On the east side of Interstate 5, just past the Washington Street exit, you might have noticed the big sign: Seajunk.com. What the hell? Is this some kind of scavenging operation? Or a place to throw away the crap even scavengers won't take?
No, no, of course not. Go inside to find an antique binnacle, polished brass sextants, vintage posters from World War II, antique plates and lanterns and a row of conning wheels lined up under the counter. There are old sea charts in a loft labeled 'The upper deck.' When he's not out buying, a customer might find the mustachioed owner, Vic Maidhoff, in a back office thinking about times gone by.
Half a century ago, Maidhoff and his two brothers worked for their father, an ex-engineer in the merchant marines, on an old fishing boat. They never made much money, but they learned the water, they learned boats and, perhaps most importantly, they learned the art of buying and selling. Maidhoff's father always loved the sea and its accoutrements, so he started the business in 1967 (Maidhoff says Dad started the company to keep him out of trouble). At first, they focused on industrial equipment. Maidhoff crawled around the World War II vessels being decommissioned at the breaking yards of San Diego and Long Beach looking for pumps, chains and other parts he could purchase by the pound, and then resell to the once-legendary San Diego tuna fleet.
By the late 1970s the canneries had closed and the shipyards were leaving. As San Diego made the transition from heavy industry to high-tech commerce and tourism, Maidhoff switched from the heavy gear to the smaller, high-profit-margin antiques. He began to travel overseas, from Malaysia to Pakistan, in search of old telescopes and maps. He cleans them up for sale to everyone-from John Wayne and Barbara Streisand to your average, everyday San Diegan. --Eric Wolff