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Parsons Hardware owners look back

After 30 years in business, they've nailed it at the Springs' favorite hardware store.|

Thirty years ago this month, Alan Medina and his wife Helen purchased Parsons Lumber & Hardware on Highway 12.

Over the past three decades, the business has almost gone under three times, Alan told the Index-Tribune with a mix between a shudder and a laugh. But he says that they’ve enjoyed every moment of it.

Parsons Hardware began as Valley Lumber sometime after World War II, and the business was purchased and renamed by Vernon Parson in 1950. The current 3,000-square-foot store was built in 1956. In the late 1970s, while under the ownership of Don Parsons, the business remained independently-owned, but established a co-op buying relationship with Ace Hardware. Not long after buying the business, the Medinas purchased the building and property as well.

Small hardware stores like Parsons have survived the consumer shift to online shopping because they operate what is described as a “need to have” business - my toilet is overflowing and I need to have that plunger immediately. In addition, they sell items that are hard to ship (like a wheelbarrow or cleaning supplies) and, luckily for Parsons, homeowners will probably always want to see paint colors in person.

Alan said that over the past 30 years, however, the store’s customer base has changed and evolved.

“In the early days, our customers were mainly homeowners who did most of their own home repairs,” Alan said. “That type of customer is becoming more rare.” He said that the younger generation – aka the Millennials – are more apt to hire a handyman or contractor to do the work around the house. Today, his customer base is now largely Hispanic, and every year he sees more women shopping in his store.

The 2008 housing bust and subsequent recession hit the business hard.

“During those years a lot of contractors went out of business and were replaced by handymen,” Alan said, adding that he has seen a lot of new faces since then.

The top-selling items at Parsons today are paint and cleaning products, with plumbing supplies a close second.

“The most common DIY endeavor that homeowners embark upon themselves are small plumbing projects,” he said. “Everyone seems to think they can do them – as the worst that can happen is you get wet – but homeowners and handymen rarely want to take on electrical jobs,” he said.

What else sells well? Well, Medina is baffled by a recent interest in high-end flashlights. “I started my hardware career 40 years ago and the idea that people want to spend $50 on a flashlight… what are you kidding me?” he laughed.

Home owners, contractors and handymen in the Valley have two primary choices for their supplies.

“They can shop at a home center that is focused on products and price, or a neighborhood store, like us, that sells knowledge and service,” he said, speaking with pride of his knowledgeable staff of 12. “If you have a problem, our goal is to help you solve it.”

Alan said that it’s not uncommon for a customer to bring $50 worth of merchandise to the counter, and after he and his team walk through the customer through their project, “they will leave with $23 of materials,” he said with a smile.

Today, thanks to the recovered economy, Medina said that business at Parsons Lumber & Hardware is as good as it has ever been, despite or perhaps because of the fires last year. The store was only closed for a day in October 2017 and his team gave away 400 to 500 masks daily during the height of the fires. And business has been steady since.

As the Medinas look back on 30 years, Alan is content. He began his career at Portola Hardware in San Francisco, and always dreamed of owning his own business.

“From my first day, I thought, this is it,” he said. “This is what I want to do. I’ve always enjoyed it, so I feel blessed.”

Email Lorna at lorna.sheridan@sonomanews.com.

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