Hill hardware: Why there’s a Pacific Supply and no True Value (yet) on Capitol Hill

Ask CHS readers what type of business Capitol Hill is missing and a hardware store is sure to be mentioned. Pacific Supply Co., located on 12th Avenue in Pike/Pine since 1995, wants to be the neighborhood-focused hardware store which some have said the Hill is lacking.

Pacific’s management is seeking to expand its product inventory to cater to the increasing residential population of Pike/Pine. The amount of walk-in traffic from homeowners doing basic repair work has increased dramatically, and homeowners are comprising a greater portion of Pacific’s customers than ever before, co-owner Michael Go said.

Pacific Supply was founded nearly 40 years ago in Queen Anne with a clientele consisting primarily of apartment buildings managers in need of off-white shades of wall paint, a doorknob, or perhaps basic plumbing. The store later relocated to Capitol Hill on Belmont Avenue East in the building currently occupied by Half-Price Books. In 1995, Pacific Supply set up shop at its current location at 1417 12th Avenue in a building constructed in 1920 as an auto showroom and repair facility.  The building is currently owned by local developer Liz Dunn.

Before and After

 Go, who has owned a stake in the store since 1986, said that as the neighborhood has changed in recent years, so too has the store’s range of customers.  “Before, it was a more male-oriented store, more construction workers and contractors,” Go said.  “It’s more diverse now.  There are people walking in now that weren’t here when we moved in.”

Go and store manager John Bowden are working to broaden the range of products available at Pacific Supply to keep up with the changes in clientele.  “For the last five years, we’ve steadily been trying to add to our product mix so we can still service apartments up here but also service homeowners,” Bowden said.  Recent additions to the store’s inventory include a broader range of paint colors, Oxo brand kitchen supplies, and a selection of nuts and bolts that extends for more than 20 feet.

Despite their efforts to promote Pacific Supply, they are surprised by how many neighbors are unfamiliar with the store.  “Every day we’re getting people walking in saying, ‘We didn’t even know you were here,” Bowden said.  Moving forward, they plan to continue modifying the store’s products to better accommodate changing demands in the neighborhood, and they invite customers to make suggestions.  “We need [customers’] input,” Bowden said, “because we’re not here for us. We’re here for them.”  However, even as the store continues to change with the times, Go and Bowden said the store’s primary focus will remain on hardware.

Go and Bowden said that the store’s nearest competitors are the Lowe’s in Mount Baker and the City Hardware in South Lake Union.  However, they admitted that there may be room in Capitol Hill for a second hardware-focused store, though its success would be far from guaranteed.  Recently, CHS covered the efforts by Essex Property Trust to bring a hardware store its mixed-use Joule development on Broadway between East Republican Street and East Mercer Street. Essex Property’s Bruce Knoblock said that hardware stores would be unlikely to afford the rents sought at Joule.

 “There’s a reason there’s not a lot of little hardware stores,” Bowden said.  “It’s the cost of renting space, the gross margins are lower, the cost of employees is expensive, and [predicting] the number of sales they would accurately do makes it hard to do business.”  However, he added that he is certain that every major hardware store chain has entertained the possibility of opening a store in Capitol Hill.

In fact, Go said that he himself even considered affiliating Pacific Supply with a national chain, as City Hardware did with Ace.  “We looked into going with Ace or True Value, but it required putting a giant sign over your building façade,” Go said.  Remaining independent also allows Pacific Supply to assert greater flexibility in determining its pricing than affiliating with a chain would have allowed. Bowden added, “You lose your identity as a small neighborhood store.”

CHS spoke with representatives of True Value about the factors that influence the company’s consideration of new locations.  Director of business development Eric Lane said that while True Value’s primary focus is on suburban and small town markets, the company does consider urban locations on a market-by-market basis.  And, while True Value receives hundreds of calls annually about potential opportunities, the company’s decision is influenced by a set of general requirements.  In an existing building, the company requires 10,000 to 20,000 square-foot or larger spaces which can be subdivided to meet the store’s needs.  Lane said True Value would also consider locating in an existing shopping complex with a strong anchor and/or a junior anchor tenants such as a grocery store, pharmacy, or auto parts store. The company is also open to locating in free-standing buildings or on undeveloped land, though such locations might not be ideal in an urban setting like Capitol Hill.

