Techie Heaven

Electronic Surplus — a Cleveland fixture for more than 53 years

Be true to your spool.
Be true to your spool.
The shelves are stacked with oscilloscopes, ohmmeters, transformers, and monitors thick with dials and digital displays. Spools of finger-thick wires line the walls, and six-foot-high glass and steel cabinets fronting reel-to-reel magnetic tape cap the ends of aisles.

It resembles the prop closet for Lost in Space, but in reality this is Electronic Surplus—a high-tech Odd Lots for silicon-heads. Set in Slavic Village, Surplus caters to everyone from the basement inventor to the Case Ph.D. It attracts policemen, lawyers, roadies on tour, and eccentric hackers more interested in rebuilding their fossilized computers than sending a dime to Microsoft. They can find just about whatever they need, electronically speaking, in bins, hanging from hooks, and stacked in piles throughout the store.

Surplus has been a Cleveland fixture for more than 53 years—the last thirteen spent at the current location—and has largely relied on word of mouth for business. It sells about anything electronic, as long as it's new or in good condition. The sheer breadth and oddity of the inventory—including recent sales of a molecular microscope and an explosives sniffer, and the recent acquisition of mammoth 3,000-watt amplifiers—keeps the regulars coming back and the out-of-towners wandering in.

Beyond their technical utility, the aisles of dials, transformers, and wires do have an undeniably visual quality that attracts the artistically minded. One regular built body hardware out of Surplus's odds and ends. Her hardware haberdashery eventually earned her a job creating sci-fi costumes with a Hollywood production company. Another purchased green, rust, and orange-colored ultra-fine copper wire to crochet a sixteen-foot curtain for a local synagogue.

Cleveland-based artist Alexandria Underhill has been frequenting the store since she was a student at the Cleveland Institute of Art ten years ago. "They are totally supportive in the creative arts, because they get so much necessary work that it's a breath of fresh air when someone like me comes in and says, Okay, I need the coolest looking rubber grommet."

Then there was the time a crew arrived in Cleveland to film Air Force One. A credit-card-bearing team carted off a fair portion of the store's inventory, recalls Surplus President Rick Daniels.

"They thought the old stuff would look like current Russian technology," he says.

—Aaron Steinberg

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