Bolinas Bay Hardware and Mercantile sells to locals

Teresa Mathew
Dave Huebner and James Finch became the new owners of Bolinas Bay Hardware and Mercantile on April 1. Both have close ties to town and plan to maintain the shop and lumber yard's inventory, staff and popcorn machine, while emphasizing customer service.   
04/03/2019

When Tom and Karen Dibblee put their business, Bolinas Bay Hardware and Mercantile, up for sale last fall, they did so with conditions. The Dibblees, who owned the store since 2011, wanted to find new owners with both ties to the town and a plan to keep selling hardware. The business was listed at $399,000, which included as much as $250,000 in equipment and inventory. 

Ms. Dibblee said there were multiple interested buyers, but she ultimately chose Dave Huebner and James Finch because of their connections to Bolinas and their “young energy, excitement, and carpentry experience.” 

The store closed on March 31, but opened again the next day, when Mr. Finch and Mr. Huebner officially took over ownership and entered into the thick of things, assisting customers looking for hinges and welcoming well-wishers. 

Even before the pair officially purchased the store, the town was offering up its support for them. “People [were] coming up to me being like, ‘Dude you should do that, it’s perfect for you,’” said Mr. Huebner, who has been visiting Bolinas on and off for the last decade and officially moved there a year ago. 

Mr. Huebner’s father was a builder, and he himself has worked in construction, carpentry and welding, building cafés and bars in San Francisco from the ground up. “I have no idea what’s going on with any of this at all,” he said as he gestured to the store’s business files, “but out on the other side—all the building stuff—for sure. It’s pretty much all I’ve done.” 

Like Mr. Huebner, Mr. Finch has experience in building, having remodeled homes in the Central Valley and Bay Area. Between the two of them, the men estimate they have 45 years’ worth of construction and building experience. 

Mr. Huebner was born in Chicago, but it was while living in Homer, Alaska that he first heard stories about Bolinas. 

“I moved out [to California] 13 years ago and couldn’t find it,” he said, remembering a futile drive up and down Highway 1 trying to find a town with no signpost. A friend eventually brought him, and immediately, he said, “I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is it.’ Right after that I started camping in the bushes. It feels like home. Right when you get into town you can feel it: that this is a good place.” 

Mr. Finch, originally from Sacramento, has also been weaving ties to Bolinas over the years. “Life would just keep bringing me back here,” he said. “Then I started surfing.” 

The friendship between the store’s new owners was born three years ago in the water, and Mr. Huebner said he would not have thought of purchasing the store without Mr. Finch. 

“Once James got on, I was like, ‘Here we go,’” Mr. Huebner said. 

Although Mr. Finch has never owned a business, he has worked as a manager at a bar, handling inventory and payroll. Ms. Dibblee is staying on for two weeks to help ease the transition and will help for the next year in a consulting capacity. 

Toby Nemec, a Bolinas resident who works in construction, has long relied on the store for basic hardware supplies like lumber and fasteners. “It’s a great outlet to have in Bolinas,” said Mr. Nemec, who hopes the new owners will “maintain the same integrity that’s been there, and hopefully will continue to be there, as far as pricing and staff.” 

For the new owners, keeping the local hardware store alive is an important task. “It seems pretty necessary, because other than this place you’d be going to a grocery store to find a pot or a pan or a nail; going over the hill or to Point Reyes,” Mr. Finch said. 

He added, “Separately, I was motivated to do this to become a creator, to commit to an area and a job. Before, I could have picked up and done whatever I did somewhere else: could have moved on pretty short notice. Making a commitment to a place will make it more rewarding.” 

Mr. Huebner and Mr. Finch plan to make slight inventory adjustments down the line—like sourcing gift offerings from local artists instead of overseas—but otherwise intend to maintain the well-oiled machine and retain all four employees. The shop’s popular popcorn machine will remain. 

Inventory aside, the pair is also interested in making the store more service-oriented for people who need materials cut to specific lengths, or who need guidance with repairs. It’s a natural turn for two men who have frequently found themselves dispensing free advice in the aisles of Discount Builders. 

Before the sale went through, Mr. Huebner and Mr. Finch had to keep the deal under wraps—which wasn’t always easy. “Guys at the bar would be like, ‘Man, I wonder what’s going to happen to the hardware store when the new owners come in—I bet they’ll change stuff,’” Mr. Huebner said. “And I’d be like, they won’t!”