Norris Hardware to Close by September 1
By SUE PASCOE
Grant and Ellen Sears have confirmed what their customers had feared: they will not renew their lease at Norris Hardware when it ends on August 31.
The store’s owners told this reporter that they learned on June 15 that there would be no reprieve in their lease negotiations involving the oldest family-owned and operated-business in Pacific Palisades.
Starting on Monday, July 9, everything in the store will be half off.
“I just feel sorry for the community,” Ellen Sears said in a June 28 interview in the upstairs office at the building located on Sunset.
She and her husband understand the important role this store has played in the community since 1925 by meeting the basic household needs for shoppers from all economic classes. Norris sells everything from light bulbs and kitchen fixtures to gardening and cleaning supplies.
A story broke in a local paper in May that Norris were closing, but “At that point, nothing was settled yet,” Grant said.
In February, while working for the Palisades News, this reporter contacted the landlord, Leland Ford, upon hearing that Norris might close.
Ford belongs to a family trust that owns the land where Norris, Pharmaca, Ralphs and the Palisades Car Wash are located, and he said the 20-year lease was under negotiation.
The proposed rent on the 11,731-sq.-ft. building was going to about triple, to $4.75 a square foot, with only a five-year lease. The new rent would have cost about 20 percent of the store’s profit, before taxes and employee costs.
“An increase wasn’t unreasonable,” Grant said. “We expected it. We’re not angry over it.”
“We don’t put it on a personal note, because it’s business,” he and his wife said, but they were surprised that “people have taken [the closing] personally.”
“It wasn’t really doable,” Ellen said, and Grant added: “The profit margin becomes too thin—and if the economy hits a bump. . ..”
The Sears explained they survived the 2008-2010 economic downtown because “we adjusted and purchased just enough inventory that would sell just ‘this’ week.”
But now, “unless we expanded our business or made an unreasonable increase in prices, we couldn’t make it,” said Grant, who predicted, “The town will never see another hardware store; it’s too expensive.”
The couple said that a startup needs about $1 million to get established, including remodeling the existing space and buying the initial merchandise and insurance.
They explained that independent hardware stores, such as Norris, generally join a co-op with stores such as ACE or Do It Best, in order to gain better buying power.
The Sears found a woman from Illinois whose family owned hardware stores in the Midwest and had taken over two small hardware stores in California and was interested in Norris.
They were impressed with her knowledge of the business and introduced her to Ford. She seemed to think that she might be able to continue operating the store if the rent were $4 a square foot.
According to Grant Sears, the woman and Ford met several times, but in mid-June, Ford let them know it wasn’t going to work.
The Sears also briefly considered subleasing the large frontage space along Sunset, but “to make our rent, we would need the entire space,” Grant said. Currently the upstairs, which at one time also served as a showroom, is now used to store product.
“It’s not conducive to having someone here [splitting the space] because of the location of the electrical and fire boxes,” Grant said about the 70-year-old building.
They also considered trying to provide outside services such as insulation services, but “It wasn’t really doable,” said Ellen, whose father had run the store until his death in 1996.
The couple, who between them have almost 80 years of experience in the business, said that one of the hardest things was “shutting down a 93-year-old business on our watch.”
The Sears have been surprised and heartened about the number of people who contacted Ford and lobbied for them. “Some wrote letters,” Grant said. “Who writes letters anymore?”
Since they both work upstairs, they don’t usually deal day to day with residents and “It gets past you how many people depend on you,” Grant said.
Robert Norris, Ellen’s grandfather, installed the first residential plumbing lines in Pacific Palisades. According to a historical story, his wife Clarissa was the sister of Reverend Charles Scott, the founder of Pacific Palisades. A plumbing shop was opened on the corner of Temescal Canyon Road and Beverly Boulevard (now Sunset).
The couple next opened Norris Hardware in the historic Business Block building (next to today’s Starbucks) in 1925.
In 1956, the store moved to 1032 Swarthmore, replacing Rexall Drugstore. Later, when Norris moved its current location, that space would be occupied by Benton’s and Dante’s (later Maison Giraud).
Ellen remembers that when the Bay Theatre on Sunset closed in 1979, a member of the Ford family sought out her grandfather and offered him the space with a 20-year lease.
In February, the store had 14 employees, but is now down to nine. People are starting to look for other work in anticipation of the store’s closing.
“Those that stay [until we close], we’ll take care of them,” Grant said. “I have connections and I’m going to try and help them get work in the same business.”
He and Ellen said, “We’re responsible for our people.”
The upcoming sale will go through July, depending on how much merchandise is left.
“We’re going to lose money, but it will be good for the customer,” Grant said.
The owners plan to box up anything left unsold, such as plumbing fittings, and send it to Habitat to Humanity. Then it will take at least two weeks to dismantle the fixtures and take them out.
“In a perfect world, we’d be done a week before the end of August,” Grant said. “It’s a big task.”
“It’s not a happy one,” Ellen said.
The couple, who have not had a vacation or time away from the store since Ellen’s father died in 1996, plan to just “decompress” for a month, and then maybe take a trip—driving through the Western states.
“We’ll take back the vacations we haven’t had the past 20 years,” Grant said.
Thanks, Sue, for an excellent article. Norris Hardware will be missed by many and for many reasons. It is not about blaming anybody, but it is a sad moment for all us “hardware store junkies.”
Our town is trading in it’s charm and history for “ shiny and new”.
