I saw a photo of an old Coast to Coast hardware store damaged in a tornado recently. That got me wondering what happened to Coast to Coast, and what was the Coast to Coast Hardware Stores history?
I remember the town I lived in when I was in kindergarten had a tiny number of stores. It had a Radio Shack, a Dairy Queen, one of the first Wal-Mart stores, a P.N. Hirsch, and a Coast to Coast. And there wasn’t much else. I recall the distinctive typeface that resembled wrenches and nuts. That sign was a fixture in small towns throughout Missouri, and much of the midwest.
For people over the age of about 40 who grew up in the heartland, when they think of an old-fashioned hardware store, an old Coast to Coast store is probably what comes to their mind. I remember jumping into Dad’s powder blue 1976 Dodge pickup truck and riding to Coast to Coast to get hardware for his weekend projects. In that town, a trip to Coast to Coast might be the most exciting thing that happened that day.
Minneapolis-based Coast to Coast was, in spite of its name, primarily a midwestern chain. Three brothers, Arthur, Maurice, and Louis Melamed, founded the chain in 1928. It boomed after World War II, and at its peak, it had 1,200 stores in 26 states. Coast to Coast made it as far east as Ohio and as far west as California.
What made Coast to Coast unique was standardization. The stores had a planned layout, 12 departments, inventory determined by the central office, and a limited number of brands to improve turnover. It was a franchise, but it behaved like a chain.
The Melameds retired in 1962 and sold the company to an investment house. But without the Melameds, Coast to Coast lost loyalty. Other wholesalers could undercut Coast to Coast’s prices, and that meant other stores could offer lower prices. When the competition was bigger and had better prices, consumers weren’t as loyal to the store. Dealers didn’t stay as loyal either.
In 1983, Coast to Coast started opening large home improvement stores, precursors to the large big-box home improvement centers of today. Modern chains like Lowe’s and Home Depot weren’t on the radar. St. Louis-based Central Hardware was of more immediate concern. But Coast to Coast’s transition wasn’t successful. By 1990, Coast to Coast had lost 200 of 1,000 stores and was in bankruptcy.
In July 1990, Servistar, of Butler, PA, purchased Coast to Coast for $25 million. The combined company operated stores under both names, and the combined company’s revenues grew. But the threat of larger competitors still loomed, and by the mid 1990s, it was searching for another merger partner.
Servistar Coast to Coast and Cotter & Company independently came to the same conclusion, that merging with one another was each company’s best option going forward. In July 1997, Servistar Coast to Coast merged with Cotter & Company, the parent company of True Value. That spelled the end of the Coast to Coast brand, as the combined company rebranded its stores under the True Value name. Some old former Coast to Coast locations still have their old signage, but officially, they are all True Value stores today.
There is no book specifically about Coast to Coast, but Bob Vereen’s book Surviving In Spite of Everything: A Postwar history of the Hardware Industry dedicates a lot of space to Coast to Coast, its rise and fall and what other companies had to do to compete with it.