Supply shortages, huge customer crowds overwhelm San Francisco’s hardware stores

Castro, Cole Valley, Polk

<p>Employee Avinia and customer Jeremiah use a tape measure to keep a six-foot distance at Cole Hardware. | Photo: Cole Hardware/<a href="https://twitter.com/colehardware/status/1247960194954309632" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Twitter" class="link rapid-noclick-resp">Twitter</a></p>

Employee Avinia and customer Jeremiah use a tape measure to keep a six-foot distance at Cole Hardware. | Photo: Cole Hardware/Twitter

Hardware stores have been in a unique position since the city implemented shelter-in-place two months ago. 

Despite their years as the city’s main retailers of protective gear and cleaning supplies, procuring those items has suddenly become what Cole Hardware owner Rick Karp describes as “the Wild West.”

At the same time, they’ve been overrun with customers — some hunting for essentials like goggles, gloves and N95 masks, others looking to use the time at home to complete big renovation projects. 

Meanwhile, owners are left in the middle: trying to manage crowds, keep employees safe, and maintain dwindling stocks of suddenly impossible-to-procure items. 

Terry Asten Bennett, general manager of the Castro’s Cliff’s Variety, said she and her staff get “cussed out” daily when trying to manage crowds entering the store. While most customers are respectful, all it takes is one person to bring everyone down, she said. 

“The pressure with the conditions we are working under right now is exhausting,” she said. “And we are all wearing masks — so you don’t

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