“If there is a perfect site (provided by a real estate developer) in the Seattle area or anywhere across the country for that matter, and a qualified investor, True Value would certainly be willing to open a store in the Seattle market and even offer incentives to assist the qualified entrepreneur/investor,” Lane said.

Pacific Supply is open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 6 pm, Saturdays from 9 am to 5 pm, and Sundays from 10 am to 5 pm. You can find out more — and see a groovy zoomable display of all the nuts and bolts they offer — at http://www.pacsupply.com/

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31 thoughts on “Hill hardware: Why there’s a Pacific Supply and no True Value (yet) on Capitol Hill

  1. Well, I’ve been there a few times, and it would help if they were nicer and a bit more people skills. I’ve been going down to the Ace hardware down the hill in south lake union; they are VERY nice there, and very appreciative of the business.

    And, no, I don’t work for the Ace hardware down in south lake union.

  2. About a year ago I walked in and assumed they were wholesale. That kind of feeling of very little on the shelf and lots of empty space. A quick look around and out the door. I’ll give them another try.
    Does anyone remember Welches Hardware on 23rd and Jackson? a great place to browse the aisles.

  3. Quote: Despite their efforts to promote Pacific Supply, they are surprised by how many neighbors are unfamiliar with the store. “Every day we’re getting people walking in saying, ‘We didn’t even know you were here,” Bowden said.

    The only example of “promotion” that Bowden gives is a new product mix.

    Some free suggestions:

    — Expand hours, especially on the week-ends when your residential customer base is most likely to be doing work
    — Add the word “hardware” to the name of your store (unclear what Pacific Supply Co. is)
    — Are they actually advertising? The new Brick’s art supply store is doing a really great job reminding people that they are around with big signage, HUGE ads in the Stranger etc.
    — Do a new analysis of the competition. Seems to me that the nearest competitor is not Lowe’s or City Hardware but rather the QFC on north Broadway, which has a large selection of hardware supplies.

  4. I go down to the ACE in south lake union too when I need some parts. I walked into Pacific Supply Co once to check out their selection in hopes of a closer store but ended up at ACE to get what I needed.

    I know I could always drive to Lowe’s or Home Depot – but sometimes I don’t want to move my car.

  5. They’ve been really nice and helpful every time I’ve gone in looking for random bits and pieces that I didn’t really know what to do with. More stock would probably be good, but they are always there in a pinch for what I need.

  6. Yes, it doesn’t bode well for a hardware store that needs residential clientele when QFC has a better selection of things local residents would be looking for.

    Like others here, the times I’ve been there it seemed like a wholesale store. The lack of product, the attitude of the staff, and the big ass whole page invoices for a single light bulb have a tendency to make the average shopper think they aren’t in the right place.

  7. This place is great. They usually have what I need at a reasonable price and are willing to talk to me about whatever project I’m working on.

    However, Friend does have some good advice. Especially regarding hours. During the week, maybe open an hour later and close an hour later. I don’t know how many times I’ve had to run up the hill to get to this store on my way home before they closed. I once got there a few minutes before 6 to get a key made and the closing employee was already outside with his friends and their car blocking the entire sidewalk (psst, don’t do that here…a lot of your clientele walk and that pisses the heck out of, well, at least me). He told me to go all the way to Denny and Broadway to the locksmith, instead of just making it for me…small neighborhood stores would not do that.

    Like scoville said, get rid of the 8.5×11 receipts. Totally unnecessary.

    I’m going to try this from every angle I can: what about adding a tool rental supply? I”m talking the big house-project stuff; not a hammer. I’ve had a project to make a threshold for months now that I just can’t seem to do because I don’t want to go down Rainier to rent a band saw. I’ve seen others on this blog make the same suggestions for needed services, so there is definitely some pent up demand.

  8. The people at Pacific Supply are helpful, friendly, and they’ll order something for you if they don’t have it (moth traps!).

  9. I agree — add “hardware” to your name, or just rename the store “Capitol Hill Hardware,” along with a few big ads in the Stranger and Weekly, and I guarantee you’d instantly get a big bump in customers.

