Emigh Hardware: 100-plus years of service
A long banner stretches above the entrance of Emigh Ace Hardware and includes a message that assures confidence in its customers. The banner announces a sale in honor of the company’s more than century-long history.
Certainly an announcement by any business acknowledging that it has survived for a century or more is sufficient to attract one’s attention.
But on a local level, the story of Emigh Hardware draws even greater intrigue, considering that the business, which is located at 3555 El Camino Ave., has always been a local story.
The history of this fourth generation, family-owned and operated store began when brothers and Rio Vista natives James and Clay Emigh, who had already gained experience in the hardware industry, moved to Sacramento and opened Emigh Hardware Co. at 1208 J St. in Sacramento.
Prior to opening the Sacramento store, while living in Suisun City, James (1876-1932) purchased the James Kerns hardware store in 1900, and the business was eventually consolidated with the Suisun Implement Co.
James, who served as the Suisun City store’s vice president and assistant manager, sold his interests in the business about a decade later.
But while operating his Suisun City store, James was assisted by his brother for about four years, after which time Clay, who was five years younger than James, became a salesman for the wholesale hardware business, Miller-Chapman-Enwright Co., at 913-917 Front St. in Sacramento.
Clay’s last hardware-related employment prior to establishing Emigh Hardware with his brother was as a salesman for the George H. Tay Co. in San Francisco.
The Emigh brothers’ Sacramento business expanded in July 1912, as their store merged with the Winchell-Cline Co., which was located at 1103 O St. and was managed by Frank B. Winchell.
In addition to carrying general hardware supplies, the Winchell-Cline Co. also offered a line of agricultural supplies and buggies.
With its merger, the Emigh-Winchell-Cline Co., which was led by David M. Cline as its president and James Emigh as its vice-president, moved into the old Thomson-Diggs Co. quarters at 308-312 J St.
Although smaller than today’s larger warehouse hardware stores, the then-newly-opened, 60-foot by 160-foot, retail and wholesale store was large for its time and advertised itself as “the big warehouse store.”
Regarding Emigh Hardware’s vast inventory at this location, the 1913 book, “History of Sacramento County, California,” described the store as the “most extensive hardware establishment in Sacramento County, if not in the whole of Northern California.”
The selection of the merged store’s location was ideal, considering that the site had already been established as a place where locals could purchase hardware supplies, agricultural implements and other offerings.
Even before Thomson-Diggs, which was a hardware store led by its president, Frederick F. Thomson, opened at the site, Thomson had co-owned a similar business, Stanton, Thomson & Co. at the same location as early as 1889.
And with Perrin Stanton’s previous co-ownership of the Holman, Stanton & Co. hardware and agricultural implements supply store at 211-215 J St., Emigh Hardware has a link in the capital city’s hardware store history dating back to at least April 1879.
At the time of the Emigh brothers’ business merger, Sacramento included more than a dozen businesses that featured hardware supplies among their offerings. These businesses included the Breuners’ store at 600-608 K St., Jordan-Christ Hardware Co. at 516 K St., Paul Oakley at 910 J St., the Sacramento Implement Co. at 721 J St. and Baker & Hamilton at 109 J St.
A June 26, 1913 article in The Sacramento Bee recognized the Emigh-Winchell-Cline Co. as having then-recently taken over the local horse-drawn vehicle business of the Studebaker Company. The article reported that the hardware company, which also acquired the old Studebaker warehouse at 12th and B streets in the same deal, would handle their then-new horse-drawn vehicle business from Emigh’s 3rd and J streets store.
The Emigh-Winchell Hardware Co., as the business was then known, relocated to 709-715 J St. in about 1918.
During the 1920s, the store was even more of a family-operated business, as James’ sons, James, Jr. and Albert, who were twins, and Colby, were working at the store.
Following the 1932 retirement of the company’s then-president, Clay, the store relocated to 1300 J St. on a portion of the property of today’s Sacramento Convention Center, and regained its original name of Emigh Hardware Co.
It was also during the 1930s that James retired and Albert Emigh, who joined the company in 1919, was serving as the store’s president.
In a Feb. 29, 1932 article, The Bee reported that Alpha Stores, Ltd. of Grass Valley and Nevada City purchased stock and fixtures, which were appraised at about $24,000, from Emigh Hardware.
In announcing the store’s then-new location, which opened on March 15, 1932, The Bee reported that the hardware firm was a $25,000 corporation with Albert, Colby and Margaret Emigh as incorporators.
The business maintained its existence through the Depression and World War II years, and with the later building boom in the suburbs, the company opened a new store at 3450 El Camino Ave. in the then-newly-developed Country Club Centre in 1952.
At the time of the new location’s opening, the 13th and J streets store was still in operation, yet would eventually close.
A 1957 Pacific Telephone directory advertised Emigh Hardware as a seven days per week, single location business offering “Everything in Hardware.”
The business’s inventory at the time included plumbing supplies, builders’ hardware, tools, paints and varnishes, home appliances, household goods, pipes, electrical, gardening and plumbing supplies, and even sporting goods and televisions.
‘Call Me Amy’
The 1960s is remembered as a very important decade for the business, if for nothing more than the creation of its memorable drawing of the company’s then-new representative, a cartoon character, known as “Amy.”
The drawing with its accompanying “Call Me Amy” saying served as a creative approach to teaching the community the correct pronunciation of the surname, Emigh.
A composite of an image produced by Colby and Jesma’s daughters, Carol and Mary, the overall-wearing, pigtailed character, with her hat, hammer and saw, remains a familiar sight in present day Emigh Hardware advertisements.
Under its then-new general manager and Colby’s son-in-law, Rich Lawrence, Emigh Hardware moved to its current, 35,000-square-foot location on El Camino Avenue, near the corner of Watt Avenue, in 1973.
The 1960s also marked the beginning of Emigh’s affiliation as an Ace Hardware Corp. store.
With its commitment to customer service and providing a wide selection of hardware items and other supplies, Emigh Hardware has continued to be an important local business.
And today, Emigh customers also have the convenience of shopping at Emigh’s Casual Living, a patio furnishing store, adjacent to the hardware store at 3535 El Camino Ave.
Lawrence, who has served as the company’s president since 1980, said that the hardware store is dedicated to providing the highest level of customer satisfaction.
“At Emigh Hardware, our customers are treated to extras they just can’t get elsewhere,” said Lawrence, whose wife Mary – the same Mary who helped create “Amy” – is the granddaughter of Clay Emigh. “Our store is staffed with over 75 knowledgeable employees, some of whom have been with the company for more than 20 years. They provide service that starts with a smile and doesn’t end until you find what you want and know how to use it.”