The Orchard Supply Hardware store in Visalia closed last year but reopened in late February as Nelson’s Ace Hardware. Photo by David Castellon
Written by David Castellon
In business, timing can be the critical element that turns a bad situation into a good one.
Take the case of the former Orchard Supply Hardware store in Visalia, which along with the other 98 OSH stores in California, Florida and 0regon began closing down last year.
While this certainly was bad news for the hardware chain’s owner, Lowe’s Companies, Inc. — along with about 1,500 California employees who lost their jobs and the communities where the stores were located losing commerce — the timing couldn’t have been better for Mike Nelson, who co-owns and operates two Ace Hardware stores in Selma and Kingsburg, along with Nelson’s Power Center in Selma, which sells, rents and repairs lawnmowers, chain saws, pressure washers, generators and other gas-powered tools.
That’s because about the time he heard in October about the Visalia OSH being set to close, he was looking at opening another hardware store in a new location.
“I was already looking at the Visalia market, and there wasn’t a lot of space to do what I wanted to do,” said Nelson, adding that timing additionally played a fortuitous role for him in that when he checked on the availability of the Visalia OSH, Lowe’s lease on the property was scheduled to run out at the end of the year.
Nelson, whose family has been in the hardware business since his grandfather launched in 1948 what is now Nelson’s Ace Hardware in Selma, said the Visalia site was of particular interest to him because it was in a good location, off Mooney Boulevard — Visalia’s main retail drag — and he knew it had been profitable and closed only because Lowe’s decided to shutter all of its OSH stores.
“And I knew they had a large following,” mostly of shoppers who preferred the not quite so big OSH store over the big box hardware stores in town, Lowe’s and Home Depot.
Being able to take over the site and make it into a hardware store again in just a few weeks after the old lease ended was particularly helpful in that it didn’t give regular customers of the Visalia OSH much time to change their hardware shopping habits.
As such, even though the store reopened Feb. 25 as another Nelson’s Ace Hardware, “a lot [of customers] come in and don’t know it’s an Ace store, not an OSH,” despite the big, new “Nelson’s Ace Hardware” sign above the entrance, Nelson said.
In fact, he said that in his discussions with the former OSH employees — most whom he hired for his Visalia store — business has been comparable to what it was before the closure, even before the start of advertising to let people know the store had opened again.
“It’s kind of a turnkey operation, just because of the talent I was able to retain from OSH,” as those workers know hardware, as well as the old store’s regular customers and their needs, he said.
Beside the new name and some product changes, the big difference between the old and new store is that OSH leased a 30,000-square-foot main sales area and about a 10,000-square-foot adjoining building that had been its garden center.
Nelson said his 10-year lease — with the option for two five-year extensions — is just for the larger building, which now includes a more consolidated garden center.
“It’s still about twice the size of most ACE stores,” including his Selma store, but Nelson said that without the extra 10,000 square feet, the Visalia store requires fewer employees and is easier to manage.
Illinois-based Ace Hardware Corp., has about 5,000 stores around the world, most independently owned. The company is looking to fill the commerce holes left by the OSH closures, possibly leasing 12-15 other former OSH stores in California, among them the one at 1536 E. Champlain Dr. in northeast Fresno. But it and several other of the sites have leases that will not run out until later this year, Nelson said.
As for the other former OSH stores in the Valley, information on the one at 5653 E. Kings Canyon Road in southeast Fresno wasn’t immediately available, while leasing agents for the other two vacated Fresno stores at 6055 E. Figarden Drive and 5445 N. Blackstone Ave., along with the former Clovis OSH, all still have their leases with Lowe’s in effect. Steve Rontell, a senior vice president and principal for Colliers International in Fresno, which is handling the leasing of the Blackstone store, said it has a very short-term lease still in effect, so it could be available for new occupancy soon, and there is interest in the site by potential tenants.
“I’ve had a lot of calls,” from people interested in leasing the empty former Hanford OSH store, said the building’s owner, Shalom Illouz.
So far, he said, he can’t do anything about that, as Lowe’s lease on the
43,830-square-foot property doesn’t run out until September.
Most of the interest so far has been from people considering the site for a grocery store, and there has been interest in turning the site into a vocational school.