    I used to live in Greenwood/Phinney just down the street from Greenwood Hardware, and I was always impressed with how competitive they were in supply and pricing compared with Home Depot. I think a lot of it had to do with being a True Value afficiate. They have a big sign over their store but it’s still plenty cute.
    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=

  10. As far as customer service goes, they’ve really had a major attitude adjustment over the last couple years, and are now all about helping people find what they’re looking for, I suspect that any of the supply house type rudeness complaints must go back a couple years…

  11. I have long shopped there, and was in fact there just last week. But my one major note would be HOURS. Expand evening hours to 8 like City Hardware, even if just on Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example. That 6:00pm closing time has sent me other places on many many occasions.

  12. I’ve been going here for years. Used to have a much smaller selection and they couldn’t always help me out. But since their remodel they have had everything I went searching for. They have always been really helpful and even steered me away from buying more/extra things that I didn’t really need.
    Plus, on more than one occasion they’re given me a doughnut on my way out the door and, well, what could be better than that?

  13. I have been in here several times in the past 2 years and have just about always had friendly service. That being said, they almost never have what I am looking for as an individual apt. dweller. Yes, we need a reasonably priced, well stocked hardware store on the hill! I don’t even have a car to drive to those other locations. These guys would clean up (and be better known) if they sold what the average consumer was looking for here on the hill.

  14. I was a apartment manager on the hill for 4 years. Pacific supply makes much more sense if you manage or repair apartments. Now I’m a homeowner yet I still support them over the other guys because I like to walk to my hardware store. In the past 4 years they have done tons of things to reach out to the general public market. Almost 50% of their stock has changed to appeal to homeowners. Now you can even order just about anything you like from their website (www.pacsupply.com) and they always have it by next Tuesday. I see many comments addressing their hours. Well as of last year they were only 1/2 day on Saturday and closed Sundays. Now they are open 7 days a week. John still buys Doughnuts on Saturdays as a small incentive for people to come in. This is really a great hardware store. They always take care of me. I hope you get the chance to know these people like I do. If not I just hope they remain as a hardware option on the hill. City Peoples on 15th was the last place on the hill otherwise. Hardware is a really tough biz. My2c

  15. I run a business initiative on 12th Avenue and just want to say that Pacific is one of those businesses that has been on 12th since the time when it was not as “trendy” as it is now. And they are still here, and are still great members of the community. They are a business that really loves its neighborhood and is trying to respond to how the Hill has been changing over the years. In general, it is great to see people sharing recommendations here. Folks should always feel free to drop local businesses notes or recommendations for how they could meet your needs better. We are a neighborhood that is lucky to have longstanding local businesses, a neighborhood that has not been overrun by chains – a neighborhood that has a lot of individual character. One of the best ways to maintain this characteristic is to patronize local retailers and tell them what you want more of so that they can stick around for the long haul and generate new business when the demographics around them shift.

    Thanks Pacific Supply, CHH has been using you for years and we adore you.

  16. 1. They advertise in the Capitol Hill News and the Madrona monthly paper. I don’t know that’s the best place to reach a lot of eyes these days.

    2. I also have always thought that the expanded QFC was the closest thing Capitol Hill had to a generalized hardware store. Then again, I feel like most people never even walk to the lower floor and the great things that are down there in that store.

    3. An example of a small True Value (probably grandfathered in) is the store in the U. District. It’s not where I’d ideally shop, but Pac. Supply did have some supplies my family needed for a recent project.

  17. I’m a new condo owner w/o much knowledge of home repair. I’ve been coming here since I moved in, and these guys always go out of their way to be helpful. Their prices are great, and they’ve given me good recommendations for plumbers and such as well. I think of them as my surrogate dad/big brother. We’re lucky to have a neighborhood hardware store with heart.

  18. the only time i had a problem with Pacific was when they were all out of AA batteries. They called my cell phone as soon as the hook was restocked! Great place! Helpful everytime.

  19. A big part of the reason no one thinks there is a hardware store on Capitol Hill is because the one we have has a name that it too generic and sounds more wholesale than retail. Change your name to Capitol Hill hardware and take some cues from the merchandising at City Hardware at South Lake Union.

  20. Being a bit more knowledgeable about the products they do carry would be helpful too. I’m a carpenter and went in a couple weeks ago for my first time. I asked whether they carried a specific fastener and the young man said they didn’t but they could order it. I needed to finish my project that day so I looked around for an alternative and found exactly what I had asked for on the shelves in plentiful supply.

