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HOLMBERG: Demise of Pleasants Hardware store different than fall of Thalhimers and Miller and Rhoads

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RICHMOND, Va. -- When you think about iconic Richmond businesses, you may mention Miller and Rhoads,  Thalhimers, Ukrops and, of course, Pleasants Hardware on West Broad Street.

Now, it appears, Pleasants' anchor store will join the other three on the list of storied Richmond institutions of the past.

Sometime in the spring, the midtown Pleasants is scheduled to come down to make way for a new Whole Foods grocery, an official said.

The store is slated to close in late February. Then comes the inventory sell-off, followed by demolition.

Pleasants Hardware

Pleasants Hardware

I sat down and chatted on New Year's Day with a key official of the local company that owns Pleasants to get the story.

This is, at its core, a real estate deal, said Mark Sauer, executive vice president of the global food products firm, CF Sauer Company.

But first some history.

Pleasants was owned and run by James T. Hatcher and his descendants. It's famously customer friendly with absolutely varied and obscure inventory, a must for those with historic structures. You find stuff there you wouldn't find at big-box stores, which is partly why the firm built a chain of eight stores.

It began in 1915 at 1607 W. Broad Street, a historic building that stands today.

Pleasants Hardware  original location

Pleasants Hardware original location

The business moved 60 years later to a new, not-so-historic building, its present home that has since been modified and expanded.

CF Sauer, an even older Richmond institution, bought Pleasants in 1989.

Real estate was a big deal to C.F. Sauer III, recalled his son, Mark Sauer. He worked to expand the firm's contiguous holdings in that area, and it worked.

They own the whole block-plus, including an old state building and what was once the largest shoe factory in the United States before the Civil War.

When they bought Pleasants, "We weren't going into the hardware business," Mark Sauer said. "It was a real estate deal."

Pleasants Hardware

Pleasants Hardware

The Hatchers ran the businesses almost completely independent of Sauers, he added.

Then came Richmond's bloody season in the '90s. Crack cocaine-fueled violence led to white and black flight and the demise of Richmond's signature downtown stores.

But midtown Richmond, like downtown and much of the rest of the city, has new vitality. People and businesses are moving back in.

The real estate deal planted in 1989 by C.F. Sauer III has ripened.

The plan is for Whole Foods to be the "centerpiece" of this long block that will become Sauer's Center, Mark Sauer said.

The other stores in the Pleasants chain are up for sale and a potential buyer is very much like the Hatcher family, he said.

Roughly 100 employees working at the midtown Pleasants will lose their jobs, The Richmond Times-Dispatch is reporting. Severance packages based on tenure will be given, the paper said.

This is a milestone shift for Richmond, without question.

Softening the blow somewhat for me is the fact that the midtown Pleasants, unlike Miller & Rhoads and Thalhimers, doesn't have a historic architectural legacy.

And it isn't being killed by the fear and loathing of downtown that choked out the department stores, but a rush of new residents and life in a city that is, increasingly, known for being a great place to be.