Club Depot

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

You've probably been to a home improvement center like it:

Miles of aisles wide enough to drive a pickup through. Planks and widgets stacked to the ceiling. Throngs of harried shoppers, lists in hand.

That's the everyday scenario. But what about the every-night scene?

Two Home Depot stores in Los Angeles are open all night. And don't think plenty of people aren't rolling in to the nearly empty parking lots (imagine!) at 3 a.m. to get supplies for that deck they're building, that gate they're welding, that bust of Great Aunt Marge they're gilding with fake copper patina.

There are 17 Home Depot stores in the United States that operate 24 hours a day: two in Los Angeles--in Hollywood and Marina del Rey; one each in Las Vegas, Chicago, Tampa and Atlanta; two in New Jersey; three in Texas; and six in New York. As of Monday, two more L.A.-area stores--in Monrovia and

Torrance--will be open 24 hours.

And who goes to the all-night stores in the dead of the night?

Eddie Lopez, for one.

Lopez, who manages a Hollywood apartment building and works for two Beverly Hills hotels, arrived after midnight one recent night to buy sheet metal, a bathroom vent, phones and several boxes of phone jacks.

"Thank God," Lopez said of the store's shift in November to the 24-hour schedule. "It was like a blessing for me, because if I got called right now for a job and I don't have [the supplies], I can get it."

Now a regular nighttime shopper, Lopez, 35, said he shops at Home Depot during the day only in an emergency.

"If I come here in the daytime, it can take up to four hours . . . the way I shop," he said, adding that at night, customer assistance is much easier to get.

Nightly Event

The previous night, Lopez said, he stopped by late at night and bought 50 sheets of drywall, four pedestal sinks, 15 ceiling fans, 100 outlets and 100 switch plates.

"Honestly, I have to spend here $7,000, $8,000 a week, no joke," Lopez said.

"I don't get much sleep," he admitted, wheeling his purchases off into the night some time after 1 a.m.

At 1:30 a.m., a lone figure made his way through the silent garden section.

Darryl Rivers, a lighting designer from Mount Washington, was on his way home from a client's house in Laurel Canyon when he decided to stop in.

Startled out of his solitary contemplation of the greenery, Rivers glanced at his cart and said, "I came in here for some grout sealer and got all this other stuff."

Rivers, in search of sealer, so far had plumbing parts, floor cleaner, mildew stain remover, steer manure, three pony-packs of ground cover and a 5-gallon container holding a flowering pink plant.

The lines during the day are too much for him, he said, adding that he visits the store about four times a week.

If Home Depot were to bestow a Stamina in Shopping Award, the clear front-runner this night was Alastair Boase, 34, a Van Nuys resident.

A landscaping contractor, Boase was buying supplies for five jobs, including installation of an irrigation system, an arbor, a dog-run and some garden benches at various homes from the San Fernando Valley to Beverly Hills.

Boase got to Home Depot at 10:30 p.m. By the time he'd accumulated most of his materials--Douglas fir and redwood beams, PVC pipe, primer, paint, hinges, gate latches, sprinkler heads--it was nearing 2 a.m.

"It's a good thing for companies that are out of control and on deadline," Boase said of the 24-hour shopping option.

"For people who are trying to make it against all odds, sometimes you have to do crazy hours," he said.

Elsewhere in the store, Leonard Boyce serenely restocked shelves in the hours when piped-in pop music and the plaintive beeps of in-store forklifts are nearly the only sounds in the cavernous store.

Boyce said nighttime customers tend to be a gentler bunch than their day-side counterparts.

Still, he mused, "I'd [like] to ask customers why they want to get up at 3 in the morning to return a phone or a lightbulb."

A lot of contractors, store managers say, come in at 4 and 5 a.m. to shop for supplies for that day's jobs while avoiding the crowds.

But Boyce claims to have also seen Arnold Schwarzenegger in the store, along with "tons" of movie stars.

"This is Hollywood," Boyce said. "You're going to see everything in Hollywood."

As a case in point, a pair of Westside 25-year-olds came in looking for a "grow light." They declined to specify what it would be used for and made their way down the aisle.

Another 25-year-old, West Hollywood resident Erika Steeves, had been out clubbing that night with friends. One of them asked her to go to Home Depot for the enigmatic combination of denatured alcohol, green paint and a shower massager.

"If something went wrong in your house, something you couldn't fix by yourself, you'd come here to get tools to fix it," she said, reasonably enough for a woman in 3-inch heels, silver nail polish, a long skirt, mesh blouse and suede jacket who was standing in a huge hardware store in the wee hours of the morning.

Like Boase and Lopez, Hollywood resident Ron Scarborough is a late-night regular. As production manager for a theater company that does a new show every month, he always needs something, and the store is just blocks from his home.

"It's just so much easier when there's no one else around," he said, scanning the aisles for the perfect 100-foot extension cord at about 2:30 a.m. Oh yes, and a package of 10 electrical outlets.

During his nighttime errands, has he run into many local crazies here? "Certainly not as many as you see at Taco Bell at this time of night," Scarborough said.

Some time after the grow-light guys and the green-paint woman dispersed into the night, Boase finally arrived at the checkout area.

Additions to his pile of merchandise included rolls of chicken wire that will be covered with moss and ground cover: He's building a 6-foot giraffe-shaped topiary for a customer, he said.

Having paid up, Boase headed for the parking lot, only to return a few minutes later. "I'm going back for concrete," he said.

Finally, he pulled his battered, mud-spattered brown pickup with high plywood sides to the front.

In go the concrete, lumber, 25 lengths of PVC pipe, several cubic feet of peat moss and the chicken wire that will soon be fashioned into a giraffe.

About four hours after his arrival, the evening's most dedicated shopper left Home Depot. His first job would start at 8 a.m.

Avoiding the Crowds

Over at the customer service desk, meanwhile, another shopper dispatched his errand more expeditiously.

Greg, a local resident who declined to give his last name, was at the store at about 9:30 p.m. and found it crowded, he said. He came back at about 3 a.m. after a night out to return some plumbing tools, an area rug and a door lock, among other things.

"It took me seven minutes to return this now," he said, speculating that it would have taken more than a half an hour earlier.

But in a teeming city in which people are always looking for a way to do things more quickly, the secret of Greg's efficiency may not be safe for long.

"Pretty soon it's going to be crowded in the middle of the night because people will see how empty it is," he said.

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Sue McAllister is a frequent contributor to The Times.

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