New hardware store is the nuts and bolts of SF neighborhood 

click to enlarge With no other hardware store nearby, Julie Chin signed a five-year lease to open Win Long Ocean Hardware in order to better serve the Oceanview-Merced Heights-Ingleside area. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to The S.F. Examiner
  • With no other hardware store nearby, Julie Chin signed a five-year lease to open Win Long Ocean Hardware in order to better serve the Oceanview-Merced Heights-Ingleside area.

Folks in the hardware store business believe every neighborhood should have such a shop.

Julie Chin, a small-business owner in San Francisco, once went looking for a hardware store on Ocean Avenue, the commercial district near her home. She needed a screw for a bathroom remodel job.

To her surprise, no store was to be found on the busy commercial corridor near Lake Merced. Chin had two options: Go back to her own hardware store miles north in the Sunset or even farther away to the Home Depot in Daly City.

That inconvenience a year ago also drilled an idea into Chin's head: open a new hardware store in the Oceanview-Merced Heights-Ingleside area herself. She looked at a couple spots but their size or lease was not a good fit. Then she began talking to the property owner of 1556 Ocean Ave., one of several storefronts remodeled after a 2012 fire. Chin signed a five-year lease in June. In mid-November she opened Win Long Ocean Hardware, the first new neighborhood hardware store in The City in more than five years.

Chin, who speaks English, Cantonese and Mandarin, said business has been "better than what I expected -- pretty good." Nevertheless, she has concerns.

Running a hardware store in San Francisco is a challenge. The last independent one to open, Speedy's Hardware in South of Market in 2009, shut in December.

Traditional hardware stores -- those that carry lumber, big pipes and every tool imaginable -- cannot survive in San Francisco unless they are part of a corporate chain because it is difficult to find a place that is large enough and affordable enough to rent, said Karl Aguilar, store manager for 16 years at Papenhausen Hardware in West Portal.

"The stores that make it like ours have a lot of very detailed, hands-on sort of curation of your product, so you need to really get to know the neighborhood even down to the houses," he said. "And you need to have your staff trained in how all these things work and how these houses are built. It takes a huge knowledge base."

Few hardware stores have succeeded after ownership changes. Most simply shut down and a different business emerges in their place, Aguilar said.

In 2010, the store that opened in Bayview-Hunters Point was megachain Lowe's Home Improvement.

The Oceanview-Merced Heights-Ingleside area has desired a neighborhood hardware store for as long as District 7 Supervisor Norman Yee has lived there, more than a quarter-century. Win Long Ocean Hardware is the latest business to open on the commercial corridor that serves an increasingly Asian population and other longtime residents.

"It was slow and then in the last maybe six to eight years, I saw the momentum build in terms of the number of businesses opened by immigrants," Yee said.

On an afternoon last week, Eric Sze, 38, who lives near City College of San Francisco, wandered into Win Long looking for bathroom caulk. He was pleased to find the item in stock and that Chin was not limited to offering assistance in her native language.

"A lot of the time, they don't speak English," he said of immigrants who become small-business owners.

Business at Win Long is off to a stronger start than the original hardware store Chin opened at 2244 Irving St. in the Sunset in 1990, yet she said she fears she will not be able to cover costs with the increase in San Francisco's minimum wage to $15 by 2018. Currently, she operates the Ocean Avenue hardware store alone and is only looking to hire a part-time employee.

Online sales have hurt the hardware industry, but Chin said what really drove into her sales -- to the tune of a 20 percent decline -- was a Target that opened up near her Sunset store. The corporation has also submitted a proposal to the Planning Department to open a small-format TargetExpress at 1830 Ocean Ave. this summer and has already held two community meetings.

Still, Chin sees on a daily basis the value of her store to the community.

"The neighbors are so happy they can walk down to get the things they want and people want to support us. They say they will come back to shop," Chin said, adding that after her lease is up, "We don't have a future to think about how long we will stay."

About The Author

Jessica Kwong

Jessica Kwong

Bio:
Jessica Kwong covers transportation, housing, and ethnic communities, among other topics, for the San Francisco Examiner. She covered City Hall as a fellow for the San Francisco Chronicle, night cops and courts for the San Antonio Express-News, general news for Spanish-language newspapers La Opinión and El Mensajero,... more
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