Back in January, a fire ripped through 82-year-old hardware store Papenhausen Hardware (32 West Portal Ave.), collapsing its roof and causing serious interior damage.
The fire's cause remains unknown. But while the business was fully insured and is working to rebuild, construction delays have kept its doors closed for 10 months and counting, and the insurance that's allowed owner Matt Rogers to keep paying his employees is running out.
So Papenhausen's owners have embarked on a search for a temporary home in the neighborhood, in order to retain their longtime staff. Their hope is that community members might be able to provide some suggestions or assistance.
"We don't plan on building the full store," manager Karl Aguilar told Hoodline. "But we hope to get up and running and making some money, as opposed to no money."
Papenhausen has been in this position before — another fire shuttered the business in 1998, and the rebuilding process took nine months. After that, Rogers, who's owned Papenhausen since 1988, made sure that the store carried enough insurance coverage to pay his employees' salaries while they were out of work.
"But this one is taking longer," said Aguilar, who's worked at the store for 25 years. "We are going to run out of money for our employees, and we are going to lose them."
The delays have stemmed from the sheer amount of construction happening in the Bay Area, which has extended project timelines as construction businesses face high demand and employee and materials shortages.
The most recent delay has been rebuilding the roof framing, Aguilar explained. "The plan was dependent on prefabricated framing materials, but with so much construction going on, there's no one to make them. So it might take six months to get them."
Aguilar says the delays have pushed a reopening for Papenhausen to at least May 2019, if not later. Grocer/newsstand West Portal Daily and a hair salon also closed due to the fire, and it's unclear if they will return.
Members of Papenhausen's staff, many of whom have worked for Rogers and Aguilar for years, expressed concern at being forced to part ways with the store if the employee insurance runs out.
"Papenhausen was my dad's neighborhood hardware store — I grew up going to Karl and Matt for home fixes and housewares," sales associate Andrew Nayman told Hoodline. "[They] are easily the most responsible employers I've had to date. Their integrity and fairness often astonish me, even in the bleakest of situations."
As they wait out the reconstruction process, staff members have joined Rogers and Aguilar to volunteer in the community, lending a hand at West Portal Playground and West Portal Walkways cleanup events.
Aguilar also went through Neighborhood Emergency Response Team (NERT) training when he learned there was no disaster plan for West Portal.
"It's important for the neighborhood to be able to understand how to handle a large disaster," he said. Since getting his certification, he's become the lead for the West Portal NERT team.
"We have to have a temporary place," Aguilar said. "Our employees are our most important resources. They have joined our family and we want to keep them."
"The reality of living in San Francisco is that you have to make money," he added. "You have to make a lot of money."
Aguilar is asking anyone with an available retail space "that might work" to send an email to karl [at] papenhausen [dot] com.
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