General Hardware to Close After Nearly 40 Years

Closure whittles list of local hardware stores down to one; Photo hub The Image Flow plans to move into space at 401 Miller Avenue.

The owner of is closing the store at 401 Miller Ave. at the end of November, shutting down a business that has been at that location for nearly 40 years and trimming the size of a once-thriving local hardware store scene down to just one.

Kelly Kramer, who has owned the store for 21 years, said he was unable to reach a deal with his landlord on a new lease that would allow him to stay in business given the difficult economy. After nearly a year of negotiations proved unsuccessful, Kramer said he made the decision and told his four employees individually over the past few weeks.

“[The landlord] wanted to more than double my rent, but business is just not good enough to tolerate that,” Kramer said. “The economic climate is just flat and you do everything you can just to keep it going. It was just too much of an increase.”

Jay Egger, spokesman for property owner Sycamore MV LLC, didn’t dispute the claim but said General's rent hadn’t risen much since the late 1980s and the owners simply wanted to bring the lease in line with current market rates.

“It’s really sad that the climate is such that they can’t afford to raise the rate out of late 1980s rental prices because we would rather keep a tenant forever,” Egger said.

Photo center , which is located at the far end of the same building as General Hardware on the back lot at Miller and La Goma, is planning to expand and move into General Hardware’s space. Owner Stuart Schwartz said the significant jump in square footage in the new space allows him to offer in-demand daytime photo workshops, which he couldn’t accommodate in the old space because it was too small and workshops required moving furniture.

The Image Flow is set to go before the Mill Valley Planning Commission on Nov. 14 to seek a conditional use permit required for any new business in a space larger than 1,500 square feet. Schwartz said he hopes to move into the new space in January.

General Hardware had been at 401 Miller for 38 years, when Gil Baack owned it. During Baack’s ownership, Mill Valley was a hotbed for hardware stores, with Tamalpais Hardware at 30 Miller Ave. until it closed in 1986 and Varney’s Hardware at 57 Throckmorton Ave. until it closed in 1995. General’s closure makes , which opened 56 years ago, the only hardware game in town.

“We are very sorry to hear about any family business closing here in Mill Valley,” said Goodman’s owner and general manager Zviki Govrin. “We were very happy to have a small hardware store in town and are sorry to see them go.”

Kramer, who was a salesman at California Hardware and had Baack as one of his accounts, bought it from him in 1990. Kramer said General Hardware had built up a loyal customer base over the years, and he informed them of the impending closure by mail this week.

“After so many years I’ve gotten some wonderful customers who have turned into very dear friends,” Kramer said. “People are angry and they’re taking it very hard. Some people are just flabbergasted.”

General Hardware remains open, with a going out of business sale starting Thursday, Nov. 3 and running until the inventory is depleted, Kramer said. 

