EAST SAC HARDWARE HELD COMMUNITY TOGETHER
By Cecily Hastings
I grew up in a small Michigan town with a lovely Main Street. Local merchants owned the shops and cafes. My mom and dad were friendly with many of these small business owners. We knew their children and they knew us.
A large part of what attracted my husband and me to East Sacramento was the small-town attitude that supported local merchants. When we bought our vintage 1925 home in 1989, one of the first neighborhood shops we discovered was East Sac Hardware at 48th Street and Folsom Boulevard.
I’m sad to report the store will close at the end of February. The closure is based on several reasons. I’ve been honored to call owner Sheree Johnston a close friend for many years, and I’d like to share the story.
For starters, Sheree is turning 65 and wants to retire from running a retail operation. “Retail is always tough because of the need to deal with the public,” she says. “But COVID just made everything even more difficult. We had to deal with masks and sanitizing, stock levels running low from vendor supply chain problems, and, worst of all, an ever-increasing number of cranky customers.”
Sheree also blames social media for making life very difficult for small retailers. “We’ve been threatened repeatedly with negative review for just enforcing our very reasonable store return policies,” she says. “Online bullying is a big issue for small businesses.”
Her two adult children—Rick and Jo—worked alongside their mother for many years with an eye to taking over the store. But they both have decided to pursue other interests. In recent years, Sheree looked for a buyer. With local retail in decline, she knew the odds were slim. She found no takers.
The good news for her family is they own the property that houses the hardware store and adjoining OneSpeed restaurant. Sheree says, “In February, 1984, we closed escrow on the original hardware store and building. Later as the adjoining property sections became available, we bought down the entire corner block.”
Over the years, tenants have come and gone. They included Muffins, Etc., Café Milazzo, Pet Set and Heart Strings. Sheree ran a stationery and gift shop called Austin Chase. OneSpeed has been a tenant for the past decade.
East Sac Hardware has faced many challenges over the years. Sheree says, “2008 was a make or break time for us with the recession and a huge downturn in construction. Our business decreased 30 percent overnight. If we were going to survive, we needed a whole new approach to managing the store.”
To keep her employees and local trades people working, she decided to revamp the store. Sheree spent the next two years putting a new face—both interior and exterior—on East Sac Hardware. During this time, they never missed an hour of operation.
Before the 2008 recession, the opening of Home Depot on Power Inn Road in 2000 was the biggest threat. But personalized service, expert advice, a focus on American-made merchandise and time-tested products worked to make the local hardware store profitable.
“I ran an advertising campaign called ‘We’re Home, No Depot,’” Sheree says. “We also invested in improvements to the outside of the building and the streetscape.” She commissioned a mural painted on the side of the building, emphasizing it’s a family-run establishment.
Under Sheree’s management, the store grew in many directions. “We brought in the Benjamin Moore premium paint line and added a garden center in our back outside space,” she says. “Our gift department took time to develop, but ended up a very successful part of the shop.” The addition of a toy and children’s book department became ESH’s biggest growth area.
To stay current with the industry, Sheree attended national hardware and gift trade shows each year. “I love Christmas decorations and we grew that department over the years, working as a sponsor for the Sacred Heart Holiday Home Tour.”
All is not lost for our community. Sheree plans to redevelop the property with the possibility of a mixed-use project to include a smaller hardware store. She will soon dedicate herself to plans, approvals and getting it built.
She adds, “This building is 91 years old and is in many ways worn out. It needs to be updated for future uses, energy efficiency and to meet current codes.”
A few of her employees will retire as closing day approaches. She found jobs for the others.
Sheree’s career has been diverse. She finds success in whatever she does. She has a business and management background, but earned a master’s degree in education and taught at Kit Carson Middle School for a decade.
The Sacramento Business Journal honored her in 2018 as a “Woman Who Means Business.” She has received awards from the East Sacramento Chamber of Commerce. She’s donated her time and money to Pops in the Park, Friends of East Sacramento for the McKinley Rose Garden and Clunie Community Center, Sacred Heart Parish School and St. Francis Catholic High School.
“I’m looking forward to my next chapter of my life,” Sheree says. “My true interest lies in education and having an impact on young people. I miss working with young people.” She’ll continue working with St. Francis High School’s “Troubies Who Mean Business” club—a concept she developed to advance business and financial literacy among young women.
Later in February, items in the store will be discounted. Stop by, find a deal and say farewell to this hardworking and dedicated local store owner, her children and her staff. They have given so much service to our neighborhood over the decades and deserve our gratitude.
Cecily Hastings can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.