The year 2022 ushers in a tremendous achievement for Pedrotti Hardware; this is our Centennial Year!
Thirty years ago on Valentine’s Day, we took over Dan’s Ace Hardware in the Southampton Center and it’s been a love affair ever since. And shortly, we will share our plans for a fantastic celebration. However, at this moment, we must acknowledge and share a truth with you – that this apex might not have taken place were it not for a fateful decision the Benicia City Council made sixty years ago; a decision that radically changed the trajectory of Benicia and that of my family’s hardware store.
We step back in time to March 31, 1964, when the official military flag was retired at the Benicia Arsenal. Built in 1849 on 300 acres east of downtown, the Arsenal began service as an armory for the United States Military so that it could maintain peace and order in frontier California. Later, the base was used to maintain equipment, test ordinance, and it even served as a stockyard where camels – of the infamous Camel Barn – were auctioned on the cheap after failing desert field testing of their war capabilities. The withdrawal that March day signaled the decommissioning of the Arsenal.
The base closure brought fear in Benicia, as a majority of the 2,400 people employed were local residents. And that is when the City stepped in. On January 6, 1963, after acquiring title to the property from the US government, City officials signed a master lease with Benicia Industries to create the Benicia Industrial Park. Amongst the first major employers to locate in the park was an emerging hardware cooperative… Ace Hardware Corporation!
Initially occupying a 160,000 square foot building, the warehouse consisted of four large bays.
But by 1970, it was enlarged by 100,000 sq ft; at a quarter-million-square-foot, it was a massive facility at that time. Approximately 200 people were employed in warehouse, office, and buying positions. Many of these individuals were Benicia residents, including Benicia High graduate Lon McAnally.
As a fourteen-year-old Benicia boy, Lon worked at King’s Market (in the Quonset building where S.P. Automotive Supply now stands). His father, James, was the Public Works Director for the City of Benicia and his mother, Debbie, served as the assistant to the Superintendent of Schools (Callout: Debbie’s sister, Candi Estey, is a well known realtor in Benicia!). Lon graduated from Benicia High entering the Air Force Reserve; as a medic, he tended to wounded soldiers returning from Vietnam. In 1968, he took a position with Ace Hardware, beginning a career that spanned an impressive forty-five years! By the 1980s he was managing the West Coast for Ace, including four warehouses, 150 trucks, and 700 employees.
It was during this period that I joined my family’s business in Crockett and also made the decision to join Ace.
A dealer-owned cooperative, it made sense as the Ace warehouse was so close to Crockett. We were not the only party to join the Ace family. In 2003, Lon’s daughter, Sarah, joined Ace Hardware in marketing and to this day, she and I continue to work on many projects!
Hardware flourished during this period and this put great pressure on the Benicia facility. One day, from his office in City of Industry, McAnally was instructed to return to his hometown; Ace officials had announced a move to a new one million sq ft warehouse in Rocklin and he was asked to help close the Benicia complex. His career at Ace began with opening the Benicia warehouse and sixteen years later he was called back to help shutter it? A sad irony? “You know I never thought of it in that way,” he told me. Growth continues for Ace; last October, Ace announced the construction of a second one million sqft facility in Visalia, CA.
Recently, Ace Hardware was recognized by Forbes as the top 3rd most admired retailer, and while it no longer has a warehouse in Benicia, it does have a strong Ace presence: Pedrotti Hardware! Both of our organizations owe a huge debt of gratitude to Mayor Lemos and Benicia City officials who foresaw an important future; in saving the arsenal and saving jobs, they laid the groundwork that two companies, one local and one national, would become powerhouses in their fields.
Photos courtesy of the Benicia Historical Museaum.