Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Ariel Rivera, left, and Dennis Smith, owner of GBS Hardware, hold up a mosaic made by autistic students in the Madera High School social skills class. Smith donated some supplies and they created the artwork in thanks.
In the corner of the office in the back of the store rests a white mosaic tile.
It’s too big and heavy to hang on the wall. The GBS Hardware name and symbol is laid in blue and red against the white background.
It looks expertly crafted, but it was made by amateurs and is the heartbeat of the store.
Dennis Smith, owner of GBS Hardware at 1808 Howard Street, smiles at the tile as he moves from his chair in the opposite corner and picks up the cardboard tri-fold display board behind it. He unfolds the board and reveals a red interior with a dozen photos of autistic teenagers from Madera High School crafting the tile.
“We donated tools for their social skills class,” Smith remembers, hands shaking slightly and pride in his voice as he shows off the photos. “And look what they did for us.”
Smith has been a part-owner of GBS Hardware since 1995, when he bought into the store with his father, who still owns part of it. His father had purchased the store with partners in the 1970s.
GBS Hardware used to be known as General Builders Supply, a name that goes back to its beginning in 1950. Smith says the original name was misleading to customers, thus the change to GBS Hardware.
“We’re more of a general hardware store,” Smith said. “We’re not so much ‘remodel your whole kitchen,’ but more if you have a leaky faucet or need to change a light fixture.”
Ariel Rivera, 28, has been the manager of the store for 10 years. He focuses less on what’s in the store and more on who is.
“It’s not about the sale here,” Rivera said. “It’s about the customer.”
That is a consensus between Rivera and Smith, as well as the other employees of GBS Hardware. And it’s something that shows in the way the store is set up and the friendly atmosphere.
David Macieo, 21, works in the front of the store as a sales associate, greeting people who come in. He can be seen walking the aisles of the store helping customers as they go through the racks of rat traps, wood sheets and brooms.
Macieo talks about GBS Hardware being “just as good” as other hardware stores in the area. The store may not be as large or set up in the same grid as the chain stores, but it has the same capabilities for inventory — Macieo says if they don’t have it, they can get it — and products at competitive prices. This observation from Macieo aligns with Smith’s belief in “doing the right thing for the customer.”
Smith knows that there are many other hardware stores around, but believes that his has something unique to offer. He comments that his store does its shopping locally — everything from buying the company truck to making sure the building is insured goes through local business that have been around for as long as the store. If his employees need anything, they are encouraged to get it from a local store.
“We encourage people to shop local and we do it too,” Smith said. “We strive to be an asset to the community. Because if you’re not an asset then you’re a burden.”
Staff members at GBS Hardware all have stories about meeting people as customers and getting to know them to the point where they become friends outside of the store. Rivera talks about this occurrence fondly.
“Some of them have my cell phone number,” Rivera laughs. “They text me about things like friends and I’ll text them back for a bit and then be like ‘OK guys, let’s talk about work.’”
Even though it is challenging with the competition in the area, for Smith, it’s important that his store contributes to the community. Store employees help with school events and have donated materials to the robotics team. But when asked for a specific endeavor that makes him most proud of the store, his gaze goes back to the mosaic tile in the corner.
“That’s really what this is about.”
Lauren Mueller is a student in Gary Rice’s community journalism class at California State University, Fresno.