"From the Desert to the Sea, to All of Southern California." - Jerry Dunphy

Search This Blog

Monday, June 2, 2008

Builders Emporium


I will never forget the night our father died. It was 1964 and The Beatles were making another appearance on Ed Sullivan's Show. We stayed up to watch the Beatlemania and then had to go to bed for school the next morning. As always, I went into my room and turned on my radio to go to sleep to the sounds of 93 KHJ and Boss Radio. My father was working his second job, trying to keep ahead of the bill collectors, at Shakeys Pizza. Before too long our house was full of relatives and I was told that my father had a massive heart attack and died at the Pizza Parlour. Life changed. My mother was a housewife with 4 children. No money to speak of. With the help of her mother, we stayed afloat. My mother did home shows selling fashions and detergent. A few other odd jobs came and went. It was a struggle, looking back, I never really gave her the kind of credit she deserved.

One day she was listening to talk radio and heard about the West Valley Occupational Center and how they can help train people to work in different fields. My mom actually called the radio station and got on the air as she asked how the school worked. She enrolled and learned how to be a retail cashier. She worked hard and got a job in different retail establishments such as Two Guys, Fedmart, Unimart and finally Builder Emporium. At BE, she started as a cashier and worked her way up to head cashier, regional training cashier and executive assistant. I grew up around some legends of the retail world in Southern California, and was always in awe of her work ethic and ability to work with some smart, tough Vice Presidents.

When I reached working age, after a short stint at Butler Brothers Department Store in Van Nuys. she talked me into coming to work in the receiving dock at BE 617 in Tarzana. I lasted two days. How dare they put me to work pricing cheap tools and burying me in the depths of made in Taiwan boxes. After all I was a manger in the Sporting Goods Dept. at Butlers! So back to Butlers I went.

But the money wasn't good, and I had just graduated from High School. I enrolled at the Devry Institute of Technology in Phoenix and ran off to trade school. That lasted one semester. I wanted to be a Disc Jockey on radio (Boss Jock was my preference) and they promised they would teach me how to do that. Once I got there, I found out that I had to go through a ton of theory classes and maybe by my Senior year I could work in the campus radio station. So it was back to Southern Calif, and plan B.

Once again my mother brought me back to BE, this time in Reseda. Store 618 was a smaller store that my mother had worked at on and off. She eventually went to store 601 in Van Nuys which was the mother ship of BE stores. In Reseda, I was hired as a part time Hardware (Dept. 13), Tools (Dept. 52) and Automotive (Dept 01). I learned a lot about the products I was working with and eventually got Full Time in the same Department.

The cast of Characters (and I mean Characters) was something right out of a sitcom. A dysfunctional family of people that I will never forget. From Don in Electrical, to Sandy in Housewares, to Ben and Carey in Paint, to Eddie in Lumber, to Steve and Ross in Hardware, to John in receiving, Chris in Seasonal, Tim in Garden and a variety of Part Timers working their way up the ranks. The stories were numerous. All hilarious, some terrifying (hot bacon grease down the back of mean boyfriends T-shirt), and all very memorable. I hope in future blogs (with some friends help) i can give you a taste of a time in my life that was very special. BE 618 was great experience, and i can thank my Mom for getting me the start. Like most things she did for me, she knew i would resist. Either getting a job with her company, getting me involved with Van Nuys Demolay, playing music with the family band, she knew it would help me.....and it did.

From BE 618, I was promoted to Store Manager of BE 612 in Thousand Oaks and then moved to BE 625 in Granada Hills were I met my future wife. It was a very hard day when I left BE after 9 years. It was even tougher telling my mom. She was proud of what I had accomplished in a short time.

I got the chance to go back to Broadcasting School and became a DJ. And now 25 years later I find myself back in the management role for a large Broadcasting Company. The times and lessons I learned early on in retail at BE are still with me today. Thanks to the start I got from Mom and all the terrific people along the way. I am hoping that this blog will find its way to some of those people that meant so much to me. I miss them all, and hope all their dreams have come true.

About a week before my Mom passed away, she called me and told me that BE had finally decided to call it quits. The Stores were closing and would liquidate quickly. That was a sad day for her and I as we found BE as one of many common grounds of our lives. They are all gone now. BE 618 was destroyed by fire and rebuilt as a Korean Grocery store on the corner of White Oak and Sherman Way. BE 612in Thousand Oaks is a Office Depot and BE 625 in Granada Hills is a Pep Boys.

