New owners step in to save hardware store in Ocean Beach
Ocean Beach Hardware, 102 years old, was bought as it was about to close forever
Mission accomplished. The Ocean Beach Hardware store lives on.
Mike DeEmedio, with the help of an investor friend, bought the struggling family-owned, 102-year-old business in 2019. Its longtime owners were retiring and had begun to liquidate inventory.
DeEmedio had one motive: keeping the store open. It has been a landmark business on Newport Avenue in the beach community for decades.
“My goal was to get in, save the store and be out by the time I was 40,“ said DeEmedio, who celebrated his 40th birthday in February.
Before buying the hardware store, he had worked in the corporate world. He had never run a retail business when he signed the purchase agreement. But, with the support of his wife and family, DeEmedio welcomed the challenge.
They redesigned the layout to create more space, added new sections (including gardening), stocked new merchandise and bolstered inventory.
The store’s signature upright piano remained nestled between shelves of spray paints and tool racks, and the casual folksy occasional music concerts continued.
The turnaround was successful, but the DeEmedios needed to relocate to New Mexico due to family obligations.
Having accomplished his mission, Mike listed the business for sale. Unfortunately, it was in the middle of the pandemic. For months, there were no viable purchase offers. Then, as he was about to launch a going-out-of-business sale and liquidation, buyers came to the rescue.
On Wednesday, DeEmedio turned the reins over to new proprietors who, like him, are purchasing the store to continue to keep an Ocean Beach institution alive.
Joe and Jenae Kuchman, who have two young children, are longtime local residents and 20-year hardware store customers, who live only a couple of blocks away.
“We had a few candidates and weighed options,” DeEmedio said, “and the Kuchmans seemed the best ones to continue the local flavor of the place. ... They’re super capable people. They remind me of myself when I started,” added DeEmedio, referring to trading a corporate job for hands-on ownership of a small business.
Like him, the buyers never have owned a retail store. Joe is an electrical contractor (of the circuit board variety), and Jenae has a background in event planning.
“For me, it was a matter of not wanting to let the store close,” said Joe. “But the more we talked about it, the more excited we became about having an entrepreneurial business, too.”
Joe settled in Ocean Beach shortly after moving from Sacramento to San Diego in 1999. The couple loves the independent spirit of the iconic beach town and views running the store as an opportunity to get further ingrained in the community.
Throughout the escrow, DeEmedio, who has been commuting from New Mexico where his family moved a few months ago, has worked with them to ensure the transition takes place smoothly.
“We’re working closely together,” Joe said last week. “It’s been a great experience.”
For the last few months, customers have been coming in and asking what was going to happen. “Now we have good news to share,” DeEmedio said recently.
Last Sunday, pianist Jimmy Dean played from noon to 2 pm as the store staged a celebration for customers to say goodbye to the old owner and hello to the new owners.
In a final email to his customers, DeEmedio called the 102-year-old institution “the common thread that holds this patchwork town together.”
He introduced Jenae and Joe Kuchman as: “very capable people with heads and hearts in the right place ... they stepped up when O.B. needed them. Make no mistake, they saved OB Hardware from closing.”
The escrow closed Aug. 31, and the Kuchmans opened for business on Wednesday.
While the new owners plan to make some changes, especially updating the computerized sales system, they are keeping the store name and the current staff. “We’re inheriting a really great group of people,” said Joe.
The piano, too, will stay put. In fact, they engaged pianist Jimmy Dean to perform on Wednesday, their first day as the new operators.
“We have ideas for community workshops involving different activities, kids’ workshops and for fun window displays,” said Jenae.
The key task was working out a new lease for up to five years with the owner of the building.
DeEmedio never expected to make a fortune on Ocean Beach Hardware. Rather, his goal was not to lose money, and he says he succeeded.
“I will not be in debt when I leave and, as far as I’m concerned, I saved the store.” Oh, and he is committed to staying around for a week or two to continue to help with the transition.
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