Want to buy a great small town hardware store? You still have a couple of weeks left before Hangtown Hardware closes its doors and another little piece of rural Placerville is gone. Owner Art Hardie said he is ready to retire, but “it would be the best Christmas present ever to have someone else want to buy the store and run it.”
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Hardie, 63, has been involved with Hangtown Hardware since 1984, first as a partner and then as owner. The hardware store has been in its location at 1309 Broadway in the Hangtown Shopping Center since 1959, when it was a Fisher Hardware Store.
“Ted Fisher had a hardware store on lower Main Street,” said Hardie. “He decided to open a second store and he hired Louis Samboceti to run it. We are the only original tenants, along with the barbershop, in the center. I still have the original clocks from both stores that have ‘Fisher Hardware’ on them.”
Samboceti bought the store from Fisher in 1962 and changed the name to Hangtown Hardware. In 1977, the store became Hangtown Ace Hardware when Samboceti became a member of the Ace Hardware Corporation. Samboceti, his wife Eileen and son, Mitch, ran the store until 1984 when Louis Samboceti decided to retire.
“He told Mitch that he could buy the store if he could find a partner,” said Hardie. Hardie, who was married to Louis and Eileen’s daughter, Lorna, was living in South Lake Tahoe and working as vice-president of Tahoe Savings and Loan. He jumped at the opportunity. “I was running 13 branches of the Savings and Loan, but I was born and raised in Placerville. I graduated from El Dorado High School and I wanted to be back here.”
For a year, Louis Samboceti kept an eye on the partners and then in 1985, Mitch and Art became owners of their own business. “Louis was a great mentor and he was really good with customers,” said Hardie. “I learned a lot from him. After I told my employees about closing the business, the first person I called to tell was Louis.”
In 1991, Hardie and his wife, Lorna, bought Mitch Samboceti out. After Lorna and Hardie divorced, he bought her out in 1999 to become sole owner of Hangtown Hardware. “I’m probably the only person who’s bought the same business three times,” joked Hardie.
On Thursdays, Hardie gets up at 4 a.m. to make sure he is at the hardware store to unload the freight truck when it arrives at 5 a.m. His beautifully restored 1935 Ford pickup out in front of the store sports a replica 1935 vintage Ace Hardware logo that Hardie researched for accuracy.
Two movies have been filmed at the hardware store and multiple generations have made it their go-to store, valuing the location and the employee expertise. Hardie is good friends with the owners of Placerville Hardware and both stores refer customers to each other when they don’t have what the customer needs. “It’s been a fun relationship because often customers confuse us, but we want to send customers where they can find what they want.”
“It’s the right time to go,” said Hardie. “It’s a tough economic environment for small businesses now. We’ve tried to find a buyer, but haven’t been able to, so we’re going to liquidate the inventory starting Dec. 2 and then we’ll close in January.”
Hardie, who remarried two and a half years ago, is looking forward to retirement — building a shop on his property, enjoying old cars and car shows, spending time with family. He has four children and three granddaughters. “I love Placerville and I will do something else — I’m not the kind of person who can just sit at home — but I don’t know what I’ll do yet. By mid-January, there will be a lot less on my mind.”
Despite looking forward to retirement, Hardie is spending a lot of time awake at night worrying. “It was hard to tell the employees and I worry about what they will do. We are the biggest tenant in the center and it will make a difference to our landlord.” He also worries about city and country workers who are customers and people like Greg Boeger who rely on Hangtown Hardware’s convenient location. “This is touching more people than I ever thought, but it had to happen.”
Lori Shortridge, Hardie’s administrative assistant, has been with Hangtown Hardware for 13 years. She plans to look for a job in Roseville, where she and her husband recently moved. Wesley Smith has been working at the store for six years, while Don Arundell has been there three years. “I love hardware stores and I always wanted to work in one,” said Arundell. His plans for after the closing include possibly working with the computer company he used to work for or maybe using his carpentry skills.
Mike Numan, who has worked at Hangtown Hardware for nine years, is 76. “I’m going to enjoy winter skiing and maybe try a year being really retired,” he said. “I’ve made a whole bunch of wonderful friends here. It’s been a kick in the butt.”
Part-time workers are often retired people like Bart Tamlyn, who has worked for Hangtown Hardware for nine years, and Debe Jobson, who has been with them for eight years.
Hardie remembers customers who have benefitted by the staff’s expertise and ones who have become good friends.
One customer said she had the county out to inspect the walls of her home for squirrels or rats. “She heard this squeaking sound and when she described it, I asked her if she had checked her smoke detectors,” said Hardie. “That chirping from the detectors warning her to change them was the problem.”
Another customer became a good friend after Hardie delivered a screen door to the wheelchair-bound gentleman after hours. “He had a race car, still in the wrappers, in his garage. We became friends and years later, he gave it to me.”
Hardie said his greatest source of pride is the service the employees at the store have provided their customers over the years. “We’re a family store and many of our employees worked with us for more than a decade. We’ve had a lot of retired people work for us part-time and we’ve gotten to know each others’ families and watch the kids grow up. The kids still come into the store and so do Mitch and Louis.”
“The employees really are the ‘helpful hardware’ people,” said Shortridge.
“Anyone can sell hardware and price it at what they want,” said Hardie. “All we have to offer is service. We want customers to have a pleasant experience, whether it’s to get in and out in a few minutes or to talk over a project — our job is to make them leave happy. It’s a challenge, but we’ve done well at that.”
Hardie has been surprised, and touched, at the increased number of customers who have come in since he announced the closure. “They aren’t just waiting for the sale to start on Dec. 2,; they are doing special orders, coming in to talk. It’s been a super ride. There wasn’t one day that I didn’t want to come to work. If someone comes along in the next couple of weeks and buys the store, we’ll be glad to send out a ‘just kidding’ letter. ”
Hangtown Hardware is located at 1309 Broadway in Placerville. Hours are Monday through Friday 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, call 530-622-2534.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.