More fun times at BE..coming....i hope you join in!

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

Just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your blog! I lived there for about 16 years and your posts are bringing back such great memories for me. Keep them coming!!

Todd S. said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I worked at Builders Emporium in Rancho Cucamonga (store 563 I think it was) for 4 years and I'd say it was probably the most enjoyable job I ever had. The pay wasn't the greatest of course but the people I worked with were memorable and that's what I miss the most about the place. Your sit-com analogy fits our store to a T as well and we had our own unique cast of characters. I was working there when the chain shut it's doors back in 1993 and I was really sad to see the place go.

radio rat said...

Thanks for the comment Todd. i wasnt there when they closed the doors, but it must have been pretty sad leaving there for the last time...i hope others will throw thier experiences in the blog. BE was very special...

Anonymous said...

Hi I just found your blog out of the blue! When I was in elementary school, I remember going to BE in Reseda. Do you have any photos of the inside of the store? The sad thing was I remember liking to go there cause it wasn't my home. : (
Everyone seemed so nice.

Great blog.

radio rat said...

i wish we did have pictures from inside the store. i still think about it a lot..in fact i had a dream about working there again just the other night. i hope some other former employess will come forward and send in pictures. thanks for your comment...it was a special place

Todd S. said...

I have two photos of the exterior of the store I worked at in Rancho Cucamonga. It was just before the store closed for good so the front of the place is sporting the giant "GOING OUT OF BUSINESS" banner across the front. I'll gladly scan them and share them if anyone wants to see them.

Also, you can see the inside of a Builders Emporium in the movie Bill & Ted's Bogus Journey. They say in the movie that the store is in San Dimas but there never was a Builders Emporium in that city so I’m not sure which location they used.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the fond BE memories. My very first job was at the Builders Emporium on Laurel Canyon In North Hollywood( I think it was store 649). For a sixteen year old, it was quite an eye-opening experience of how the real world operated. I made a lot of good friends there and always remember the good times(christmas tree lot season in the front of the store) and not-so good ones ( the first delivery of steer manure in the spring time)

You are also right about the cast of characters at the store. They were interesting, but in hindsight , that is what made them endearing . I think that it is true. You will always have better paying, more challenging jobs, but you always remember your first one.

I can't complain about the place too much either, since that's where I met the girl that became my wife years later.

Thanks again for the pleasant memories.

Anonymous said...

What a great blog! And does it bring back memories. I started at BE in 1977 in store 626 (San Bernardino). I can still remember many of the staff from back then. A few strange ones. I spent a year in Vince (635), another year in Sepulveda (661), Upland (619) and was a Store Manager in Sunnymead (645). I stayed until the very end in December of 1992. What a ride that was!

Great Gab said...

I worked at BE 618 in the late 80's after finishing high school. I'll look for pictures - I remember zooming down the big metal slides next to the stairs and hanging out at the lumber desk.

Michael said...

I worked at Builders Emporiun after graduating from Chatsworth High School in 1970 before I started at UCLA. We were getting the store ready before opening. I believe it was store #625. It was very big. The manager was Mr. Langford.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your memories. I was part of a BE family. My mother worked at Van Nuys (601)from the early 60s to 80s, My sister and her husband metworking at Granada Hills(625), My brother worked at Reseda(618) and I worked at a bunch of stores Granada Hills(625) Upland (619), Costa Mesa(628 I think), Corona, Westminister and little bits at other stores when needed. I remember the early 60s when at 601 during Gay 90s days the cashiers would dress up, the salesmen would have a moustache growing contest and it was like a family. My mother still is in contact with friends whe made there. OK, trivia time, the phone number ofr Van Nuys was State 5-8601, that is how they got the store number 601.

Zenith said...

I worked at BE 609 Fullerton. It was my very first job out of high school. I worked there until the store closed on ar about 1989. Home Depot had opened their first Orange County store about 1/4 mile away a year earlier. I then transferred to BE 611 Orange. The store was located on the coner of Tustin at Katella. I worked at that store until the chain went out of business in November of 1994I will alway look back with fond memories of my time spent at BE.

Guitar Rat said...

