Since 1946, when its first store opened in Petaluma, Friedman’s Home Improvement has been an integral part of Sonoma County’s history serving the building trades, farmers, ranchers, gardening enthusiasts, DIYers, and others while also supporting countless nonprofit causes, including several which benefit ag education such as 4-H and FFA programs and the Farm Bureau Foundation of Sonoma County.
Seventy-five years ago, World War II veterans and brothers Joseph and Benny Friedman purchased a second-hand hardware and junk business from Meyer Lerer. The property was located across from the Golden Eagle Milling Company, now the River Plaza Shopping Center, at 17 East Washington Street, Petaluma.
Lerer, a native of Austria, had immigrated to the United States in 1893. He arrived in Petaluma from San Francisco in 1907 and rented a storefront in the Canepa building at the corner of Keller and Washington Streets, where Volpi’s is today. He sold new and used furniture and hardware from this location until forced to move in 1908 when a fire started in a neighboring stable wiped out nearly all his inventory.
In 1911, Mr. Lerer purchased a lot from the Golden Eagle Milling Company on East Washington at Grey Street and built a two-story structure. The building’s first floor housed the store, while Lerer and his wife, Nellie, and their six children occupied the second floor.
Need for additional storage space, Lerer added a “monster warehouse” to his retail operation in 1921. This building, and perhaps those constructed before 1921, is what became Friedman Brothers Hardware in 1946.
Joseph and Benny were two of seven children born to William and Minnie Friedman, Jews who fled to the United States from the pogroms of their native Russia – William in 1905 and Minnie in 1910. William Friedman operated a furniture and salvage business at 634-36 Fifth Street, Santa Rosa. The family resided at 1209 Humboldt Street.
Like their father, Joseph and Benny bought and sold just about everything. The brothers advertised in the Press Democrat and Argus-Courier classified sections during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s. They purchased newspapers, magazines, rags, metal, furniture, stoves, and “junk of all kind” and sold plywood, sheetrock, factory reconditioned water heaters, barbed wire, chain link fencing, toilet seats, linoleum, railroad rails for cattle guards, cello-glass windows with metal frames – “ideal for porches, chicken houses, hot houses, etc.” and so much more.
In 1963, Friedman Brothers Hardware of Petaluma filed for incorporation with the Secretary of State and seven years later opened a second store in Santa Rosa. Instead of the traditional ribbon-cutting, a chain and giant shears were used to officially open the 400,000 square foot building on Santa Rosa Avenue on September 17, 1970. Among those participating in the ceremony were Talbert Bean, Sonoma Mayor; Phil Joerger Petaluma councilmember; Ting Guggans, Santa Rosa councilmember; Jeff Cohen, field coordinator for State Senator Randolph Collier; Judge James E. Jones, Jr., Meade Nordyke, Sonoma County supervisor. The store specialized in plumbing, hardware, electrical, pipe, and steel products. In 1976, the Petaluma store, which by this time was “outmoded and hazardous” with its oil-soaked wooden floors and “rabbit warren” layout, shut its doors.
After closing the East Washington store, plans to build a new Petaluma retail outlet on a 22-acre tract adjacent to Wickes Lumber on Old Redwood Highway near Denman Flats were considered, but nothing seems to have come of that effort.
The vacant Friedman Brothers building and two other structures leased to Pacific International Auto Parts and Acme Sheet Metal were destroyed by a towering inferno that engulfed the East Washington Street business block during the early hours of January 2, 1978.
It’s believed that the fire started in the back of the Acme Sheet Metal Shop, but its origin was never determined. The Downtown River Apartments, completed in 2005, now occupies the site.
Joseph and Benny Friedman retired in 1987 and transferred control of the company to their younger brother, Harry, and Benny’s son, Bill.
In 1993, a Friedman Brothers store opened in Sonoma and then in 1996 in Ukiah. In 1999, Bill Friedman took over as sole owner of the company. In 2015, Friedman’s Home Improvement (named changed in 2001) returned to Petaluma, opening its fourth Northern California center at 429 North McDowell Boulevard. Today the company is owned by Bill and his son, Barry. Barry has served as CEO for the past eight years.
During the COVID 19 pandemic, Friedman’s Home Improvement has retained its position as a treasured and trusted part of the community where people feel safe shopping. They provide goods and services to those whose livelihoods depend on access to building supplies and have proven to be a saving grace to folks who have found sprucing up their homes and gardens, an ideal pastime as they shelter in place.
To celebrate its milestone birthday, Friedman’s has documented its story in a book called “The Friedman Way,” which will a welcome addition to the written record detailing the history of Sonoma County from a family and business that has done much for the community. A sneak peek of that history is available now as a short video on the Friedman’s Home Improvement website https://www.friedmanshome.com/thanks-for-75-great-years/