Kirke Wrench November 01, 2011 at 08:57 PM
It is a very sad day. I am sorry to see them close.
James Iavarone November 01, 2011 at 09:50 PM
I live in Homestead Valley and used to be able to walk to General Hardware. It's a shame to lose any convenience store that is within walking distance of so many residential neighborhoods. The folks there were always very helpful. Goodman's is a great store too, but you gotta drive there. . .
leslie reiber November 02, 2011 at 03:28 AM
“It’s really sad that the climate is such that they can’t afford to raise the rate out of late 1980s rental prices because we would rather keep a tenant forever,” Not very surprising though, since the average American income has remained flat during that same period. ( http://money.cnn.com/2011/02/16/news/economy/middle_class/index.htm ) Maybe if some of our local landlords would get a bit more realistic about their own expectations for what a retail property should return we'd be able to keep some useful stores in Mill Valley.
Scott November 02, 2011 at 04:45 AM
Not sure what you mean by "get real about their expectations" since it seems like they do have a tenant willing to pay the higher rate and generate the returns closer to what they're seeking.
liza reed November 02, 2011 at 05:45 AM
I'm about to cry! I go there once a week to fix something and can always depend on them for the best advice. I'm a mom on a limited budget, but I dont compare prices there because I get my moneys worth plus with all the help I get. Buy $0.28 worth of the right skrews....priceless. We moved from S.F to Mill Valley because of the small town feeling and knowing there services like a hardware/convenience store in the neighborhood. Wonderful people at general hardware...P.S. The photo image people are sweet also, so dont blame them.....
leslie reiber November 02, 2011 at 06:53 AM
Scott -- note that I said "retail" property. A retail store is being replaced by a specialized services company, which -- though more profitable -- serves a much smaller portion of our community than a hardware store. (And I have nothing whatsoever against The Image Flow -- I've heard they're great.) I'm thinking that this is one of the issues that the City Planners should be discussing as they put together the new Master Plan over the next couple of years -- what sort of businesses do we want and where?
steve bouchard November 02, 2011 at 02:16 PM
Very sad indeed. A terrific store with great service from helpful and friendly people. Locally there is some hardware and odds and ends at good old Mill Valley Lumber.
Lippy November 02, 2011 at 04:31 PM
Depressing situation. I like(d) to bike there and pick up light bulbs, chamois, tape, glue. I was most recently going to buy a cutting board to replace the one I originally bought from them. I'm sorry that they were unable to come t an agreement with their landlord. Mill Valley is being whittled aw-a - - y- - ..
Mari November 02, 2011 at 05:09 PM
I will miss General Hardware. Friendly folks, within walking distance of my house. ((sigh))
Robert Del Secco November 02, 2011 at 06:13 PM
Typical. Dissolution of the small town service related business for another boutique business. First Downtown went the way of flashy expensive shops in lieu of service oriented ones, now the Miller corridor. Pretty soon you will have to drive to San Rafael to buy anything that isn't art, clothes, or whatever the most current fashionistas are buying! Of course the landlords will drive out the services for the higher rents!
oldmv November 02, 2011 at 06:47 PM
Let’s be honest here. While it is nice to have a hardware store downtown, this place has always been very expensive. It’s nice to run down to if you need something quick, but otherwise overpriced. Perhaps that is the reason that business is soft. It’s one thing to support local businesses, but not when they are ripping me off……
RJ November 02, 2011 at 06:47 PM
Such a terrible shame. An irreplaceable loss for the community.
Lippy November 02, 2011 at 06:50 PM
I'm always happy to pay a bit more for convenience. Is "rip-off" too strong a phrase?
Suki Hill November 02, 2011 at 07:37 PM
This is like losing family. I am so sorry to see this business close, and I will miss them! Not only did they always have what I needed, I could call Kelly with a question and sometimes he would fix something that I thought needed replacing. Hard to believe someone would use the term "rip off" to describe this business! So sad to lose them!
Robert Del Secco November 02, 2011 at 10:21 PM
Mill Valley has not "always been very expensive"! In fact one used to be able to buy reasonable goods from places like Meyers, Varney's, Bennett's, Lockwoods, A-1 Auto, Lady Baltimore , and Sonapa Farms. The so called gentrification and improvements have turned out to be a "Boutification" plan which has driven out local family operated core service business. Its all coffee houses, designer boutiques, and very expensive food. Go and try to find a pair of Levis blue jeans in Mill Valley! And, yes it IS very expensive, but it wasn't always expensive.
Shima Moore, OnlineAdDiva November 03, 2011 at 03:05 PM
My condolences. I experienced first hand the heart break of losing a beloved local business after 25 years... It's always sad to see local businesses shut down. In fact, I spoke with them months ago about boosting their local online presence to generate more exposure... to bring in new customers. . . I can't help but wonder if that would have helped. They will be missed.
L. Haugen November 03, 2011 at 06:42 PM
Yeah, "think globally, shop locally" wasn't that the MV banner on blithedale some years ago? It was not a rip off if I could help keep a convenience and the original feel of the good people of Mill Valley in Business. I always tried to shop here before going anywhere else. This is just awful, in this economy, to run out a "beloved" Hardware convenience. I've Yelped it regularly but if your rent is doubling or whatever, what can you do? I will miss everyone there and my kids will miss the doggy.
RJ November 03, 2011 at 06:58 PM
One of the biggest losses here is the rare quality of customer service. Several times over the years, Kelly has offered my husband advice on how to fix something, and one time, actually fixed a bike reflector for my little boy on the spot. I also purchased a toaster at General Hardware several years ago and it turned out to be defective. I no longer had either the receipt or the original packaging but Mary at GH graciously took it back and replaced it, no questions asked. And of course, it is always nice to return to a store that remembers you and your children. You just can't put a price on that kind of customer service--or I guess, sadly, you can.
Dee Bell-Becker November 20, 2011 at 05:17 PM
Mill Valley continues to make poor choices, based on greed, because it can, due to location. What we will end up with, and what we are quite close to having at this point in time, is a collection of pointless boutique businesses. We will have to travel some distance to shop locally. This makes the sixth useful business in Mill Valley that I have happily patronized which has gone out of business because the rent was "brought up to present standards", which is a lot of bull that means the landlord wants more money. The prices in this hardware store were not overpriced. I compared prices quite frequently and never paid more in Kelly's store. He often gave neighbors a "neighborhood discount". When is the last time you went in to a store and could receive personal instruction about a DIY project. Kelly could take you through any project you wanted to take on. The first time Mill Valley has to deal with a natural disaster, the town will pay quite dearly for being without useful businesses. A hardware store that you can walk to should have been a priority for keeping us all safe. I highly recommend that everyone get busy with "being ready" as there will now be no other way available to get through a natural disaster. I remember when the power blew for several days. Where did people line up for candles and lamp oil? Ace Hardware on Miller. This landlord needs to sort priorities. BTW, I know that the rent was raised several times during Kelly's reign. Dee Bell-Becker
Mari November 20, 2011 at 07:19 PM
What can we do as a community to change this shift? Is it unrealistic to even imagine a relocation? crowd funding campaign?
Mari November 29, 2011 at 06:59 PM
I am serious about this. How many people have been helped by that store? I was thinking about going to Image Flow - but now I never will - WHY can't they reconfigure the space and share it? If General Hardware leaves - I will NOT ever use Image Flow or recommend it. Remember what happened to the Cantina? Maria Maria? Cantina? I bet a similar outcome for this scenario. Kelly - I hope to see General Hardware back, better than ever in a couple of years - in the same location or down the street.
Mari October 09, 2012 at 04:45 PM
Calling all Homestead neighbors - have you joined Nextdoor yet? https://nextdoor.com/invite/c69e1498c43ff4051c8b


More »
Got a question? Something on your mind? Talk to your community, directly.
Note Article
Just a short thought to get the word out quickly about anything in your neighborhood.
Share something with your neighbors.What's on your mind?What's on your mind?Make an announcement, speak your mind, or sell somethingPost something