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Downtown Sausalito in the 1950s - Part II

by Annie Sutter


Marin Hardware and the Purity Market


The following stories are taken from the book  Saucelito/$au$alito by George Hoffman. The Purity Market today is the site of a shopping center called "The Old Purity Market Shops," and the Marin Hardware store was located next to it.



One outstanding business establishment in Sausalito was the Marin Hardware Store. It was a half block down Bridgeway from Jan's on the water side of the street. The hardware store was narrow and dark, with an aisle from the door straight back to the counter fifty feet inside. It was not an easy aisle to walk in, because of the stock cluttering the floor. Mr. Loudon, the owner, took great pride in this stock and deserved his county wide reputation: "If Loudon doesn't have it, forget it." But storing such a vast amount of material made problems, especially for a small space and a man who had no talent for order. The counters were piled high and precarious with the latest shipment dumped on top. It didn't matter what the box contained. But despite the hodge-podge arrangement the store was a miracle of supply and clerks could always locate a request. It took a little time, but the surprise of finding the item was worth something. And it provided time for a chat.

Mr. Loudon was a huge man, always with a cheerful smile, his head nodding in agreement. His philosophy was simple: satisfy a customer, if there's any profit so much the better. He did an awful lot of business, but not much profit showed on the books. This was mainly due to the number of broken, stepped on, lost or misplaced items. This didn't bother him. His world was hardware, lots of it, and having it available. Pyrex and other glass items were stored upstairs in a room with no shelves. A hundred or more boxes of various items were strewn on the floor, some spilling their contents, making it an acrobatic trick to walk without stepping on glass.

Back of the store was an area that reached to the water's edge. This wasn't wasted space. It was covered with enough material to prefabricate a dam. Thousands of red clay garden pots, wheel barrows, bales of peat, moss and manure, buckets, fencing, screen, cloth, baling wire and other items were stored back there. There was an old garden swing facing the bay where clerks from other stores often sat to eat their lunch. It was a sunny and quiet refuge, except for the seagulls who knew that scraps of bread came from people sitting there.



Next to the hardware store was the Purity Market. This was the only general grocery store in town. Located in a huge, oval topped, corrugated metal quonset building, it had a parking lot next door. The Purity store was well liked. Although it was one of a huge chain of stores, it had a homey feeling to it. It was not large, all the clerks were local, the manager was a native of Sausalito, the butchers knew everybody and all customers knew each other. It was a very important business establishment, and although they had a monopoly in town the prices weren't high because the manager wouldn't be a part of it. The policy at Sausalito Purity was dictated by the manager mainly, and not by a hard and fast rule from Chicago. This was one store where it was safe to say that everybody shopped. The floor was like an old school room; heavily oiled, dark, worn in places and squeaky. The butcher counter was near the entrance so there was always a trickle of sawdust where you entered, and tracks leading further in. A favorite drinking fountain dispensed icy water that came through pipes within the heavily walled refrigerated meat storage room. Stepping into the store, you were immediately greeted by a friend; customer or clerk. Dotty, one of the veteran clerks, was one of those people who wore a perpetual smile that had a different expression for different people. She was as cheerful as daisies and dependable as gravity. Scotty, the manager, was a large man with thick, black hair that he constantly brushed back from his face. He always seemed to rise up from behind a display counter nearby when you wanted him.

What would be classified as a phenomenon today, was the manner in which the parking lot next to the store was operated. It was not policed, lined off, or attended in any way. Residents used the lot at will, but no one abused it. It's doubtful if ever a fender was bumped or a door scratched. It held only twenty cars, but it served a thousand a day. The consideration for each other was unwritten and infectious. On Saturdays the shoppers hurried through, always with an eye on the parking lot to see if anybody was waiting to get in. No one waited long.


The Purity Market in 1941



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