Click clack craze: San Jose’s mechanical keyboard shop will have you throwing out your bland computer parts

Want your computer keyboard to light up every time with neon colors when you type? Want there to be a small icon of a cat with boba on one of the keys — or all of them? Want to feel like you’re typing with utter conviction on that vacation request email to your boss?

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Then the Tiny Keyboard Shop is for you.

It offers the colorful, sometimes obnoxiously loud and highly customizable keyboards known for an old-school typing experience reminiscent of the 1970s that are currently taking the computer and gaming world by storm. While Tiny Keyboard Shop is sleek and modern, it is also a testament to Silicon Valley’s roots when computing mostly involved hobbyists and tinkerers.

Owner “Tiny” and manager Spencer Lin oversee the small but mighty shop in San Pedro Square, which opened in July 2022.

“It’s almost as important as the shoes that you walk in (or) the mattress that you sleep in,” said Lin on a recent Wednesday inside the store about the products. “Why not invest in something that improves the quality of life that takes up so much time?”

We met with Lin to talk about what makes the devices sing, why the hobby has become so popular and the craziest trade he’s ever heard of for a keyboard.

Tiny, owner of the Tiny Keyboard Shop, holds a keyboard shortly after opening the shop in San Jose, Calif., in Aug. of 2022. (Courtesy of Tiny Keyboard Shop)

Spencer Lin, right, manager of the Tiny Keyboard Shop and owner Tiny at the shop in San Jose, Calif. in Oct 2022. (Courtesy of Tiny Keyboard Shop)

From left, Jennifer Ye, Spencer Lin, manager, and Tiny, owner of the Tiny Keyboard Shop in San Jose sells their products at the SacAnime in Sacramento, Calif. in Sept 2023. (Courtesy of Tiny Keyboard Shop)

Nathan Chan assembles keyboards at Tiny Keyboard Shop in the parking structure across the street from San Pedro Square in San Jose, Calif. Friday, Dec. 22, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

A decorative keyboard pin is displayed at the Tiny Keyboard Shop in San Jose, Calif. Friday, Dec. 22, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Colorful keyboards are displayed at the Tiny Keyboard Shop in San Jose, Calif. Friday, Dec. 22, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

A colorful keyboard is displayed at the Tiny Keyboard Shop in San Jose, Calif. Friday, Dec. 22, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Customers at Tiny Keyboard Shop browse in the compact shop located in the parking structure across the street from San Pedro Square in San Jose, Calif. Friday, Dec. 22, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Customers at Tiny Keyboard Shop browse in the compact shop located in the parking structure across the street from San Pedro Square in San Jose, Calif. Friday, Dec. 22, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Nathan Chan shows off a customer keyboard available at the Tiny Keyboard Shop located in the parking garage across from San Pedro Square in San Jose, Calif., Friday, Dec. 22, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Nathan Chan assembles keyboards at Tiny Keyboard Shop in the parking structure across the street from San Pedro Square in San Jose, Calif. Friday, Dec. 22, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

Colorful keyboard switches are displayed at the Tiny Keyboard Shop in San Jose, Calif. Friday, Dec. 22, 2023. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

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Q What’s the most important part of the keyboard?

A Keycaps (are) a big topic within the keyboard space. For the most part, they’re just essentially colorful pieces of plastic that serve like the paint job or the makeup of your keyboard build. Some people consider it to be the most fun or the most appealing part of it because typically this is an escape key but it doesn’t have to say escape, it can have this little icon, it could be blue, it could be pink. So the nice part about the keyboard and with keycaps is that you can customize it to be your very own.

Q How would you say the keyboard community has evolved?

A This hobby exploded more during COVID because everyone was at home and gaming board work from home stipends from their companies. It just kind of came together. There’s actually a subreddit dedicated to buy, sell (and) trade. I used to be avidly addicted to it. I would have it refresh every five seconds. And maybe like 25 to 30 percent of those people (on the subreddit) are based in the Bay. I usually became friends with them.

Q What’s the wildest story you know about in the keyboard community?

A I remember in 2021 there was this specific brand and model of a keyboard that someone actually traded for a car. The value at the time (of the car) was about five or six grand. It wasn’t like a great, new car, but it was still a car. So this just kind of shows how ridiculous the hobby can be.

Q What kind of people are coming into your store?

A I would say maybe 55 to 60 percent are people coming in either building their first (keyboard) or knowing that they wanna build their first one or they’re entirely new to it because they’re walking around here. And then I would say maybe 10 to 15 percent are the people who are hardcore. The rest are trying to dip their toes into it.

Parents bring their kids… I think there was like a sixth or seventh-grader. They got an A on their report card and they were able to buy something.

Q What determines the sound of the keyboard?

A The size of the keyboard, the material of the keyboard, the insulation of the keyboard, the way that the switches and components are mounted inside of it because a few years ago, it was just screwed into it. But then having that screw and tightness and metal and metal contact made it very rigid and (carry a) very dense noise. And then maybe three or four years ago, a lot of designers started making these like gaskets where it uses these rubber strips or rings that essentially dampen and also soften the feel of it because you’re not putting metal on metal contact.

SPENCER LIN PROFILE

Age: 29

School: UC Santa Cruz

Origins: Started getting interested in computer keyboards in 2019

A tendency to get obsessed: Lin said that while he wasn’t into mechanical keyboards as a child, he got a taste for tech when his dad would take him and his brother to Fry’s Electronics or Best Buy — and he admitted he has a tendency to go down a “rabbit hole” when it comes to certain interests.

Crossing paths: Lin met owner “Tiny” while at his former job — and decided to make mechanical keyboards his full-time gig after helping out the shop with some side work.

FIVE THINGS ABOUT LIN AND HIS SHOP

The keyboards aren’t cheap — they’ll usually run you around $250 to $350 — but Lin says they will likely last a lifetime.
There are literally endless ways to customize the mechanical keyboards, from the base that the device is made out of, the keycaps and the “switches,” which determine how much resistance occurs when the keys are hit.
The industry can get so specific that there are even different keycap shapes — some offering a rounded feel while others are more flat.
Tiny Keyboard Shop saw a big jump in popularity when a TikTok video was posted last December featuring a store tour.
While the shop has a small square footage, Lin said there’s a possibility of moving into a larger space in downtown in 2024.

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