Some of us realized during the stay-at-home lockdowns the real reason why we can’t croon any DIY home improvement theme songs or figure out which end is up on a hammer. It’s not because we’re too busy volunteering for charities or trapped at the office or marching for world peace. It’s because WE LOATHE, and want nothing to do with, DIY home improvement projects.
But for others, sheltering-in-place during the pandemic was heavenly, and hardware stores, household reuse/recovery warehouses and tool-lending libraries were meccas. Haunting the aisles or communicating online, handypersons waxed euphoric over hammers, nails, electric drills, hot glue guns, air compressors, light fixtures, paint, doors, windows, lumber, toilets, sinks, fencing and oodles more. Project-minded people exchanged tips and links for binge-watching How To videos on YouTube and shared cell phone pictures of garbage disposals replaced, walls painted, entire rooms torn up and rebuilt from scratch, fireplaces and chimneys added, backyards converted to outdoor living spaces and garages transformed into ADA-compliant accessory dwelling units.
So, for this unique category of handy folks, who likely have DIY tunes to croon and are stoked with relentless passion for perfecting untouched home spaces, we’ve selected a few favorite East Bay spots to visit. And don’t worry, if your favorite shop or lending library isn’t included here, we know we’ll hear from you. Just don’t expect us to whistle along or join the action: we’re just too busy.
Pagano’s Hardware’s two locations in Alameda have history dating back to their origins in 1950. Original owner Andy Pagano turned over the family operation in 1994 to Dave Giovannoli and Tom Tognetti, who’ve carried on the grand tradition of supplying islanders with a cornucopia of basic home improvement delights: plumbing widgets, drawer pulls, lightbulbs, power tools, paint and more. Grab cleaners, tea pots, storage bins and a Big Green Egg barbecue while you’re there. Want a bird feeder and some flowering plants to attract bees? This is the place. The staff is brighter than the highest-watt bulb they sell, and remember: hardware during Covid-19 is ESSENTIAL, although their free popcorn is not, so it’s strictly BYO when it comes to snacks.
If a jaunt to Alameda isn’t in the cards, locally owned Markus Supply Ace Hardware near Jack London Square in Oakland and longtime favorite Ellis Ace Hardware on Martin Luther King Jr. Way in North Oakland are solid seconds. In addition to supplies, the shops offer services like glass cutting, paint matching and rescreening.
markussupply.com and acehardware.com/store-details/02015
While a true hardware-shopper’s heart is hardwired to go pitter-patter in the aisles of any of these stores, the altruistic home improvement junkie demands more. For those folks, Urban Ore in Berkeley is a prime spot; even getting there will help save the planet from climate change. Ride your bike on the new Bay trails or take BART and hike down Ashby to reach the Ecopark store just off Highway 80 where rescued/recyclable/salvaged goods can be donated or bought. The retail store is zero-waste and carries reusable cabinets, hardware, lighting, furniture, doors, wood, tile, stone, bathtubs, sinks and toilets … but also clothing, art supplies, jewelry, vintage cookware, gift items and other repurposed, still-in-great-condition goods. If a home is “vintage”—read old and incompatible with any items made after 1924—it’s likely Urban Ore will provide the perfect medicine cabinet, hanging lamp, window sash or clawfoot bathtub. urbanore.com
Let’s say you have all the stuff, then realize the budget’s blown and the right tool is not in that junk drawer where you could swear you put it just last week. Do not despair! The Oakland and Berkeley Public Libraries have basic tool-lending libraries. Oakland Tool Lending Library is located in the basement of the Temescal Branch Library and carries over 5,000 tools. The free service is available to Oakland, Emeryville and Piedmont residents and property owners. Berkeley residents or property owners over age 18 may borrow tools from the location from the Tool Lending Library at Russell Street and MLK. A similarly long list of tools is available, with recent additions, to repair bikes, smartphones and tablets. Be sure to visit the websites for both lending libraries, as borrowing guidelines and proof of residency documentation are diligently enforced.