Every old video game console dies eventually. Moving parts seize-up, circuit boards fail, cables wear out. If a user needs a replacement connector, chip, ribbon, gear, shell—or any of the thousands of other parts that, in time, can break, melt, discolor, delaminate, or explode—they’re usually out of luck, unless they have a spare system to scavenge.
But there is an exception to this depressing law of nature. In San Jose, on a side street next to a highway off-ramp, inside an unmarked warehouse building, is part of the world’s largest remaining collection of factory-original replacement Atari parts — a veritable fountain of youth for aging equipment from the dawn of the home computing and video gaming era. This is the home of Best Electronics, a mail-order business that has been selling Atari goods continuously for almost four decades.
But if you'd like to share in Best’s bounty, as many die-hard Atari fans desperately do, there's a very important piece of advice you need to keep in mind: whatever you do, don't piss off Bradley.
Almost everyone who spends enough time loving, collecting, and using Atari products eventually finds their way to the Best Electronics website. And many of them quickly develop strong feelings about Bradley Koda, Best's proprietor, who, by outlasting most of his competition, has become a sort of one-man Atari-parts powerhouse.
His stock spans all Atari eras. Would you like to buy only the buttons and faceplate circuitry for an Atari Lynx? Just the keyboard for an Atari 800? Maybe you'd like to replace an individual faulty chip on the motherboard of an Atari 7800? Or perhaps you’d like a brand-new mouse for an Atari ST? Best has all these things and much more.
And the crucial thing, from a buyer's perspective, is that these are not salvaged parts. They're unused originals, for the most part acquired directly from Atari's warehouses and preserved, for decades, in Koda's sole custody. He has simply never run out.
A single order from Best can transform a malfunctioning, beat-up Atari system into a thing of beauty — a portal to a time when 64K was all the RAM a person could ever want.
No other seller on the planet has managed to maintain as extensive an inventory of brand-new Atari replacement parts and peripherals in the 25 years since Atari exited the hardware business. And this inventory has become intensely desirable to retro-tech devotees over the past two decades, as trade in ancient gaming and computing gear has evolved into a passion-driven collector’s market.
Most of Koda's customers adore him. He's a skilled service technician with an encyclopedic knowledge of Atari systems. He helps customers put the joy back in their joysticks with fresh replacement circuit boards. He has been known to diagnose complex Atari ailments over the phone. He even occasionally produces his own fresh runs of crucial replacement parts when his vintage stock runs dry—most recently a brand-new AC adaptor for the Atari 2600, to replace his customers’ malfunctioning 40-year-old power bricks.
But even those who love buying from Koda admit that they experience a slight tingling of animal fear every time they order from Best Electronics.
“If I don’t hear back from him in three or four days, I get nervous trying to reach out again,” said Steve Maks, an Atari Lynx collector from the Chicago area who has placed orders with Best occasionally over the past 20 years. “It’s like, am I going to get on the ban list? Will I not be able to buy for six months? He’s the only source for some of these parts.”
“If you call him too many times in a month, he gets annoyed with you,” said Xavier Ulyanovich, an Atari enthusiast from Oklahoma and a longtime Best customer. “If you try to order too many things, he gets annoyed with you. It just comes down to having to adapt to the way he does business. Once you’re on his shitlist, it’s kinda hard to get off.”
Among Atari fans, Best is almost as famous for ignoring and blacklisting badly behaved customers as it is for selling Atari parts. A first attempt to buy from Best Electronics is a sink-or-swim proposition: learn the rules, or accept your fate.
Every purchase from Best Electronics requires personal interaction with Koda. Although he’s fond of using the editorial “we,” he is a one-man operation, and he doesn’t believe in automation. "We prefer to talk, Via E-Mail, Phone or E-FAX to our Atari customers, and make sure you getting the Right Atari Replacement Parts / Items the first time,” he explains on the Best website, in his inimitable prose style.
Koda is a monopolist, of a sort, but he’s no Jeff Bezos. Best Electronics has no virtual shopping cart, or any other Amazon-esque conveniences. The store’s website looks the same as it has since the early 2000s: it’s a lengthy, multicoloured text scroll, as if Jack Kerouac quit the novel-writing business (but not the benzedrine) and started typing about Atari.
Best’s catalog is only available in print. It costs $7.50 plus shipping, is the size of a small phone book, and is more than 20 years out of date. It needs to be cross-referenced with an “addendum” section on the Best website, where Koda has logged about 65 typewritten pages’ worth of piecemeal price changes and other corrections over the past two decades.