Terrific piece on what exactly happened with Norris Hardware and why they are closing.
I will greatly miss your writing for the Palisades News. Even though we have not always had the same view of things, your question asking and efforts at digging to get the real story is really needed. I will miss you at the Palisades News.
To clarify one thing, however, neither you nor the Post 283 Newsletter, were “banished” by the Post membership. It all involved conflict of interest of the highest order. It is worth a long story sometime.
Keep writing and keep asking questions. And thanks.
Thanks for the kind words.
You’re correct that most of the Post membership were not happy about losing the paper. But rather than go into any kind of detail, I opted for simple–(and my daughter who read my original copy told me to stop whining).
Thanks for an excellent article…everyone should read … no blame… things change… sad to lose them, such a needed business…
Processing the changes in our town and our sense of helplessness as we watch so much disappear is difficult, especially in the face of what many saw as a lack of community leadership in shaping the direction that the new mall would take. But even when the news is sad, Palisadians are grateful for Sue Pascoe’s trademark reporting: always accurate, well written, and with a keen eye for the people behind the facts.
Thank you Sue.
Terrific story Sue. Thank for the real skinny. Just heartbroken to lose them. Such a practical part of our day to day lives. I am so fearful that what is about to open will just be for the 1%. We don’t need another supermarket, we already have 3. We need things for our day to day lives. Like Norris provided for us. Sad indeed for all involved. That is a huge space. Not sure what kind of business could be successful there. Trader Joe’s??
That’s what everyone seemed to want in the first place. Not another upscale grocer. One is enough. Maybe a nursery, a-la-Hashimoto’s? Don’t know but will be interesting. Thanks for getting the true story for us. Sad for all longtime employees. Glad to read Ellen is going to take care of them. Hope that is the case.
Dear Sue, thank you so much for having this blog, and writing a lovely piece about Norris’s…..My dad(Vince Mangio-Palisades Barbershop) and Chuck Norris were buddies…It is really hard to imagine Norris Hardware gone….That would make the Palisades Barbershop the last original business in the Palisades…..and that is hard to believe..I have to say all of these changes to the Village(Caruso etc.) is hard to take…I so appreciate your caring and interest, and bringing forward the truth of what is going on…
Not having hardware products available close by will be an inconvenience, but what will be sorely missed will be the great staff and their ever patient expertise. No matter what problem I brought them, I came away with a better understanding, and often a good solution. Good Luck to all.
Thanks for the Real story Sue.
Another example of your excellent and through reporting. I look forward to future posts. Keep on writing!!
A 3x increase in rent seems excessive, particularly if that includes no improvements to the 70-year-old building. I suspect that the landlord Fords are hoping the new Caruso center will be a windfall as other retailers vie for adjacency. Seems a reasonable bet. It’s a bit curious that the Sears expressed surprise as they heard about neighbors’ emotional reactions to the demise of Norris. Were they not serving a community? And did they not create a community inside Norris itself? Hmm. On a more positive note, the Sears can now take a well-earned vacation. And, it’s fervently hoped that the cordial, helpful Norris staff will be starting interesting new chapters. Many thanks to you, Sue, appreciate (and have signed up for) your blog!
Hope you have a great 4th!
loved your article and
have enjoyed your writing for more years than
I can remember. I moved to the Palisades on July 3rd, 1959
and shopped at Norris on Swarthmore. almost 60 years!
very sad…I loved the people who worked there.
they were more than employees. sincerely, barbara davis
Koontz Hardware in West Hollywood could succeed in the PP given the direction of the rent, etc. Clearly items won’t be as affordable as Norris and convenience comes with a price.
A sad loss for the Palisades. Every time I go there which is quite a lot, the service I get is second to none. Again I have to say money rules here and the fact that even at $4 a foot from a prospective buyer the land owners still saw it was not enough.3x the existing rent there should be a law against it as price gauging. A whole community looses. This is the price we pay for all this building going on.
What a wonderful article!! Sue delighted to see that you’ve started a blog!!
Well said Rena.
Sue: We hope you will continue keeping Palisadians updated on what is going on in our community on your blog. We have followed your wonderful reporting for many years and hope to continue doing so. Thanks for the update on Norris Hardware. It’s too bad that Caruso hasn’t offered to move Norris to his new project. Norris would make so much more money for him that so many of overpriced clothing stores and other high end ventures. We “need” a hardware store in this town!!!
Sue, what a thoughtful, fair and balanced article/blog. Heroic. Grateful to the Sears family for their hard work and sacrifice.
The chatter had reached a fever pitch on Nextdoor with everyone trying to figure out at whom to point fingers! Now there is finality and those wanting to create a local option can move forward. I’m in! As so many have commented it’s imperative to have a local source.
I grew up in the Palisades. Norris Hardware was always our go-to store for all sorts of things.
Grew up and schooled in the Palisades. Miss the Hotdog Show, Art Poole’s and of course Mort’s forget about the old Bay and Mayfair. I moved to Topanga 30 years ago and the only reason to come back to the Palisades is to laugh at the uptight shoppers who finally get to dress up and go out. Sorry for the negativity but maybe a Fogcutter at the House Of Lee is all I really need. PAL ISADES is still the high school cheer or has that changed also CAR USO. Thanks for the good times. Really liked my first job at Bay Pharmacy. Peace and love to you all except Hank’s crazy tequila pricing