When Papenhausen Hardware owner Matt Rogers was a kid, he probably didn't think he'd grow up to own the neighborhood hardware store a few blocks from his house.
But that's precisely what happened when he took over the business while he was an employee during his college years.
As a student at San Francisco State, Rogers—a native of the West Portal neighborhood—was studying Small Business Management while earning some extra cash at Papenhausen. He also used the store as a case study for many of his projects for his classes.
In fact, he even wrote a business plan for the store his senior year, something that came in handy when, with some financial backing from his parents, Rogers bought the business in 1988—when he was just 23 years old.
However, the history of Papenhausen Hardware goes back much further than that. The store was originally opened in 1936 by Henry Papenhausen. Not much is remembered about his tenure as owner at this point, but an old picture (see below) of a Papenhauser Hardware-sponsored baseball team has been uncovered by the website goodoldsandlotdays.com.
According to Rogers, the real legacy of Papenhausen Hardware belongs to Maury Landsberg, who purchased the shop from Papenhausen in the early '50s. Rogers and the surrounding community have fond memories of Landsberg, a World War II Navy vet, at the helm of the store for decades before he eventually sold the business to Rogers.
Things got off to a great start in the early '90s, but Rogers reports that he nearly went out of business when the market changed suddenly, right after he had expanded to another location. "I was very close to not being here, and I learned from that," he told us.
He said that experience taught him to be more conservative in his business practices, and with the exception of a short run with a homeware store down the street in the early 2000s (aptly named "Hausen Home"), Rogers has focused on keeping a singular, lean operation at the original location.
Rogers attributes his success to customer service and the fact that Papenhausen is somewhat of a "hometown hero" hardware store in West Portal. "San Francisco is unique in that each neighborhood has its own hardware store. There's also a big push these days toward a 'walkable city.' In tight metropolitan cities, people need nearby staple things like a local market, and, of course, a hardware store," Rogers told us.
On the customer service end, Rogers seems run a business where people enjoy the work. Store manager Karl Aguilar has been at Papenhausen for 23 years, and is still happy showing up each day. "Matt's always been an enjoyable person to work for. I actually like the work, even though it's essentially 23 years of the same day," he told us. "Each day I get to help local people fix problems and come up with solutions."
Both Rogers and Aguilar feel that hardware stores like Papenhausen are particularly valuable because of their specific knowledge of homes in the area. "In a city like ours, where houses are older, it helps to have a store and a staff that's familiar and well-versed in the specifics about certain kinds of houses. There's value in that because if you don't want things to be disposable, then they will eventually need to be fixed," said Aguilar. "There might, for example, be a particular toilet that's common in this area, and we'll be sure to have the parts for it."
Although Rogers cites the rising the cost of living in San Francisco as an obstacle when it comes to pricing and hiring talented employees, he reports that he and his 12-person staff are comfortable, and hopes to continue running Papenhausen Hardware well into the future. In fact, he's applied to register the store as a Legacy Business and is currently waiting on its approval.
"I love this business, and that's partly because I've been here for such a long time. It's like working with an extended group of friends and family. You feel like you're giving something back, and you feel good about the work you do," said Rogers.
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