When Marilyn Monroe walked into his store, C. B. Jourden did not blink.
“I hate to tell this story on myself, but she wasn’t dressed up the way she was in the pictures, so I didn’t recognize her,” he said.
It was only after checking her driver’s license that he realized who was on the other side of the counter, said Jourden, whose store, Pioneer Hardware on North Beverly Drive, was a purveyor of nuts, bolts and light bulbs to the stars.
It closed its doors two weeks ago. By Jourden’s account, confirmed by other long-time merchants, Pioneer was the oldest family owned business in Beverly Hills.
With a star-studded client list that included Fred Astaire, Barbra Streisand and hundreds of other notables, Pioneer offered charge accounts, delivery service and higher prices than other stores.
“That’s the way they live,” Jourden said of his well-heeled clientele. “When they want something they’re not going to go to Fedco.”
The store, which began as Charles A. Meyer Hardware in 1925, was bought in 1927 by Justin C. Platner, Jourden’s father-in-law, for $10 in gold coin “and other valuable consideration,” according to the bill of sale, which Jourden keeps in a file in his home high above Beverly Hills.
Jourden’s early talent for tennis helped bring in the movie crowd.
“I got to meet many of the stars that way,” he said. “They’d say, oh yes, you own the Pioneer. I’ll send the help down.”
Jourden took over the store in 1949 and has run it ever since, except for a brief stab at retirement to Barbados in 1961.
Independently wealthy through other investments--a Rolls-Royce and a Cadillac are parked in the driveway of his home atop Coldwater Canyon--the hardware man said he went back to his store after finding nothing to do on the easternmost island of the West Indies but play golf and go on cocktail cruises.
Having cut back his workload to 20 hours a week several years ago, and facing a steep rise in rent, he finally sold his inventory and client list to a competitor at the end of January.
“When I turned 75, I decided to take it a little easy,” Jourden said. “It used to be a pleasure to own a store, but these days more mini-malls are going in and momma-and-poppa stores are going out.”
Bucking the trend are erstwhile competitors Florence and Fred Hayos of Lucerne Hardware, which is located in a city-owned parking structure on Crescent Drive. They bought Jourden’s good will and inventory and plan to rename their store Pioneer/Lucerne.
“He (Jourden) had accounts with most of the major Hollywood personalities,” Fred Hayos said. “Most of the ones he didn’t have, we had. But he had most of them.”
Although Lucerne Hardware has only been in business for five years, the Hayos’ claim a distinguished ancestry for their emporium, which is named after a store that Florence Hayos’ father ran from 1924 to 1983 in New York.
“Everyone in the family worked there. I worked there from the time I was old enough to climb the ladder,” Florence Hayos said. “I’ve done other things in the meantime, but it’s always been my first love.”
Indeed, while planning the store in Beverly Hills she realized that she was duplicating her father’s place, down to the crowded aisles and ladders that run along the walls on wheels.
Now, however, Jourden’s retirement having coincided with the departure of a neighboring health store, the new Pioneer/Lucerne is about to double its floor space and expand its stock.
“This is not a big buy-the-hardware-do-it-yourself area. They’ll call someone to do their repairs,” Florence Hayos said. “So the housekeeper will call (us) for supplies, housewares, Cuisinarts, fine kitchenware. To call it a hardware store is on the verge of calling it a misnomer.”