Anyone who can’t figure out this system risks being deemed a time-waster. In emails to customers, Koda often laments his busy schedule, and he seems to take distractions personally. He would rather lose a sale than suffer someone who hasn’t learned the rules.
At least two users of the AtariAge forums, a large online Atari fan community, have reported being blacklisted from Best for the same crime: revising their orders repeatedly. Koda processes each order by hand, and complains bitterly when made to write up more than two invoices for a single buyer. Both users claimed, in outraged AtariAge posts, that they were banned from buying for a year.
Another common infraction is trying to buy more than a few items at a time. Koda will not handle large orders. Repeated attempts to convince him to make an exception will cause a customer's future emails to be ignored. (Recently, the limit has been three items.)
The no-large-orders rule has an important corollary: Koda will not accept PayPal orders under $50. Failure to find a happy medium quickly enough can scuttle a sale.
As Koda’s supplies of certain sought-after parts have dwindled, he has imposed lifetime one-per-customer limits on some of them. Attempts to circumvent those limits can also result in a buyer being shunned.
And there are more creative ways to get banned. One AtariAge user told me that, in 2014, he had just finished paying for a purchase from Best Electronics when he noticed that Koda had refunded his money. Along with the refund came a note: "see your email to Best Electronics dated 2012.”
In 2012, the user had tried to buy 20 cables at once — a rookie mistake. When Koda declined the order, the user retorted with a promise to shop elsewhere. The meaning of the refund was that Koda had decided to hold this buyer to that promise, even if it meant not making a sale.
Kevin Lund, a retro computing enthusiast from the Bay Area, used to work near Koda's offices. “I had been in the habit of going to his office to pick up parts on my lunch hour,” Lund says. Over a period of several years, Lund was a loyal customer. According to his recollection, he placed an order with Best once every few months. One day, he made a fatal mistake.
“I had ordered a speaker for an Atari 800 computer I was restoring for a friend,” Lund says. “And I forgot to pick it up from Best at the agreed time. When I went to place my next order a couple months later, Bradley reminded me that I hadn’t picked up that speaker from him at his office and that he’d waited for me for two hours. And he said he wouldn’t sell to me again.” As in, ever again.
Being exiled from Best Electronics can be sort of a Paradise Lost situation. Expelled from Koda's Eden of pristine replacement parts, buyers are forced to wander the earth's thrift stores and junkyards, scavenging circuits from husks of yellowing plastic. (Or they have their friends secretly order from Best on their behalf.)
Working one's way back into Koda's favour after exile can be difficult, or outright impossible.
“He rarely returns any of the emails I send asking for forgiveness,” Lund says. “I had been doing it every six to eight months or so, hoping he might change his mind, but he holds a grudge pretty good. And this was over a five-dollar part.”
But Atari fans keep coming back. There are, after all, no true alternatives. And, for some, there may be a certain appeal to buying computer and gaming parts from a store that still sells them the way they were sold in 1983. “It’s almost part of the charm, maybe,” says Maks, the Atari Lynx collector. “Is there some sort of nostalgia for the Best website, in the same way there’s nostalgia for Asteroids on the Atari 2600? Maybe that’s part of it.”
Successful orders are richly rewarded. Days later, a box lands in the buyer’s mailbox, like a meteoroid from some alternate universe where it’s still 1995. Even before they open that box, they know it's something special. Koda wraps every package in Atari-branded shipping tape from the 1980s. It seems he has a lifetime supply of it.
So, how did one person corner the Atari-parts market, and why is he apparently so indifferent to selling his stuff?
I sent Koda an email to request an interview, and received the expected response: I was wasting his time.
"Sorry for the delay in getting back to you Steve," he wrote. "It is very simple here. Unless your E-Mail is about placing an Atari order we do not have the free time to answer it." He closed with a suggestion that I try again in six to eight months.
Although he wouldn't talk to me, he has given two extended interviews that I'm aware of: one to a German Atari enthusiast named Andreas Bertelmann in 2007 and another to ANTIC, an Atari podcast, in 2014. In those interviews, he explains the unique circumstances that led to him becoming the Standard Oil of Atari parts.
According to Koda, he was living in the Bay Area, not far from Atari’s Sunnyvale corporate headquarters. It was the early 1980s and Silicon Valley was awash with Atari goods. Even the injection moulding plant where he worked was under contract with Atari, cranking out plastic parts around the clock. He started moonlighting as an Atari dealer.
