City's oldest mom & pop hardware store relocates instead of closing

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU) – Customers of San Francisco's oldest mom and pop hardware store thought their shopping days were over when the landlord wanted to build new condos in its place.

In a refreshing twist, today the owners of Center Hardware and Supply Company opened in a different location.

SF Supervisor Malia Cohen and former Mayor Art Agnos attended today's ribbon cutting ceremony that a year and a half ago didn't seem likely.

"I pretty much decided that we were going out of business because we couldn't afford the rents," said Keith Gentner, owner. It was the age old story of a mom and pop shop getting squeezed out of a city with skyrocketing rents.

But Center Hardware has been a family-owned hardware store since the late 1800s.

"We wanted to be able to continue this long history that we had, right? And we had seen so many of our customers and our vendors like leave for the East Bay or either close entirely and we were not sure what was going to happen to us," said Jamie Gentner Gubman.

Center Hardware was forced out of its Potrero Hill location on Mariposa Street because the landlord wanted to build new condos, but luckily he offered up a property in the Dogpatch neighborhood at 3rd Street and Cesar Chavez.

With 20,000 square feet of space, the Gentners aren't complaining. "He made it available to us at a reasonable rate so that we could stay in business," said Keith Gentner.

"It's more like an old school hardware store where I can go and buy one screw if I want to," said Olle Lundberg, an architect and longtime customer. He admitted that he could stroll up and down the aisles for hours.

"Sometimes when you come in like especially Saturday mornings, there'll be all these artists in here and they're walking through, geeking out on this stuff," Lundberg said, pointing to drawers chock full of all sorts of metal bits and bobs. "Because this stuff is actually inspirational for 'em."

"[And] when your Ikea stuff breaks this is where you fix it!" he laughed. "If you go to the big box stores, you can buy tools really cheaply but you're going to be buying them again in 5 years. The tools you buy here you'll probably just use your lifetime."

Paul Flick who's worked here for 39 years was worried he might be out of a job when he first heard the news that the store was getting pushed out.

"It was scary, heartbreaking, yes. But we're here now!" he said with a sigh of relief and wide grin.

The owners have a 20-year lease on the new building. It's a good step, they say, toward another 135 years in business.