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Business & Real Estate

No slowing down : First Street hardware store owners celebrate 30 years in Los Altos


Ellie Van Houtte/Town Crier
Henry and Sue Nesmith, pictured with daughter Christina, are celebrating Los Altos True Value Hardware’s 30-year anniversary. The couple was inspired to open their own hardware store after learning how to flip houses while in college.

For Sue and Henry Nesmith, the seeds that led to the founding of Los Altos True Value Hardware can be found in a fixer-upper Menlo Park house, of all things.

The Los Altos Hills residents last week celebrated the 30-year anniversary of their store at 441 First St. and pointed specifically to the purchase of their first home as college students in Menlo Park as the eventual motivation behind their hardware store. They purchased the home, Sue recalled, for $30,000 – but it needed some renovations. Lo and behold, the young couple set their sights on doing all of the work themselves. Not long after, they began flipping houses locally.

“We just got familiar with how to fix things and, I don’t know, we just decided we wanted to start a business,” Sue said. “We were sitting around the table with my folks one night and my dad said, ‘I think you should start a hardware store in Los Altos. There’s no hardware in Los Altos.’ We just looked at each other and thought, ‘Hmmm, OK.’”

Soon after, Henry said, the couple placed their hopes and future in a “sleepy” downtown area and established what is now known as Los Altos True Value Hardware. The property was attractive at the time because it offered plenty of parking and a building large enough to suit their needs.

“What it’s come down to is that we made a really good guess,” he said with a chuckle. “We’re really happy to be here. The town has really grown up.”

“You do kind of take a leap of faith when you’re starting something new like that,” Sue added.

Earning customers’ trust

Still, the Nesmiths conceded that it has taken more than just luck to remain in business for 30 years. Henry said the key to earning the trust of customers is offering knowledgeable and dependable service – or what he described simply as an “awful lot of just getting up and doing the same thing day after day.”

“Everybody who walks into our store pretty much has a problem – and they don’t want to relive that problem,” he said. “They just want to get something, get home and get it done with. They don’t want to go through a whole lot of change to fix that problem.”

Henry credited his employees – some who have remained with the Nesmiths for more than 10 years – with being familiar and trusted faces for Los Altos customers looking for advice on anything from fixing a water leak to which rake they should purchase.

“People are very loyal in this town. It takes a long time, but once you reach whatever threshold that is, then you’re here to stay,” said Henry, who added that the store saw a boost in customers when the Rancho Hardware and Garden Shop closed in 2007.

And staying is exactly what the Nesmiths plan to do when it comes to their business. Henry, 59, said that retirement on his terms is far from its conventional definition – it’s simply reducing his workload from five or six days per week to three or maybe four days.

“People have offered to buy the business and the building, but that’s not really our interest,” he said. “Our life would not change because of that. We want to stick around. I want a small business in town.”

The Nesmiths agreed that they also feel a sense of duty to maintain the status quo as the neighborhood hardware store for all Los Altos residents.

“We have an obligation, not only to our offspring, to stick around, but also an obligation to the community,” Henry said. “I know that sounds corny, but every morning people walk into my store expecting me to be here with stuff. You can’t push that aside.”

For more information, visit ww3.truevalue.com/latvh/Home.

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