There are a lot of really nice smaller outlets with really cool components. They’re great! Mendelson’s, however, is like walking into a vast museum of rare surplus as opposed to an electronics room whose ends can be seen (Mendleson’s is a maze of isles, rooms, counters, bins, racks, spools – and you usually CAN’T see the ends of it all: too distant and too much stuff in the way).

But let me tell you the really bad news, and I’m sorry to be the bearer. My deep connections in surplus tell me the whole thing is dying. And I can see this in the outlets. I’d like to sound the rallying cry, â€Å“Support them!,â€Â? and I do. But this is a reflection of the general trend in user alienation… which end of the screwdriver do I use?

A good example is tin toys. Tin toys, early 1900’s, began the trend in metal tab closure. Shocking at the time. They were not meant to be opened. They were not meant to be REPAIRED, and were routinely discarded. They were garbage.

Cobblers, watch shops, seamstresses – these and countless other repair shops were everywhere. They’re about gone. The repairman-tinkerer is rarer today than ever.

And I don’t limit this to â€Å“old timeyâ€Â? industries. My top-of-line SONY DAT deck (K890ES) was bumped back and forth across the country as SONY tried and tried and tried again to fix the tape transport. My contact inside SONY told me â€Å“They might have one guy and one guy only who really knows something about the deck, you finally hit that guy.â€Â?

BTW, my example of the screwdriver is fact, reported to me by a MIT professor teaching electronics, â€Å“Which end of this do I use?â€Â?

Anyway, the places I buy surplus are either trying to present themselves as designer shops (Goodwill now asks $14 for â€Å“trendyâ€Â? lamps that they used to price at $2, and that sell elsewhere, new, for $8). Or, as in electronic surplus, prices are rising to â€Å“coverâ€Â? declining sales, which, sadly, spells disaster. To those in the industry, this is scarier than PCBs.

A picture is conjured… what would the Victoria’s Secret crowd think of a surplus shop’s radioactive meters, gigantic wire spools and cathode ray tubes tumbling out onto the polished mall floor, right next to the pretty Sharper Image store? The underbelly of technology, even if parked next to the shining sibling Apple store fully dependant upon this hardware, is unacceptable. But it’s a cool picture, eh?

Anyway, at Mendelson’s, project costs are: box $1, rotarys 50¢, pins 25¢, and you have the resistors already (or get a sack for another $1). And the quality makes Radio Shack’s stock look like the sham it is (get a mini NC PB switch and note the lousy casting, poor metals, loose joints, rough plastic moldings and grotesque feel).

Still, this again reflects the trend in question. High-quality, expensive electronic parts don’t sell well in shopping centers aimed at our fashion-struck public. At least RS is there, and provides tools and parts often harder to grab quickly otherwise.

Subversive, too, is considered the nature of artwork and technical knowledge in fascist societies, should one work outside the order. But that is another subject, and until all art materials are considered contraband, Mendelson’s is open. Like I said, get ‘em while they’re hot.