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The mom and pop store may be a thing of the past. But one longtime San Antonio shop has not only kept its doors open, but evolved with the times, and now has big plans for its next quarter-century.
Before there were big-box home improvement stores, e-commerce and free shipping, or even Starbucks, there was Sunset Ridge Home and Hardware.
The family-owned retail store where you can buy everything from nuts and bolts and power tools to small home appliances and gardening supplies has maintained its hold in an Alamo Heights shopping center for 25 years.
This year, it’s not only getting bigger, the owners say there’s also a new name in the works, Sunset & Co.
Sunset co-owners Amy and David Doyle envisioned bringing under one roof the seemingly endless array of hardware, home, gift products, and solutions way back in 1995.
With a goal to open a store that combined elements of their favorite home goods stores in Chicago, the Doyles ditched their high-stress corporate jobs and chose to set up shop as an Ace Hardware buying cooperative. The concept is different from a franchise in that they are part owners of the parent company.
“So we can pretty much do whatever we want – niche in and out of categories very quickly,” Amy said. “There’s really no requirements, other than we do buy [a certain amount of] product out of the Ace Hardware warehouse.”
They also decided, during a trip to San Antonio to visit Amy’s parents, to establish their store in the neighborhood where she grew up and where they now reside.
“We said, ‘You know what this shopping center really needs is a really nice hardware store,’” David said. “That little seed just stuck in our brains.”
“And we always wanted to work together,” Amy added.
But to build up an inventory and a customer base took time and faith it would work. Even their favorite Great Ace store, a high-profile home improvement store in Chicago, closed in 2005 amid growing competition.
“The truth is, after that first year we were thinking, ‘Man, this is not going to work,’” David said. “I mean, we were losing money like crazy.”
Today, the Doyles have a loyal following made up of customers who live nearby, and walk to the store, and those who live just outside the city. Locals bring their friends and family who are visiting from out of town.
“This past December, in one month, we did more business than we did our whole first year,” David said.
Amid the “convenience hardware” at Sunset – the kinds of items you need for do-it-yourself fixes in the home or garden – there’s also a wide selection of kitchen and dining wares, pet supplies, specialty and gift items, fashion accessories and jewelry, as well as infant clothing and toys.
The store also features fancy bowties adorned with feathers and vibrant designer handbags, celebrity cookbooks and woven doormats, wood polishes and floor cleaners, mailboxes and windchimes, aromatic diffusers and air filters, and shelves upon shelves of tiny drawers holding screws, bolts, anchors, and washers in every size.
But the regular inventory of over 100,000 products gets squeezed with the approach of every holiday or season, including Fiesta, when they have to make room for door wreaths and other festive adornments. That’s why the Doyle family first began looking to expand the store even as far back as 10 years ago.
“We’ve developed our own little slice of our products and the price points that work really well for our customers, and we don’t want to have to shrink down really popular categories to make room for other things, like barbecue, which is a big category for us year round,” David said.
Sunset also offers wedding and baby gift registry services and recently added a popular in-house monogramming service. The embroidery machine occupies a corner of the combined workroom, storeroom, and breakroom and next to the cramped offices where the Doyles work side by side.
But those offices, and the store itself, will grow by 3,500 square feet with a complete store overhaul set to begin in April. A wall separating the hardware store and a former sporting goods shop will come down and a spacious kitchen will be built to allow for cooking classes and product demonstrations.
The Doyle’s daughter, Rees Doyle Peacock, who went to work with the store in 2017, said several local chefs plan to offer cooking classes there, and the kitchen will also be used to demonstrate the various cookware and gadgetry they sell and sample gourmet food items.
The renovations will include updating the flooring and lighting throughout the store. “But the feel [of the store] is not going to be any different,” Amy said, adding it will look like a bigger version of the current store.
The hardware section is getting a makeover as well with the addition of a “service hub” where customers can have keys made and order paint and engraving services.
Sunset & Co. is also now more than one store as the Doyles recently acquired two additional Ace hardware stores. Both of those stores, one at North Padre Island and the other in Port Aransas, will be renovated and stocked with a greater mix of products than they currently sell.
In addition, the family has launched a more robust online store and added an in-store pickup option.
While Peacock is working to develop the Sunset & Co. e-commerce site and promote the brand, David and Amy have been making regular treks to the new stores at the Coast, hoping to foster the same culture of friendly service their regular customers have come to expect.
“We’re not supposed to say, ‘Can I help you?’” David said. “We say, ‘What can I help you find?’ Because that’s what [we’re] here for – to help people solve problems.”