  21. I am a young-ish, female, homeowner who over the last three years has relied on the usual triad of Lowes, Home Depot and Pacific Supply. My house is old and I am NOT handy at all. I ask a lot of questions, buy what I need and hope for the best. Pacific Supply is my favorite place to go. The guys who work/own the place are unfailingly kind and informative, and I love that its in the neighborhood and I can hop on my bike to get there. True, they don’t have lumber, which is a pain, but unless they expand hugely, they’ll never be able to compete with Lowes/Home depot. At this point I’m just glad that more and more, I can get what I need there, and it always costs less than I think it will. I’ve noticed a big change in inventory and much more selection every time I go in. Most importantly, unlike a corporate store, they are clearly ASKING the community what they can do to become better and more useful to people.

  22. We just moved into a new place nearby and have been frequenting PS for most things. I *really* appreciate having them nearby. BUT there are still a lot of things they don’t have. Like basic electrical stuff, outlets, switches, cover plates. How about some basic FSC lumber? More tools! Bulk bolts, screws and nails! (Can you tell I miss living near Dunn Lumber?)

    The giant sales slips are really annoying; takes forever for them to walk over and print and staple and also an epic waste of paper. I hope they do something about that soon.

    I secretly hoped that they would have more “green” products, like American Pride no-VOC paints. Unfortunately, seems like people on cap hill are all cheapskates who want to go to QFC and Bartells for hardware needs, which probably makes it hard for PS to carry high quality products vs a myriad of cheap stuff. And then people whine when there isn’t a good hardware store up here…

  23. Thank you so much for your comment. I am very sorry that you had a bad experience at our store. We are trying very hard to please and sure hope you give us another shot. I am in the store M-Thursday and Saturday and encourage you to come in and say hi.

  24. We have constantly been adding new product the last couple years, alot of the empty space you have seen are areas that were waiting for new product. There is alot of new product in the store, I really hope you come back and check us out. We are a small local business and are really trying to bring everything in that our friends in the neighborhood want us to. Very open to suggestions!

  25. I similarly found them less than friendly, and even though there seemed to be plenty of staffers, I could not get help finding what
    I had come in for. I did finally take a few items to their checkout, waited for quite awhile, and after not getting help for an extended period, a checker finally walked up with another person, pulled them ahead of me and acted like I did not exist. I did not complain, I just calmly left the items on the counter, and walked out. Did not seem anyone cared about this potential Customer! I will continue to shop at the Rainier Vallry Lowes or Sodo area Home Depo.

  26. Welch’s Hardware was a family run business with Mr.Welch being there most every day, as were various family members, and other long term staff members that greeted you, showed interest in assisting you, or letting you browse if that was your intent. They stacked their shelves with lots of items that tempted us do-it-yourselders, and the staff was always ready and willing to tell or show you how to do a project. These folks were always advertising with store ads, hanging new window sale signs, active within the community, and just plain hard working and liked locally. Sad when Mr. Welch passed away and the store closed, but of course Welch Towers now stands where this store once stood.
    Sadly, I have not seen this new hardware store promote itself, nor respond in a manor that made me want to return. I had assumed I was the only one that had experienced what I beleive was exceptionally BAD treatment there. If they are truely attempting to stay in business locally, and are reaching out to support my community, I will attempt to shop there again.

  27. I realize it’s in a different nabe, but no more than SLUnion is… how could you not think of Hardwicks’ as a competitor? They’re unparallelled for fixing up old houses, and for building new ideas from scratch.

    CHill should probably have a basic hardware store of its own, but don’t diss a resource as unusual as Hardwicks’! I haven’t found anything quite as good in the Bay Area.

  28. … and as they said, their selection has greatly improved over the years.

    Nobody has mentioned this yet: They have parking behind the store. Very useful, since 12th is frequently jammed.

  29. I’ve been going to Pac Supply for ten years. This is a great store with knowledgeable staff. They’ve truly transformed over the years to accommodate more homeowners, as their legacy business has been focused primarily on rental properties/apartment buildings. Take the time to get acquainted with the store and staff, you won’t be disappointed.