Residents of Portola Valley seeking a meaningful sense of accomplishment may find what they're looking for with a visit to the local hardware store, or so the owners of Portola Valley Hardware say.
Under the ownership since September 2017 of hardware-store newcomers Richard Crevelt and Stig Nybo, the store has the stuff needed to fix things at home, and the expertise to help customers unfamiliar with the ways of do-it-yourself projects, the two men say.
Crevelt, 58, lives in Portola Valley and came to retail hardware from a career in real estate development. Nybo, 55, is a resident of Los Trancos Woods and comes from a career of crafting retirement-plan strategies.
When something breaks at home – the drain pipe under the sink starts to leak or a light switch fails – you have a choice, Nybo says: "Call somebody or pick up a screwdriver." Many people are at a loss because they've never been exposed to how things work and how to use tools to fix them, he says.
"Fixing something can be hugely satisfying," he says. "You walk away (from the accomplishment) going, 'You know what? I didn't call somebody on that. I actually fixed my sink, my front door. I re-keyed my lock,'" – a repair many think improbable for a do-it-yourselfer, "but the reality is that it's not that difficult," he says.
And if you don't know what you're doing with tools and home fixtures, you probably should take steps to remedy that, Nybo says. "We should all have some fundamental understanding of all of (the trades) as they relate to our daily lives," he says.
Nybo says he built significant parts of his house. Since buying the store – "What a cool idea to actually own a hardware store," he recalls thinking – he often encounters people who say, essentially, that they wished they'd thought of buying a hardware store.
Crevelt says he's been interested in the trades since he was 16, and that at the hardware store, he's been learning something every day, not unlike his experiences as a developer.
A hardware store is a community touchstone to Crevelt, a place that embodies "the roots of all of the things that we all need as a culture to get along. We need all types of people. We need carpenters and we need electricians. We need plumbers. We need garbage men. We need house cleaners. We need every type of trades-person that's out there (in order) to survive as a community."
Leadership ability is a common focus in local schools, but regarding its significance, Nybo says that knowing your way around hardware "is not leadership, and maybe it's not valued at the same level, but it's incredibly important to be self-sufficient and to be capable in some of these areas. ... Being a leader is great ..."
"But we also need everybody else," Crevelt says, finishing his business partner's sentence.
"Stig and I are both very creative, innovative, involved people," he says. "We've got a lot of great ideas." Among the possibilities: a monthly workshop addressing a particular trade and focusing on teaching children. A plumbing workshop would include a plumbing diagram and a presentation on the basics of plumbing, he says. Likewise for electrical or automotive repair, gardening or arts and crafts.
"We'll set up a tent (at adjacent Triangle Park) and we'll have an arts and crafts fair. Bring your kid by," Crevelt says. "We'll paint birdhouses, we'll build a wagon, we'll build a go cart, we'll build something. That's one of the ideas that we have ... to engage the community and bring it together."
Passing on to children an interest in fixing and building things is a puzzlement, Nybo says. "It's very hard (from) generation to generation to impart that," he says. While his children were already inclined that way, given their dad's interests, their interest is at another level now after exposure to the store's inventory, Nybo says.
"(The store has) an incredible amount of stuff. You get exposed to a light switch, to a plumbing trap, to concrete, to paints. All of that is important for kids to know," he says. "On its face, (the store) looks simple. You get inside ... and there are thousands of parts."
Loving the interaction
Crevelt is married to Ann Crevelt and Nybo is married to Holly Nybo. Both couples have two children: one in college and the other in high school. Both men include their cellphone numbers on their business cards.
"If people need something, call us," Crevelt says. "We'll come down. ... I really love the interaction with people. It's fun. ... It's not even like it's work. It's fun."
"This (store) is a really, really important part of the community," Nybo says. During a storm or a significant power outage, they'll keep the store open in the spirit of, "If you need anything, come on down," he says.
Recently, there's been "huge interest" in asking for help with barbecues, Crevelt says, whether assembling them, making sure they're working properly or ensuring that they have a supply of gas.
"I would consider us a very full-service store," he says. "We'll take (the sale) all the way to whatever the customer needs or their requests are."
An owner will likely be in the store every day, and both are there on Wednesday mornings at 5 a.m. to prepare to unload the week's incoming shipment from Ace Hardware. Portola Valley Hardware is an Ace-supplied store as opposed to an Ace-branded store, where the brand is more prominent.
If he can't answer a question about a part a particular screw, for example Crevelt says he'll ask the customer what the goal is. If the store doesn't stock the part, it's likely that they have an acceptable substitute, he says.
The screw is just a part of the puzzle, Crevelt says. "If we can put the whole puzzle together and help them solve that puzzle, then they leave even more satisfied. I think we do that very successfully," he says.
"That's my crutch too, by the way," Nybo says. "When I don't know what the part is, if I can figure out what they're trying to accomplish, then I can get a helluva lot closer."