Nuts, bolts and memories of an independent family business in Tampa

Lisa Jacobson is leaving the hardware business the family has run for nearly a half century.
Lisa Jacobson, whose family owns Bay to Bay Hardware and Pool Supplies, stands on the sales floor of the independent hardware store, which her family has run since 1972, on Monday, May 3, 2021, in Tampa. The business, one of the last independent hardware stores left in the area, is being leased to Ace Hardware.
Lisa Jacobson, whose family owns Bay to Bay Hardware and Pool Supplies, stands on the sales floor of the independent hardware store, which her family has run since 1972, on Monday, May 3, 2021, in Tampa. The business, one of the last independent hardware stores left in the area, is being leased to Ace Hardware. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published May 8, 2021|Updated May 8, 2021

Times Correspondent

Bay to Bay Hardware has been a fixture for fixtures, nuts, bolts and whatnot for South Tampa homeowners and repair people since 1947. So when Lisa Jacobson put up a “liquidation’' sale sign May 1 after nearly 50 years as a family business, worried customers flooded her with questions.

Jacobson said the store isn’t going anywhere. She is leasing it to an Ace Hardware franchisee. She will continue to run the separate Bay to Bay Pool Service, Inc.

She bought the store in 2013 from her father, Eric Jacobson, who had run it since 1972, at first with his brother Allan, who left the business early on. The patriarch died in 2015.

Lisa Jacobson, 44, talked with the Tampa Bay Times about the store she grew up in.

How are steady customers reacting?

Over the weekend, when I put the sign up, oh, word spread, and it was just a free-for-all on my phone: “What’s going on?” “What are you doing?” “Oh, my God, you had a good run, what happened?” “Are they still going to have glass?” “What’s going on with this?” “Are we still going to have pool service?’'

I mean, it was all weekend long. I was like, “We’re still going to be here. I put ‘Renovation/Liquidation’ (on the sign). We’re going to renovate. We’re coming back, just as Bay-to-Bay Ace Hardware.’'

… We still have glass and things like this that’s hard for people to find. We still carry the old breakers, and jalousie window cranks, things that for a lot of people in these old Florida homes, they still need. So he’s going to keep all those things... this was kind of what we were known for. You know, our nuts and bolts section. People don’t want to buy a huge box of nuts and bolts. They want a nuts and bolts section. Those things we’ll keep because they’re kind of unique to our store and people come in from all over to get them.

Customers don’t like changes, you say, as you found out after you bought the store.

I took over the store and I was in here one day cleaning, changing all the light fixtures to LEDs. And someone goes, “Aw, they must have sold the place. They’re cleaning it up.”

And I said, “No! It’s still the same owner. I’m just the daughter. I don’t want to work in filth.”

Why are you leaving the business?

What it needs, I don’t have the energy to give it right now because I have four children under 9 and I just, I want to be a mom. I want to be... present for them – although I love everyone here and that’s the part I’ll miss the most.

And I also have another company. I run the pool company, and we’ll move that to the back. … A separate door entrance and everything. I’ll run it out of there. And then my guys are in the field most of the time. We have four routes now, 350 pools in

South Tampa. And so I’ll run that and it gives me a little bit more flexibility than being here. I’m here Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in the mornings, doing payroll, books. But it’ll give me a little flexibility to go on vacation and actually decompress. When you own your own business, you’re always on. Always. And it’s real difficult for me to disconnect. So that’s one of the reasons.

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And I just want to see it be here for the community for the next 100 years. ... And so I think if it has someone else at the helm… that really wants to invest the time, the energy, the money that it needs, it’s going to be here for a long time.

Your dad was going to sell the store in 2013, and that’s how you ended up with it, you say.

I’m like, “You can’t sell it. I grew up in that store.’' ...

When my parents divorced I lived in the back. My dad built an apartment in the back when the renovation was done. This was my bedroom (she points to the room adjacent to her office). …

When I’d spend the night with dad, this is where we would spend the night. And it was about the time that Outback was open, so we would go to Outback for dinner because he wasn’t a cook. …

I’d go downstairs and stock the floor and sweep and tidy up, what little girls do, so when he said he was going to sell it I said, “You just can’t. You just can’t.’' And I really never dove into this side of the family business … I learned the pool business first because it was the thing I knew least about and needed a little more hands-on. So I started cleaning pools the first few weeks with one of my wonderful techs. And he taught me everything.

How did your dad survive the arrival of the Home Depot and Lowe’s big box stores, which killed many independent hardware stores?

How they survived it was adding pool supplies. They added the pool company in and then pool supplies, and the pool company was able to buy supplies through the store, and it kind of helped it keep on. It was probably the difference. We sold motors, pumps… And so it gave us the ability to stay here. If it wasn’t for that we would have closed many years ago.

What do you like about the business?

I love the interaction with the customers. I mean that’s really, to me, the bread and butter of the business, is just being active with the community.

What are the challenges?

The challenge is finding good help. It’s extremely difficult to find anyone to work. … I have an ad running right now for a pool tech, and I usually get 10 to 12 a day looking for work. I haven’t gotten any, and it’s been over a week.

What do you think is going on? Is it because of the boost in unemployment compensation as part of the current stimulus package?

The stimulus, I think. I think it’s a little better to stay home than to go to work. … I’m sad for the people that … need it. There are definitely people out there that have a challenge finding a job. But for us small businesses to be able to find people to work… we’ve never seen it like this before.