A trip to the Placerville Hardware store on Main Street is like stepping back in time to an era when things seemed simpler. And yet, this is the ideal place to come to solve those modern-day home and property challenges.
Not only is Placerville Hardware internationally known as the “oldest hardware store west of the Mississippi,” it is also the second oldest business in California, in continuous operation since 1852. (The Mountain Democrat newspaper is the oldest business in the Golden State).
From gold miners seeking their fortunes to writers such as Mark Twain, residents of and visitors to El Dorado County have all trod the same wood floors that grace Placerville Hardware. There is a comfortable sense of history here — and customer service. If you can’t find what you are looking for here, it probably never existed.
The store’s brick building was built by Joseph Smith and I.H. Nash in 1856. Originally called the I.H. Nash Hardware store, it became Sturges and Alderson in 1882. Later, the business was sold to Pioneer Hardware, a corporation. It became Placerville Hardware in 1907.
Owners have come and gone, but the original wood floors (complete with charming period copper patches for knot holes and brass nails every 12 inches for measuring wire, rope and other items) remain. Also original are the four 135-year old rolling ladders that were ordered from Ohio, shipped around the Horn to San Francisco, packed by wagon train to Sacramento and finally arrived via mule train — a journey of 11 months in 1875. Add to that the original nail bins and holes to sweep gold dust into are still there.
The Fausel Family has owned Placerville Hardware since 1952. George Fausel purchased the business from Albert and Edna Kyburz and operated it along with his brothers Elmer and Frank for the next 30 years. Frank’s sons, David and Dan Fausel, became partners in 1983 and took over the store from their Uncle George. In 1984, the store affiliated with True Value — following a trend nationwide when local hardware stores partnered with nationwide chains in order to gain access to quality items at a good price for their customers.
Today, David and Deanna Fausel own the store, and their oldest son, Albert, runs it.
When asked for his family’s thoughts on the secrets of success in business, David modestly said, “I don’t know…just diversity (in merchandise). We have hardware, housewares, gifts and some sporting goods.”
However, when asked about his thoughts on the day-to-day operations of the store, David zeroed in on two key aspects of Placerville Hardware’s longevity.
“We have great customer service,” he said. “And you have to realize that, as times change, you have to change with them.”
One example of changing times: The store has gone from selling dynamite on the street in the early 20th century (“the city fathers didn’t think that was such a good idea in 1926, even though we’d done it for 50 years”), to selling novelty items such as party hats.
But there is more to Placerville Hardware than “soft goods.” This store is a tremendous resource for those looking for solutions to their home, ranch or business projects.
“We’re constantly helping people with hard-to-fix items,” David said. “The people at the ‘big box’ stores don’t have the knowledge and don’t have the variety of products that we have. We spend more time than money with our customers.”
The building offers a “boys’ side” and a “girls’ side” to the store. The boys’ side features traditional hardware tools, knives, gold prospecting gear, and much more. The girls’ side offers cast iron cookware, a selection of cookbooks, aprons and other niceties. However, it is not unusual to see both genders shopping both sides of the store. Both sides of the store offer a variety of unique gifts in a wide range of affordable prices.
The Fausel family keeps an eye on trends and works to meet customer needs. For example, Albert puts handles in broken tools and makes sure the focus is always on customer service.
A current trend the staff at Placerville Hardware has noticed is an increased interest in prospecting.
“In this economy, with the price of gold going up, we’re seeing a second gold rush,” said Bob Mullins, who works at the store. “People are coming in to purchase $200 worth of gold prospecting equipment. And some of them are finding gold. Jewelry stores will buy gold dust and nuggets.”
As long as there are gold miners seeking their fortunes and local folks looking for materials and solutions to make life a little bit better, there will always be a need for those who work to meet those needs. Perhaps that is Placerville Hardware’s greatest secret to success.
Placerville Hardware, Inc. is located at 441 Main Street in Placerville.