Nearly six decades after his father opened an Echo Park hardware store on Sunset Boulevard, Steve Wintner is now preparing to close the business where he has worked for most of his life.
Slowing sales, stiff competition from chain stores, such as Home Depot, and what Wintner describes as unreasonable city regulations all played a role in the decision to close the independently owned Reliable Do It Center by the end of the month and sell the 2.5-acre strip of Sunset Boulevard property to a Canadian real estate developer.
While Wintner has watched as Echo Park has changed “for the better” and caters to customers who are younger and more affluent than in years past, the shift in neighborhood demographics and economics has not paid off in big sales.
“We deal with a lot of keys and screws and we can’t make a living selling keys,” said Winnter, who lives in the Mid-Wilshire area. “We help customers with their bikes and lamps but we are expected to compete with the big stores’ prices and we just can’t.”
65-year-old Wintner started working at the store when he was 10 and continued to work there throughout his years at UCLA and the University of West Los Angeles. The hardware store originally occupied only half of a building on Sunset Boulevard near Marion Avenue before it expanded, with the family business eventually purchasing six buildings along Sunset Boulevard, Wintner said. He took over the business 25 years ago after his father passed away.
But business conditions have growing increasingly tough for independent hardware stores, including Wintner’s. He tried to sell the property about a decade ago but that effort failed. So, when Canadian-based developer Aragon Properties made a “reasonable offer” for the site about seven months ago, Wintner accepted. Aragon plans to build a multi-story building with more than 200 apartments and ground-floor shops on the 2.5 acre property. The property is currently in escrow.
He said he has mixed feelings about leaving after so many years and will miss a lot of good customers.
“I have a bit of a feeling that I was run over by Home Depot,” Wintner said. “It’s hard on a small store because sometimes our prices were cheaper but customers would still go to Home Depot and I didn’t get a chance to compete.”
Lucy Guanuna, a journalism student at Cal State Northridge, has reported on a variety of issues, including business, education and social justice movements in her native Los Angeles. Her work has been published in the Daily Sundial, L.A. Activist, and the San Fernando Valley Business Journal.