Hardware store sells, no changes planned

David Briggs
BUSINESS: Ken Dunaj, of Marshall, stands with his wife, Kelli, and their son, Zach, inside Building Supply Company. Mr. Dunaj brought the hardware store last week from longtime owner, Jim Simon, whose family has run it for over 50 years. “Business as usual is the direction,” Mr. Dunaj told the Light.  
08/06/2015

A novice rancher and high-level executive at a luxury home-furnishing retailer finalized his purchase last week of Point Reyes Station’s lone hardware store, the Building Supply Center.

The store’s new owner, Ken Dunaj, told the Light that he has no plans to change the nature of the store. Mr. Dunaj, of Marshall, closed the sale last Thursday with the store’s current owner, Jim Simon, whose family has run Building Supply for half a century. Mr. Simon’s son, James, and brother, Michael, will continue to manage the store for the foreseeable future, Mr. Dunaj said.

Since 1995, Mr. Simon has co-owned the store with his brother, Gary, and the fact that Gary, 64, is on the verge of retirement made the timing ripe for a sale. For years, Mr. Simon has received offers from many prospective buyers, but it wasn’t until his new friend Mr. Dunaj came along that he finally found someone he could trust to take over the store.

“I didn’t like any of the other people, to be honest with you,” said Mr. Simon, of Nicasio. “It’s been in the family for so long, if I was going to sell it it’d be to the right person, not someone who was going to turn around and sell it.”

Speaking from the store’s spacious backroom office on Saturday morning, Mr. Dunaj told the Light that he bought Building Supply—along with its Ace Hardware franchise tag—so that the store will remain an important commercial staple for the local community. Alongside the Palace Market and Toby’s Feed Barn, Building Supply has long been a lifeline for the small West Marin town, and Mr. Dunaj said he intends to keep it that way.

“This is a resource for the community as a hardware store,” said Mr. Dunaj a broad-chested bald man with a slight Southern drawl. “It would be a huge inconvenience and a cost increase for people in the community if this store wasn’t here.” 

For over nine years, Mr. Dunaj has worked as the chief operating officer for Restoration Hardware, which sells high-end household furniture. He grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, and started working for Nike after high school, unloading trucks. Eventually, he earned an entry-level management position in the company, then worked for Reebok, Toysrus.com and Williams-Sonoma.

Recently, local residents have wondered whether their sole source of hardware supplies would be replaced by an upscale furniture store. But on Saturday, Mr. Dunaj—pronounced “Doo-nay”—stressed that the store’s purchase has nothing whatsoever to do with Restoration Hardware, Rather, it represents a “personal investment” for him and his wife, Kelli, who bought a 210-acre ranch in Marshall where they raise sheep and goats. They purchased the property in August 2013 and have lived there permanently with their son, Zach, for a year-and-a-half.

So far, the Dunaj family has about 50 Navajo-churro and Jacob sheep, and they currently offer churro yarn and a limited quantity of lamb meat. Next year, Mr. Dunaj said, the flock will be large enough to produce the ranch’s first selling and breeding stock.

Mr. Dunaj said that his wife will work with James and Michael Simon, both assistant managers, to learn the ropes of day-to-day operations. It was Mr. Dunaj’s insistence to keep James on as manager that was, for Mr. Simon, “the icing on the cake.”

“I knew Ken before he approached us, and we became friends,” Mr. Simon said. “I think it’s going to be fine.”

The store’s origins date back to 1964, when Mr. Simon’s grandfather, Adelbert Von Rotz, along with his father, Jim, Sr., and his uncle, Lanny Denning, started an Ace franchise in San Anselmo that they named “Building Supply Center.” In 1970, Mr. Von Rotz leased Point Reyes Station’s historic Grandi building, which had diminished in scale since its 1920s heyday when the Northwestern Pacific Railroad’s route ended in town. Back then, it housed a hotel, ballroom, restaurant, food market, warehouse, clothing supplier and hardware store, but was shut down by the county over 30 years ago. Mr. Von Rotz’s tenure there lasted until 1978, when he relocated Building Supply to the present-day edifice set just a few storefronts down from the Grandi building. 

Much as Building Supply Center has been a family-run business for the Simon and Von Rotz families, Mr. Dunaj hopes that his own son will take over the store one day. When the family started visiting Point Reyes Station, then two-year-old Zach Dunaj would sit on a forklift outside the store and pretend to drive it. Now, Mr. Dunaj can envision Zach—who will be a second-grader at West Marin School this year—getting out of school on weekdays and walking straight over to the hardware store, where he’ll learn management skills and the value of hard work.

“The American dream is to own your own business and pass it down to your kid,” he said. “This [store] has been in the Von Rotz family for 51 years, and I hope this will be in the Dunaj family for 51 years.”