Karen and Robin, at home in Bolinas Bay Hardware

01/24/2013

The fate of the only hardware store in and around Bolinas might have come into question if it weren’t for Robin Bradford and Karen Dibblee. Without much experience in handling tools and other types of hardware, the two decided to purchase Bolinas Bay Hardware and Mercantile about a year and half ago, when its sales were slipping amid high prices and other reasons related to management. And they have since made strides toward restoring a type of business Ms. Bradford said is “essential to living in a small town” like Bolinas, whose “vibrant” population of contractors regularly seen remodeling houses and offering other repairs rely on a nearby source for equipment.

“Can you imagine Bolinas without a hardware store?” Ms. Dibblee asked.

The store, whose merchandise ranges from a vast selection of hand and power tools to handmade textiles and ceramics, was acquired in May of 2011 by Ms. Bradford and Ms. Dibblee, longtime friends who initially considered opening a restaurant or bakery in Bolinas, where they have lived for about five years.

The two immediately sought to lower store prices, which were seen by some locals as costly but now rival chains like Home Depot.

“They’re loyal to us,” Ms. Bradford said of their customers, some of whom she noted would travel long distances for affordable prices, “so we want to be loyal to them” by trying to keep down costs.

They also diversified merchandise at the store, in which jewelry, vintage quilts and other items have appeared in recent months.

But their business venture has brought challenges.

Although they often seek guidance and expertise from a longtime employee whom they consider their “secret weapon,” the owners, sometimes seen operating a fork lift and other heavy machinery outside the store, are routinely seeking deals with suppliers and ways to increase revenue. The two will offer a cooking demonstration, called “Warm Bites for Winter Nights,” at the community center on February 10, when they will use kitchen appliances sold at the store to prepare dishes with local ingredients.

“You can stand back and go, “Oh, it’ be fund to have a store,’” said Ms. Diblee, “[but] it’s a huge amount of work.”


Bolinas Bay Hardware and Mercantile is open from 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends. To learn more, visit bolinashardware.com.