Papenhausen Hardware Store Reopens in Pop-Up to Keep Workers Paid

Shwanika Narayan – Jan. 23, 2019

Exactly a year after Papenhausen went up in flames, the longtime San Francisco hardware store is back in business in a pop-up location a few doors from its original West Portal location.

The temporary space on 2 West Portal Ave., which used to house the Peek-a-boo Factory children’s play space and before that a Walgreens, is open for customers to shop. But a big reason why the makeshift store exists is to retain Papenhausen’s loyal staff, whose paychecks to date have been funded by a generous insurance policy.

“The pop-up is really to keep our staff,” said Karl Aguilar, the store manager. “Our insurance covered our equipment and products, employee wages, continuing expenses, and loss of business, but parts of that coverage had timelines.” The wage coverage lasted a year to the day after the fire.

The Jan. 23, 2018, blaze burned out three businesses: Papenhausen, the West Portal Daily newsstand and Sloane Square Beauty, a salon. The newsstand is back in business but the salon won’t reopen. Papenhausen is expected to move into its former location by May or June. The Fire Department did not provide an update on the status of the investigation.

For Papenhausen, a retail staple in the West Portal neighborhood since 1936, relief also came in the form of a $7,500 grant awarded by the Office of Economic and Workforce Development. The business used the funds for “various expenses associated with reestablishing the store,” Aguilar said.

Paperhausen manager Karl Aguilar (left) and owner Matt Rogers view the progress of reconstruction after the fire inside the original hardware store.
Photos by Paul Chinn / The Chronicle

Matt Rogers, the owner, credits community support plus the right type of business insurance coverage for the company’s reopening.

“If we had the basic coverage of 60 days business interruption offered by most companies, we would not be reopening. It is that simple,” Rogers said.

But “insurance bureaucracy,” as Rogers put it, meant it has taken the business, which also dealt with a fire in 1998, much longer than expected to reopen.

“I thought this time around we’d be back up and running in six months, but a year later, here we are,” Rogers said. He said there were no delays from his insurer but working with different parties including contractors, insurance adjusters and lawyers added months to the reconstruction process.

Aguilar and Rogers realized in October that the hardware store wouldn’t reopen by January. They started to shop for retail spaces but low vacancy in the area, where they wanted to remain, made it tough.

The original location is being rebuilt after a fire gutted the store one year ago.
Photo: Paul Chinn / The Chronicle

This led Rogers to post about his troubles on Facebook. Tara Hardesty, a West Portal resident and frequent customer of Papenhausen, saw his plea. She connected Rogers to a friend and colleague, Ross Portugeis, the leasing agent of the current pop-up location.

“As native San Franciscans, we want the city to help maintain its character,” said Portugeis, a senior vice president at TRI Commercial, a real estate brokerage. “A city’s character is expressed no more clearly than the presence of its local merchants.”

Papenhausen signed a five-month lease on Dec. 1 and moved into the new location which officially opens Wednesday. It’s renting 3,000 square feet.

Michaela Byrne, a part-time employee, said she’s excited to be working again at Papenhausen. She was paid a full year’s worth of work at $16.50 an hour, she said. This allowed the 26-year-old to pursue an existing sideline working as a stage manager in the theater world, she said.

Keeping familiar faces at the counter may help more than Papenhausen.

Anchor businesses like a hardware store add to the liveliness of a neighborhood, said Vas Kiniris, executive director of the West Portal Merchants Association.

“When the fire happened and Papenhausen left the commercial corridor, it was like the place had lost a limb,” he said. “We’re glad that a legacy business like the local hardware store is back.”

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this article mischaracterized the distance from the store’s original location at 32 West Portal Ave. to its temporary home at 2 West Portal Ave. It is a few doors away.

Shwanika Narayan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @shwanika
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