by: Victoria Kezra
The Sunnyvale Ham Radio Outlet signed off for the final time Wednesday after 26 years as a hub for Silicon Valley’s amateur radio community.
Due in part to rising rent in the city, the outlet at 510 Lawrence Expressway chose to close its doors and merge operations with its Oakland location, according to shop employees.
Steve Gilmore, national sales manager for Ham Radio Outlet, stated on the store website that changes needed to be made to its Northern California locations.
“Some of the costs associated with operating in the Sunnyvale location have absolutely skyrocketed, and the traffic and parking availability in our current Sunnyvale location has become seriously problematic,” Gilmore’s statement read.
Store manager Jon Kelly told this newspaper that the rising minimum wage in the region also factored into the decision to consolidate stores.
Kelly said the shop was a destination for radio enthusiasts locally and from around the globe. Business came from locals, but plenty of visitors in the area for job training or business trips at nearby tech companies would often drop in.
“We have a lot of regulars that come in. It’s nearly as much of a clubhouse as it is a store, which is okay sometimes and less okay other times,” Kelly said.
On the store’s last day a printed sign by the door read, “Hey guys, your wife called and said you can buy anything you want!” with “and you better hurry” scrawled under it in pen.
Ham radio, also known as amateur radio, is a popular hobby that often involves the building of radios and broadcasting over “amateur band” frequencies to talk with other ham radio users. The radios are useful in times of disaster when other types of communication channels may not be available. Operators need to obtain a license to operate on amateur bands above 30mhz, according to the National Association for Amateur Radio.
Aside from selling radios, parts and instructional materials, the shop also assisted in getting hobbyists licensed.
Gregg Lane, a regular customer and president of the Santa Clara County Amateur Radio Association, said he will likely still purchase parts and radios via mail from the Oakland location, but the in-person expertise found at the Sunnyvale shop will be difficult to replace.
“What’s wonderful is that they had radios set up so if you were thinking of buying one you could try it out, play with them, and there were always a few people who were experienced that could talk to you and help you so you could get some experience,” he said.
The store inventory will be packed up and sent to Oakland. Employees have been offered jobs there, but Kelly said none have accepted an offer yet.
“This is depressing. It’s like the end of an era. It’s like your best friend moving away,” Lane said.
According to the business’s website, the first Ham Radio Outlet was opened in Burlingame in 1971 by former California Highway Patrol officer Bob Ferrero. In 1991 that location closed and was replaced by the Sunnyvale shop. From there, the chain expanded to 14 additional locations across the United States. It continues to be family owned.
The Oakland location is at 2210 Livingston St.