Historic Hardware Store Thrives in Home Depot Age

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Bill Haynsworth's great-great uncle co-founded San Diego Hardware i

Bill Haynsworth's great-great uncle co-founded San Diego Hardware in 1892. It closed last week but will reopen in a larger, more accessible location. Scott Horsley, NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Scott Horsley, NPR
Bill Haynsworth's great-great uncle co-founded San Diego Hardware

Bill Haynsworth's great-great uncle co-founded San Diego Hardware in 1892. It closed last week but will reopen in a larger, more accessible location.

Scott Horsley, NPR

A San Diego hardware store closed its doors last week, after more than a century in business. The family-owned institution wasn't driven out by competition from Home Depot or urban decay. In fact, both the store and the surrounding neighborhood are busier than ever — and its success, not failure, has prompted a move.

San Diego Hardware is chock full of hinges, hammer, and history, from its creaky wooden floors to its pounded-tin ceiling. The one-ton safe near the front of the store was delivered by horse-drawn wagon back in 1892. That's when the store was co-founded by Bill Haynsworth's great-great uncle.

"We used this safe all the way through 1986. And every penny that we brought in through the register was stored in here every night," Haynsworth says.

Black-and-white photos on the wall show some of the first items sold by the store: washing machines, birdcages, hammocks. Michael Morgan remembers shopping here with his father in the late-1930s.

"It was like going to Disneyland or Toys R Us for adults," Morgan says. "Down in the basement, they had a machine for cutting sheet metal. And I used to go down there and watch 'em cut sheet metal. It just caught my interest and fascinated me."

The store survived not only the Great Depression but also the postwar boom, when many of its customers left downtown for San Diego's fast-growing suburbs. When Home Depot entered the market in the late-1980s, San Diego Hardware branched out into higher priced decorative fixtures. And year by year, sales have continued to grow.

"Every day, people walk in here and say, 'Home Depot sent me here,' or 'The Expo sent me here,'" Haynsworth says. "The do-it-yourself centers don't get into the more unique items that we sell. So we get referrals all day long from the competition. We love 'em."

Downtown San Diego is booming as well. Over the last decade, the neighborhood has added nearly 12,000 condominiums. And 11,000 more condos are expected in the next five years.

"All of a sudden the urban environment started improving and we're seeing people move into downtown in droves," says Donna Alm, vice president of the Center City Development Corporation.

All those condo dwellers do buy the occasional screwdriver. But San Diego Hardware finds more and more of its big-ticket sales going to customers outside the downtown area. And those shoppers have grown tired of fighting the neighborhood's growing traffic.

"They'll call up on the cell phone: 'I'm driving around the block. I've driven around five times. There's no parking. Can you run something out to me?'" Haynsworth says. "Or they finally find a place to park and they walk in here and then you hear it: 'Geez, I finally parked eight blocks away. How do I get the hardware back to my car? You guys need to move.'"

Haynsworth took that message to heart. Last Thursday, San Diego Hardware closed its historic downtown location. It will reopen next month in a new, larger store, about 10 miles north.

The new store probably won't stock everything the old one did, like sheep shears and grain scoops, in order to concentrate on high-end decorative hardware. But the new store will have free parking. And Haynsworth says the old safe will still be on display.

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