CASTRO VALLEY -- Back when Pete's Hardware first opened in 1926, the store had a different type of customer.

It was agricultural country, a land of orchards and poultry farms, and Hungarian immigrant Pete Selmeczki and his wife, Mary, sold brooder stoves, chicken wire, kerosene heaters and the like to a budding community.

And it was also during Prohibition.

"Bootleggers were good customers, as they bought in large quantity," wrote the late Ernie Selmeczki, the founder's son, in a pamphlet produced for the store's 75th anniversary in 2001. "Kuehn's Market would sell truckloads of sugar. Orin Crowe sold his share of mash and Pete's Hardware sold gallon jugs by the gross."

These days Ernie's daughter, Linda Roark, runs the show with her husband, Jeff. Pete's has changed with the times and now has a little bit of everything, and those little bits add up to a lot of shelf space. The store's retail section has displaced what used to be a storeroom, and the most recent addition -- a garden center -- creeps around the outside of the building.

"Since we took over the store, we have been listening to what the customers want us to carry," Linda Roark said, who added that her son, Jason, is "taking it to the fourth generation."

The shop is being honored by the Hayward Area Historical Society at an awards ceremony on Friday. While it is receiving the society's historic business award, the shop's founder is also known for being one of the early facilitators of Castro Valley's growth.


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He was instrumental in bringing water and sewer pipelines to the area, as well as helping form the first volunteer fire department.

Selmeczki and his brother, Frank, took over the business when they returned from the European theater following World War II. Pete went into semiretirement and died in 1952 while on a fishing trip at age 69.

"Selmeczki apparently died peacefully," reads the Daily Review article. "He was found sitting beside the San Joaquin River with a fishing pole still clasped in his hand."

Linda Roark said that contrary to popular opinion, there's been an increase in demand for small hardware stores. She said that Pete's saw growth this past year after a downturn during the recession, when construction projects withered and people went without home improvements. And while the big-box hardware stores certainly dealt the mom-and-pops a blow, Jeff Roark said consumers have come to appreciate what a smaller retailer has to offer.

"There is a great value in service," he said. "A lot of people want someone to explain how to use a product -- you won't find that at the big stores."

He said despite the changing times, they still stock a lot of those staples from chicken farming days but are no longer in the distillery supply business. "We don't have the moonshine jugs any more," he said. "People can just go to BevMo."

Contact Eric Kurhi at 510-293-2473. Follow him at Twitter.com/erickurhi.

Read his blog at IBAbuzz.com/hayword.

HISTORY AWARDS
What: Hayward Area Historical Society's annual history awards
When: 5:30 p.m. Friday, April 20
Where: Stonebrae Country Club, 27900 Fairview Ave., Hayward
Cost: $65 for society members, $75 for nonmembers
Information: www.haywardarea
history.org or call 510-581-0223
Other award winners: They include Randy Wittorp for his work to restore his Tudor home on Prospect Hill in Hayward, the Hayward Municipal Band for years of summer concerts and other events, Hayward High teacher Peggy Hearne for her history-rich curriculum, Robert and Erica Campisi for their work to improve Cherryland and Meek Park, and Supervisor Nate Miley for his leadership in preservation efforts at the San Lorenzo Pioneer Cemetery.