Downtown’s nuts and bolts
On a Thursday night in 1956, a young Syl Lucena graduated from high school. On the following Monday morning, he began his first day of work at Collier Hardware, inside one of the oldest buildings in Chico, on the corner of Broadway and First streets. More than six decades later, Lucena can still be found there. He’s the nuts and bolts of the establishment that has supplied nuts and bolts to generations of Chicoans. As the sole owner of Collier since 1971 and of the building itself since 1983, Lucena runs the business along with his three sons. Constructed in 1871, the two-story building has served mostly as a hardware store, briefly as a post office and as a meeting place for local Masons and Odd Fellows. On Saturday (April 8), Lucena will give a lecture on the history of the building at the Chico Museum, from 10-11 a.m. For more information, visit www.chicomuseum.org.
What was it like working here back in the day?
Actually, you know, it’s amazing. The interaction is somewhat still the same today. People need nails, they need bolts—you have to know what size they are. We did the same thing back then that we do today. We sell one screw, two screws, one bolt, 10 bolts.
How has the store survived so long?
We’ve been lucky. It’s always been oriented around service, so we’ve been able to survive all the big-box stores and all the problems [with]—welcome to today—online shopping. It’s more competitive than the big-box stores. And online shopping is also a competitor of the big-box stores, so, what the heck, they’re fighting with themselves.
Was the culture of service always part of working at Collier?
You always have to have something that’s a little bit different than the other stores. So, service is where you’re going to win out because a big store can’t do that. They won’t do that.
In your time working here, how has downtown changed?
Drastically. If you go back when I first started and into the ’50s and ’60s, downtown was basically a retail hub. There were no malls. So in downtown you had drug stores, department stores. As a matter of fact, we were talking about this the other day, in 1956, there were five men’s stores downtown. There’s one today. It has swung from a lot of retail to services, which means restaurants and bars. There’s some nice stores left in retail, but in 1956, there was one, two, three hardware stores downtown. Today? One.
What are your hopes for the future of Collier?
To continue. I’ve got three boys—Marc, Steve and Matt—they’re running it, doing it, doing a great job. So, I’d love to see it continue. Not sure it will, for how long, but it should. The future is unknown. But I’d love to see downtown and the store continue to prosper.