Note: This post is not a hate fest!
Yep, you read that right! I had to drive 392 miles to get a $5 Raspberry Pi Zero! I plan to share the details of my trip in a later post. While I did this trip for fun, it is quite difficult to buy some discrete components in the Bay Area.
Chicago v.s. S.F. Bay Area
I lived in the Chicago suburbs for 2 years and 3 months before I moved to the Bay Area in May/June 2014. While living in Chicago, I had several options to buy discrete electronic components:
- Microcenter– (2 stores in Chicago!) – Carries a lot of DIY kits (I am not talking about the Arduino and Raspberry Pi). Open Sundays.
- American Science and Surplus (Milwaukee/Foster Ave neighborhood) – This store sells stepper motors, cool DIY science kits, test tubes, conical flasks etc. Open Sundays.
- Chicago Electronics Distributors (Winnetka)- A distributor of Adafruit products. This guy is awesome. He used to let me arrange a late evening local pickup for emergencies. I do not recall buying anything on a Sunday from this guy.
- Fry’s electronics (Downer’s Grove) – The Chicago store is somewhat far away from the city. Open Sundays.
- Radio Shack – This is no longer an option but Radio Shack carries a couple of components.
Given these options, I could always find a part locally (unless my requirement is very specific/exotic).
There are 3 hackerspaces in the Chicago area. Pumping Station 1, Workshop 88 and the South Side hackerspace. I was a member of Pumping Station 1. It was so easy to build your own enclosures using a laser cutter. Pumping Station 1 is easily accessible from different parts of the city and the starving hacker membership was approximately $40 a month.
S.F. Bay Area:
- Radio Shack – This is no longer an option. Radio Shack has gotten rid of a part its DIY electronics shelf. Now you could buy some basic accessories like solder.
- Fry’s electronics – Open Sundays. You could buy some discrete resistors, capacitors etc. Arduino kits etc are ridiculously expensive.
- Jameco – They have a store front in Belmont. They are open only Mondays to Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.. It is best to order your stuff online and pick it up. They sell a variety of discrete components, kits etc. They do have an online chat support to discuss your order. Good luck driving from San Francisco to Belmont in rush hour traffic.
- oddWires – This store also allows local pick up but only on week days. I have never used this store as it is very far away from where I live.
- Hobby engineering – This store provides pickup on all days of the week upon prior arrangement. Their store collection is not so extensive and I never had the chance to use their business.
- Evil Mad Scientist (Sunnyvale CA) – A re-seller of Adafruit products and they also carry a lot of DIY electronics kits. The pickup option is available only on week days during business hours.
- Al Lasher’s Electronics – This store is open 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on all week days and 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays. They are a distributor of Sparkfun and they do sell a vast variety of components that peeked my interest.
If you have plenty of time in your hands and if you are trying to buy an Arduino or a Raspberry Pi, you can try crawling through craigslist. If you are lucky, there might be some one in your area who is trying to getting rid of their electronics stash.
Update (06/21/2017): A reader left a note in the comments about HSC (Halted Electronics) and Anchor Electronics in San Jose. I have been to Halted Electronics in San Jose. It is a big store and they carry an array of components but you have to be patient going through different aisles. If you are looking for cheap DC motors, HSC is a great resource. I haven’t been to Anchor Electronics. Thanks Travis!
I learned of 2 hackerspaces in the Bay Area namely Noisebridge and Tech Shop that is equipped with tools like a laser cutter. While TechShop is a bit pricey, applying for Noisebridge’s membership is a tad complicated. You need two members who could potentially support your membership application. This is probably to prevent abuse of the hackerspace equipment. Given my socialization skills, securing a membership is next to impossible. I decided to navigate this situation by getting my own 3D printer.
It might appear that the Bay Area has several options for a hobbyist. It is just difficult getting to these places when they are open.
As you may have noticed, most of these places are open only on week days except for the hackerspaces. The traffic in the Bay Area is insane until around 7 p.m. (more like 7:30 ish). Most of these stores are closed for business by 7 p.m..
When I was at the Orange County Microcenter to buy the Raspberry Pi Zero, I recalled all the options I had back in Chicago. I was told that there used to be a Micro Center in the Bay Area but they had to shut down.
The Bay Area is home to a lot of semiconductor manufacturers, smart device manufacturers etc. Yet, you have to go online to buy parts for your project.
As the title states, the S.F. Bay Area is not a haven for the electronics hobbyist.
P.S.: If you know of a great resource that I missed here, leave a comment.