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Home Depot Makes Itself at Home

May 31, 2000|Steve Chawkins

HOME DEPOT TRIP #1: I bought a spring-loaded tension bar or, in terms you laypeople can understand, a shower rod. The old one kept falling down. Picking up a wet shower curtain all the time is a pain. Nobody should have to expend vital resources picking up a wet shower curtain.

HOME DEPOT TRIP #2: The new spring-loaded tension bar kept falling down. Approaching a gent in an orange apron at Home Depot, I learned I could keep it up by mounting each end in a specially designed plastic holder. Using a tube of bathtub caulk, I affixed the plastic holders to the tile walls.

HOME DEPOT TRIP #3: After forgoing a shower for 24 hours so the caulk could dry, I gingerly placed the spring-loaded tension bar in the plastic holders. Within five seconds, the holders fell down, along with the rod.

Sadly, I realized I would be forced to drill into the bathroom tile. Would I crack it? Would boiling water come jetting out of a ruptured line? An orange-aproned woman at Home Depot led me to a drill bit designed for tile. She told me the tile wouldn't crack if I kept it wet while drilling, as if I didn't know that.

HOME DEPOT TRIP #4: I couldn't screw in the plastic holders because I didn't have plastic sleeves for the screws. They're called anchors. I had left my two screws at home and didn't know their size so I bought about 50 anchors, just in case.

And that was that!

After driving 93 miles and spending nearly a month grappling with the problem, I had succeeded beyond my wildest dreams. The tectonic plate beneath my house can slide to Guam, but my shower rod is going nowhere. I could hang a side of beef from it. Sometimes I go into the bathroom just to check it out.

That's why I'm of mixed mind--two parts sand to one part cement--about the construction of a Home Depot big-box on every vacant lot in the U.S. that doesn't already have some other big-box.

On one hand, I enjoy wandering around in Home Depot. I think of it as the Museum of Things I Could Do If I Were the Kind of Man Who Could Do Things. Guys like me don't come nose to nose with air compressors too often. I never knew I could buy 17 kinds of grout, and a replacement latch for screen windows, and bolts that weigh more than a fifth-grader. Meandering through Home Depot, I figure I might build something, sometime, out of sawhorses and redwood planks.

On the other hand, is it necessary for every city in Ventura County to have its own Home Depot? Just how much grout do we need?

In Ventura County, a Home Depot blooms in Simi Valley. In Thousand Oaks, Home Depot has relocated into larger quarters. The company is eyeing land for a store in Camarillo--10 minutes from the store in Oxnard. The store in Oxnard is looking to move one mile to the vacant Esplanade mall. Five minutes up the 101, a Home Depot is planned for the defunct drive-in on Telephone Road near Main Street.

This amazing proliferation raises an obvious question: Is Home Depot a chain--or is it a herd, clustering in the cold suburban night for warmth and protection? Carol Schumacher, a spokeswoman for the Atlanta-based company, couldn't say how many Home Depots would be too many Home Depots. Last year, the company opened one every 53 hours. This year, it's been one every 48 hours. By 2003, there will be 1,900 Home Depots--twice as many as today.

Local hardware stores are understandably nervous when Home Depot sets up shop. But not to worry, says Home Depot's Schumacher:

"We don't drive the local stores out of business," she said. "When we come in, so many people realize they can do home projects themselves that it generates opportunities for everyone."

This dog-nurture-dog vision of retail doesn't impress Lynda Girtsman, owner of Steve's Plumbing Supply in Ventura. Instead, she cites the familiar charges about big-box stores: They sell cheaper than the locals--until the locals go belly-up. Their service is spotty. Suppliers give them breaks that smaller stores don't get.

"With the price of gas what it is, is it worth it to drive across town and save--what--20 cents?" she asks.

In Ventura, where officials drool over the prospect of Home Depot generating $500,000 a year in sales tax revenue, the planned store is bounded on two sides by apartments and condominiums. Do the folks who live there want the extra traffic, the extra pollution, the nightly din of big rigs unloading, even more than I want my grout supply five minutes closer? I don't think so.

A solution: Home Depot should shut its local stores, buy a few thousand acres, and open a store the size of a city. In fact, it could incorporate and call itself Home Depot City. Then it could pocket the sales tax, using a fraction to help customers who are emotionally overwhelmed by so much lumber, so many barbecues, so many spring-loaded tension bars, so much grout.

Home Depot is a fine store.

But not in my Home Depot's backyard.


Steve Chawkins can be reached at 653-7561 or at

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