After 26 years on East Cypress Road and Main Street in Oakley, family-owned and operated M&L Ace Hardware is preparing to close its doors, and owner Hayden Mullins is citing eminent domain as the culprit.
"We're not going out of business; we're already gone," said Mullins about the closure taking place over the next 90 days. "We're all done; we couldn't survive what the city did to us. … It's a tragedy."
What the city did, said Mullins, was invoke eminent domain over a portion of the store's parking lot in order to better accommodate the Cypress Road widening project.
While Mullins was offered compensation of $39,000 ("If that's what you want to call it," he said), the loss of parking, inconvenience and general mess associated with the road project made it virtually impossible for customers to make their way into his store.
"This all really started about a year and half ago, first with the bridge construction, and then with the parents of O'Hara Park Middle School parking in my lot," said Mullins.
"Then when the Cypress Road construction started, people just couldn't get in and out of my store because of all the traffic. We just had no other choice … we couldn't make a living."
Oakley City Manager Bryan Montgomery agrees that Mullins and his family have gone through a lot, but Montgomery said that the widening project was not a surprise development.
"The need to widen Cypress Road has been in the works for a long time," said Montgomery. "When determining eminent domain it's about deciding what is good for the overall community, and this was determined to be for the community good. But it could also be said that there was a misunderstanding of how long and messy, on both our parts, the project would be, so it's been a long hassle for him."
The final determination regarding the actual value of the property used - approximately a 15-to-20-foot swath of the parking lot, according to Montgomery - has yet to be determined, pending a court ruling.
Meanwhile, the Mullins family and community customers are mourning the loss of a city landmark and the demise of yet another mom-and-pop business.
Barbara Ashley of Oakley has been a regular customer of M&L for years, citing the personal service and hometown feel as the reason for her patronage.
"I always shop here because the service is wonderful. There is always someone here to help you," said Ashley. "When you go to the Home Depot, it's just too big and impersonal … I can never find anyone to help me. It's too bad about the closing. They'll be missed."
As far as his plans for the future, Mullins said he hopes to try to lease out the building to another business, and he plans to go back to school for his skipper's license.
"I've always wanted to do some commercial fishing," said Mullins. "And we still own the property, so I hope to find someone to come in. It's just sad … we were here before anyone else, and we're going to miss everyone. We're sorry to be leaving."