“I saw an opening in the way Atari did business, a long time ago,” he told ANTIC. “They had their dealers set up for replacement parts, but it wasn’t very good. We were always getting requests from people saying I need this, I need that, so I saw a little bit of a window there. As a part-time hobby I started buying stuff at dealers or whatever I could find in the Valley here. Sometimes dumpster divers would bring us pallets of stuff. That’s how it started.”
The great video game crash happened in 1983. Almost overnight, Atari was transformed from a fast-growing, ludicrously profitable tech company into a money-losing albatross.
In 1984, Atari’s corporate parent, Warner Communications, sold Atari’s consumer products division to a company fronted by ex-Commodore CEO Jack Tramiel. Along with the company, Tramiel inherited warehouses full of excess 8-bit computers, consoles, and software Atari had produced during its brief heyday. Distributors were no longer keen on it. Retailers were no longer buying it.
Tramiel and his sons spent years liquidating that stock — sometimes by tossing it into scrap heaps. Meanwhile they committed their own string of product blunders, culminating in one of Atari’s most notorious mistakes: its 64-bit home video game console, the Jaguar. In 1996, Atari reverse merged with a hard drive manufacturer and effectively ceased to exist. (Atari's brand name and intellectual property are now owned by an unrelated company.)
Best Electronics was one of a handful of small businesses that discovered they could profit off of Atari's constant overproduction and market failure by buying up unsold products and parts in very large quantities, at large discounts, directly from Atari warehouses in the Sunnyvale area. They were essentially betting that there would continue to be a small but active market for product lines that Atari had abandoned — which, of course, turned out to be a good bet.
A pivotal moment for Koda and his contemporaries came as Atari was facing its final demise. The company's last Sunnyvale warehouse was choked with unwanted goods, and there were fewer willing buyers than ever before.
Another Atari store that partook in some of these liquidation deals was Minnesota-based Video 61, which was (and is still) owned by a genial midwesterner named Lance Ringquist. “Regular dealers that dealt in Atari were pretty much wiped out by poor support for the machines and for the market,” Ringquist told me. “Atari would try to invite whoever they could into these warehouses to buy this stuff. They were always looking for someone to unload it on, because there was so much of it.”
“By the last warehouse, there was hardly anybody interested at all. Atari was pretty much dead,” Ringquist said.
But Best was still interested. In the Bertelmann interview, Koda claims to have purchased over 8,000 pallets of items from Atari’s warehouses over the course of his career. And it appears that a lot of that purchasing happened towards the end of Atari’s run.
Prior to Atari’s collapse in 1996, Koda’s catalog was 46 pages long. After Atari folded, he released a new version, with 228 pages.
But none of this explains the endless rules and stipulations, the blacklisting, or the website. Ringquist’s operation is similarly bare-bones, so I’ll let him speak for old-school Atari dealers everywhere: “There are boxes in my warehouse that I have not opened yet, from the late 1980s,” he told me. “I don’t need a fancy modern site. The stuff sells itself. It sells faster than I can unpack. So, I mean, how much faster do we want to sell it? I have no spare time at all. I should be retired by now.”
In some markets, a merchant with a pattern of refusing sales and banning customers might eventually be out-competed, but Koda has no true competition. His stock is unique in the world.
For many years, it was possible to buy new-old-stock Atari goods from a few other suppliers, but most are now out of business or greatly diminished.
San Jose Computer and American Techna-Vision are long gone. B&C Computervisions, a California electronics shop that worked directly with Koda to buy large lots of Atari goods in the 1980s and 1990s, still sells a few things on eBay. But the store's owner, Bruce Carso, is semi-retired. There is some concern and speculation among Atari enthusiasts about how much longer Carso intends to stay in business, and what will become of his inventory when he finally chooses to step away.
Lance Ringquist's Video 61 is still open for business, and it still has a decent stock of new software for certain Atari systems. But Ringquist told me that he's recovering from a serious injury he suffered while working in his warehouse. He's not sure how long he can continue. When he retires, he plans to pass whatever remains of his stock on to his children. He's not sure what they'll do with it.
Koda himself is most likely in his mid-60s, and his stock is starting to dwindle. “I imagine he’s probably tired all the time,” Ringquist says. “It’s probably not so easy.”
“We’ve got to conserve our strength, and do the best we can to keep serving the community as long as we can. Because when we’re gone, that’s it.”
When Best is gone, the world's Atari users will be without a centralized source of factory-original replacement parts for the first time ever. In a very literal sense, Koda and his inventory are all that remains of a once-great American tech empire.
He saved it all for himself. But the important thing is: he saved it all.