Thank you everyone for your comments and memories. I have been neglectful in addressing them. I will make sure Radio Rat knows about them. I wonder if anyone has a Facebook page for past employees?

radio/baseballrat said...

wow..it is great to hear from these folks...it was a great time. thanks everyone...lets keep it going

MrPhil said...

Yes, really great memories! worked at (512) Burbank for many years. loved the garden and warehouse departments. miss my old "family". It was my first job, and i stayed to the very end.

Laura said...

I was a part of the Builder's Emporium family. When they closed my store in Riverside, I was transferred to the corporate office to become a member of the Pop Larsen Crew. I was the only female Pop Larsen and was affectionately dubbed "Pop-ette".
Thank you for the memories in your blog.

Todd said...

I just wanted you guys to know that I started a group for former Builders Emporium employees over on Facebook. I just created it a few minutes ago so there isn't much there yet but check it out. If you type "Builders Emporium" into the Facebook search box, my group is currently the first thing that pops up (it features a photo of the store I worked at in Rancho Cucamonga with a "Going Out of Business" banner under the sign).

Guitar Rat said...

Thanks Todd we will check it out. A lot of people are on Facebook so maybe more old friends will get in touch

Anonymous said...

Bucky Beaver!! I worked @ the Van Nuys flagship @ Oxnard @ Sepulveda in the 1970's. It was a good job, till I fell off a ladder & almost killed myself. BE fought my claim, hired hell's attorneys to defend them, although they had 5 workplace safety violations. Vornado owned it then I think....it was a fun store especially when they got a liquor section & I could buy a case of Annie Green Springs to sip suring the day @ Birmingham High School!!!

Anonymous said...

I started out in 1970 working in the Thousand Oaks B.E. The manager was Lou Knocke. (probably mispelled that one!) Somewhere along the line I ended up in the Van Nuys store and stayed there for around 5 years. I left in 1976. Great memories. I don't remember many of the names anymore. There was Renee the cashier. Todd who I worked with in Lumber. I can clearly remember the faces but the names have been lost over time. Charlie

Anonymous said...

Hi, nice writing about one puzzle piece of wonder that was my childhood! I guess I can call myself a VN Boomer.
My intro to Builders, as we called it (I forgot about that chipmunk mascot!), was the old configuration when the storefront faced the adjacent neighborhood connected by the Halbrent entrance. I used to ride my girly pink stingray in the parking lot. My dad would send me on errands to "pick up a pound of 5 gauge nails," eg, dug out from those smelly pot-metal bins, then wrapped up in brown paper bags, among other neato privileged errands. Sometimes he'd call ahead, to have them help me when I got there.
The consensus was that BE lost its luster once it was remodeled to face Sepulveda, expanded and got real corporate. Selfishly, I was unhappy when the easy Halbrent entrance was sealed off — my parking lot bicycle riding sprees were over. But the sight and smell of hardware, and my dad's sage tutelage — not to mention BE guys really knew their stuff — absolutely helped forge my DIY brain. I'm fearless with any project and surprise MANY experts. Yes, gone are the days of hardware guys that know stuff and seemed to really care to problem-solve when you wanted to embark on a project. The original BE symbolizes the extinction of a real service and expertise based retail store, and has missed ever since. Always loved seeing those arial black-and-white pics from the 50s, surrounded by patches of new housing and bean fields.

John S. said...

From John S.

I was an Assistant Store manager at BE in Ontario,Ca at Store 565 on Mountain Ave before BE closed. I worked for BE for 4 years including 1 year in Tustin. I wish I was still in contact with some of the employees from that time. Had good times - miss them all...

Dave G said...

I grew up going to theNorth Hollywood store for many years and was always happy with the prices, products and the expert advice the employees would give the customers. But alas as time went by the place slowly went downhill. The prices went up, the products came from China and most of the staff didn't speak English and those who did were very rude. I stopped shopping there. Then one morning I was having breakfast with a bunch of my buddies and one had brought along a fellow I had met before who was from out of town. As we spoke he began to cry. He told us when we askedwhat we as wrong he explain ed that his family owned the chain of BE's and he was in town to close the last of the stores due to lack of business. I didn't tell him that allowing the stores to change the way they did is why they lost so many customers because I did feel sorry for him but I learned a valuable lesson which has stayed with me since that day. Take care of your customers and they will take care of you. I sure do miss those stores from the old days.