From the Bee archives: Capital fixture Newbert Hardware to close after 83 years

Editor’s note: The Bee originally published this story on March 3, 1993. We have republished it online to give readers background information on a historic Sacramento retailer that will be memorialized in the Golden 1 Center. The Newbert building later became home to The Beat record store, which closed in 2013. It now houses BevMo, the wine, beer and liquor retailer.

Longtime hardware-store owner Glen Vanderford remembers the days when downtown parking was free, movies cost 35 cents and a nice dinner out rarely topped a dollar a plate.

Those days are gone - and soon, Vanderford’s company, Newbert Hardware and Implement Co., will be, too. He is closing down his family’s 83-year-old store, one of the city’s oldest, in a couple of weeks.

Newbert Hardware has done business at the corner of 17th and J streets since 1937 and is one of the only hardware stores remaining in the downtown core area. It has been a downtown fixture since 1910, when co-founders William Newbert and R.W. Fitzgerald and nine other investors bought an outlet in Old Sacramento from Baker-Hamilton Pacific Co., a hardware wholesaler in San Francisco.

“We’ve had a decline for the past three years,” Vanderford said Tuesday, “and it’s gotten too expensive to stay open.”

The store will put 18 mostly full-time employees out of work when it closes. Vanderford said rising overhead - including rent, utilities, taxes, workers’ compensation costs and health benefits - is a burden the company can no longer carry.

The owner of the property, Ray Soehren, said Tuesday he had just learned of the store’s closing and had no immediate plans for the building.

Newbert has prided itself on its employees’ knowledge of tools, equipment and home repair, and has been noted for stocking rare items that competitors lack.

“There’s none better,” said Gene Klotz, a rancher from Clarksburg and a Newbert customer for 55 years. “You could get anything you wanted here. If they didn’t have it, they would get it for you.”

“We carried bolts up to 24 inches long when not many stores had bolts more than 6 inches,” Vanderford said. “We had a line of bunkhouse stoves and kerosene heaters, but they’re all outlawed now.”

For much of the century, Newbert Hardware was one of the cutting-edge suppliers of the city’s shifting business base.

“In the 1940s, we sold to farmers almost exclusively,” said Vanderford, a World War II Air Force photo reconnaissance pilot who joined the business after marrying Fitzgerald’s daughter, Marlyn. “Then we started serving a lot of small independent building contractors who couldn’t get credit from larger suppliers, and eventually we went to the do-it-yourself market.”

Through the years, however, the hardware business downtown declined. At the same time, national hardware and warehouse-sized home-improvement chains opened in the suburbs. And supermarkets and convenience stores began stocking many items - such as light bulbs, gardening gloves, nuts and bolts - that were hardware store staples.

“The chain stores sell merchandise cheaper (at retail) than we can buy them (wholesale),” Vanderford said. “Price used to be No. 7 on the list of a customer, who appreciated good service and the knowledge we brought to the business.

“Now price is No. 1, and I can’t blame them. Times are tough.”

Vanderford was referring to the recession, which hit the store hard last year. One of the store’s biggest incentives for staying downtown had been Newbert’s sales to the state government.

But that relationship soured last summer when the prolonged California budget battle cut off the state’s routine dealings with numerous businesses.

Daily responsibility for the store was assumed in 1992 by Vanderford’s son, Carter, store president, and his daughter-in-law, Pam, vice president. When they took over, they became the third generation to assume operation of the family business.

“My biggest worry is for my employees, and my son and daughter-in-law. That’s the sad part,” Vanderford said.

While the future of his children is uncertain, Vanderford, 71, said he probably will retire and enjoy his favorite pastimes, hunting and trapshooting.

On the walls of his cluttered back office and along a drab hallway of the store hang more than a few heads of deer and Rocky Mountain goats.

But Vanderford, a hunter in the wild, lately has found himself among the hunted in the hardware business, stalked and eventually bagged by larger competitors after being weakened by escalating expenses and an outmoded location.