Small hardware store goes strong for 100 years

November 25, 2011 7:17:28 PM PST
These are tough times for neighborhood hardware stores, so many are being driven out of business by the big box giants. But a tiny San Francisco store is bucking that trend: Tuggy's Hardware, which opened in 1898, is still going strong.

In a dense and confusing maze-like city, looking for an old-style fluorescent light fixture is like looking for a proverbial needle and a haystack.

"I might have one," said Denny Giovanolli, and while he isn't the "Tuggy," he might qualify as Tuggy's latest incarnation in a building so old that customers can see, smell and hear the timeliness.

"The floorboards creek," Giovanolli said. "That's a good thing."

Tuggy's is one of those small businesses that reflect a neighborhood, both literally and figuratively. The hardware store has been in Noe Valley since 1989.

"My dad used to describe it as the warehouse for the neighborhood," Giovanolli said.

Giovanolli began working at Tuggy's when he was 12 years old, a continuity that explains Tuggy's resilience in these competitive, big box times.

At Tuggy's, the service is personal. Advice comes free with every purchase.

If you think about it, the hardware store serves an important nuts and bolts function in our world. It stocks solutions for a myriad of small problems, or -- as the signs say -- declarations of any eventuality.

"When I was younger, I just asked myself what it takes to keep a house going," said Giovanolli. "And that's what you stock."

A place like Tuggy's can't keep everything, of course. These days, it's like a small David competing against the Goliath big box stories. It survives by specializing in serving a community.

"He's an expert on old plumbing fixtures," said assistant Jessie Houstong. "He's better than one of the books."

In Noe Valley, that's perfect with the amount of old homes. Residents know that Giovanolli keeps a secret room filled with hard-to-find antique parts.

"We get people from Home Depot sending people to us," Giovanolli said.

Cal l it a smart victory: One reason Tuggy's has become an institution for more than a century.

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