In 2014, Socketsite, a web-based real estate news source, announced that the facility that houses Center Hardware and Supply Store, at 999 Mariposa Street, was slated to be redeveloped. The hardware store’s management team had recently learned of the plan as well, and scrambled to combat the public’s misconception that their doors were closing for good.
The Mariposa Street building is owned by William Spencer and his son, Zach Spencer, who’re going to develop the lot, along with two adjacent parcels at 249 Pennsylvania and a surface parking lot, into a large mixed-use project.
Despite the challenges of securing affordable retail spaces in San Francisco, Center Hardware located a new site for its business, at 3003 Third Street near Cesar Chavez Street, in a building also owned by the Spencers.
“We’re excited about it, as it puts us close by Potrero Hill in Dogpatch,” said Jamie Gentner, Center Hardware’s chief operations officer. “The frontage on Third will give us access to both freeways. The parking area is huge, accommodating about 40 cars.”
In addition to being a promising location in terms of retaining current customers and attracting new ones, the facility is roughly 2,000 square feet larger than the Mariposa Street space. Once on Third Street, Center Hardware will become the Milwaukee Tool Company’s destination store for San Francisco; a designation possessed by only ten retailers in the country. With that will come customized merchandise areas and new products, as well as a large selection of paints, including popular brands such as Valspar. Center Hardware staff will be available to mix paints to customer specifications.
“We want to be true to who we are and become even better. We’re known for having hard-to-find items and are already looking to expand on that,” Gentner said. ”Being independent has allowed us a tremendous amount of flexibility for customers. We’re very resourceful.”
Gentner explained that the store carries a wide variety of products that makes it more competitive than “big-box” hardware stores. It has a giant fastener section and offers different types of glues for diverse purposes. Similar to larger retailers, Center has a deep and diverse inventory. The store routinely special-orders items requested by customers. Staff is available to share knowledge and facilitate projects and repairs.
The store first opened on Fourth and Brannan streets in 1880. It’s been at the Potrero Hill location for the past thirty years. Gentner and staff have a deep affinity for the Mariposa Street building despite its age and the discomforts that come with it. As a warehouse instead of a sealed building, personnel have shivered through many winters.
“We owe the building and Potrero Hill community much gratitude for our success. The community has been incredibly supportive and amazing with everything they’ve given us. Circumstances have changed and it’s time to move. I’m very proud to say that we’ll be continuing business nearby and not closing. It’s San Francisco, and you never know what’s going to happen, especially with a business like ours that needs a lot of square footage,” continued Gentner.
Gentner emphasized that Center will be able to remain open solely due to customer loyalty. She takes pride in providing parts and supplies for the City Hall lights and many other industrial art projects. The store’s customer base spans just about every walk of life and industry.
A store practice is to spend as much time as needed helping customers, regardless of the purchase size. Staff members have dedicated an hour to a confused or upset patron, who may come in with a broken part from their Victorian home. Though the sale may only end up being $1.50, Gentner emphasized that the customer is just as valued as a commercial client with a large tab.
Center Hardware does a significant amount of business with commercial and municipal customers, including hotels, engineers, and the Departments of Public Works, and Recreation and Parks. “They’re in here all day every day,” said Gentner. “We’re part of their routine. We get to participate in things that make us feel like we’re a key part of the community. We’re part of what makes San Francisco unique.”
One Saturday in 2015, a cruise ship arrived in the Bay that’d broken down. A couple of crew members wandered up from the pier, stumbled upon the store, and asked staff for assistance. By Monday Center Hardware had gotten them the necessary parts, and they were back on their way.
Center Hardware is negotiating a lease for its new location. The existing tenant, City Electric Supply, have yet to move out. Once it does, the facility will be outfitted with new lighting, paint, electrical and flooring, which’ll be taken care of by Spencer’s crew. Though dates haven’t been set, a celebration is expected as part of the opening of the Dogpatch store, with a closing ceremony prior to departure from the existing space.
The 999 Mariposa warehouse will be demolished following Center Hardware’s move. The proposed project is for 59 housing units, 3,450 square feet of ground floor commercial space and below-grade parking. It’ll feature 8,160 square feet of common open space both on the building’s roof deck and rear yard area. There’ll also be a 30 foot tall “green wall” to serve as a sound barrier to noise coming from Interstate-280 along the eastern property boundary. A formal application for the project has been submitted to the City; the developer is awaiting approval by the Planning Commission, along with building entitlement permits.