Dunsmuir Hardware Store Owner Ron McCloud…
In an era of big box stores and online ordering, there’s a 128-year-old store in Dunsmuir where you can walk right in and buy that water faucet or gallon of paint from the guy who owns the store. “We’re a vanishing breed,” says Dunsmuir Hardware store owner Ron McCloud. “In most communities, big box stores have overwhelmed the mom-and-pop stores. You have to come to a rural community like Dunsmuir to find a store like ours.”
But at 81, Ron is more than ready to hand over the keys to a new owner. In fact, the store’s been up for sale for the past eight years. So far there have been offers, but no qualified buyers. Ron intends to hang on until it’s sold, so he’ll have retirement money and so the town will continue to have its most important retail business.
Ron sits in his small back office, in the same swivel chair he’s sat in for the past 47 years, reflecting on his nearly half century in the hardware business. Within arm’s reach, on a nearby shelf, was the vintage Underwood typewriter the store’s previous owner, Jim Lockhart, used to type his monthly statements. The burn marks from Lockhart’s cigarettes are still there on the office desk.
Ron and his wife Pat bought the store from Lockhart in 1975. In some ways, it was a big change in their lives, in other ways a return to their roots. Both had been working in banking jobs in the Bay Area and had been immersed in big-city cultural life – the concerts and art shows.
But Ron had grown up in a small town in Nebraska, and Pat had grown up on a nearby farm. They had lived in a number of big cities while pursuing their educations and careers and, as Ron puts it, were starting “to grow disillusioned with the hectic, impersonal life” of the metropolis. They had two boys about to start school and wanted them to have that experience in a small-town environment.
Ron had grown up around small businesses. His mother owned a women’s clothing store and his dad a dry- cleaning business. He wanted a business that was hands-on, tangible, a nuts-and-bolts operation. In those first years, Pat helped out at the counter and did the bookkeeping while Ron did everything else to keep the store going.
There were a few bumps along the road. In 1994, a fire caused the store to close for six months while the interior was completely rebuilt. In 2015, an elderly lady mistook her gas pedal for the brake and rammed her car right through the front window and all the way to the counter in the middle of the store. That was another six months’ restoration job.
Then there was the COVID pandemic, which was good for the store – lots of purchases for home improvement projects by folks stuck at home – but not so good for Ron, who spent two weeks in a hospital in critical condition.
But through his nearly half-century at the store’s helm, Ron has put his personal stamp not only on the store but on the town itself. He is one of the founders of Dunsmuir’s Historic District and one of the leading
advocates for the preservation of its vintage buildings. He ran the annual Railroad Days event for several years. With Deborah Harton, he co- authored a book on the history of Dunsmuir. He has been on just about every civic committee that exists, or has existed, in the town.
His interest in history is evident in the store, which doubles as a museum. In a rear corner sits one of the spotlights that were used in vaudeville shows in the town’s vintage California Theatre. Back near his office there’s an old cigar store Indian. Near the front doors there’s a steam engine that was used to power pumps. Then there’s the horseshoe collection, the vintage beer can collection, the old railroad lanterns.
Dunsmuir Hardware is a central gathering place where news and gossip are exchanged. It’s a place where old folks who live alone can come and find someone to talk to, and in wintertime warm themselves by the wood stove. If you come at the right time, you can hear one of the store’s employees, Kevin Tynsky or Dylan Brockman, practicing on their guitars.
But it’s Ron McCloud’s cheerful goodwill toward his customers, his never-ending stories about the town and the people who live here, laced with his dry sense of humor, that have made the hardware store what it is.
It will be a tough act to follow. •