When their 78,000-square-foot home improvement store opens in late 2013 as the anchor tenant in the Deer Creek Village Shopping Center on North McDowell, it will be a long anticipated homecoming for Friedman's Home Improvement, which debuted its first store 66 years ago on East Washington Street.

"It has been a family dream to come back to Petaluma," said company president Bill Friedman. "After a long journey to get here we are very excited to be returning to our roots."

The Petaluma store represents the cumulative knowledge and experience of three generations of savvy and hardworking businessmen that began in 1946.

Upon returning home from World War II, Bill Friedman's father, Benny, and his uncle, Joe, used $4,000 that they had saved from their army pay to buy a junkyard on the Petaluma River. The site included warehouse space and a 3,000-square-foot building that became the first Friedman Brothers store.

The brothers had a keen eye for seeing the value in salvaged materials that others overlooked. In 1970, a second store opened on Santa Rosa Avenue, directly across the street from where the boys had grown up.

With both stores thriving, the company had no plans for major changes until they got some devastating news about their Petaluma store. The insurance company determined that the buildings were too dangerous to insure. The river had eaten away under them and the property owner didn't want to put money into repairing the deteriorating structures.

"Leaving Petaluma in 1976 was the hardest family decision we ever made. I remember as a little kid seeing the sign posted on the store, &‘Closed but we will be back,'" said Bill Friedman.

At that same time, the brothers bought a piece of property on Redwood Highway with a new store in mind, hoping that their time without a presence in Petaluma would be short-lived. A sign posted on the property said "Future Home of Friedman Brothers."

However, the booming Santa Rosa store required all their attention. "We were so busy that we added on twice. My dad didn't want to take his eye off the ball there; he wanted to have the single best store in the county."

The two founding brothers retired in 1985 and transferred their interests in the company to their younger brother, Harry, and Benny's son, Bill. Under Harry's leadership, the company expanded, adding stores in Sonoma and Ukiah.

Harry, 84, retired in 2000 and is the only one of the siblings still living. Bill Friedman's son and vice president of operations, Barry Friedman, "unofficially started with the company when he was 8 years old and officially started in 2004."

Even during the 36 years that Friedman's didn't have a store in Petaluma, they maintained a connection to the community, supporting numerous local nonprofits including Committee on the Shelterless, Petaluma Educational Foundation and the Veterans Day Parade. "Our giving comes from the heart," said Bill Friedman. "My father taught me that you always take care of the community that has been so good to you."

The company never lost sight of its desire to return to Petaluma. Bill Friedman said that the city was always supportive but finding a suitable location was problematic. "We vetted every available site in Petaluma. Now we have found a home."

And they want to make that home, set to open in late 2013, a sort of "flagship" store, where Friedman's takes the best aspects of its current three stores and combines them with new features inspired by concepts staff has seen in other stores around the country.

"You can buy a hammer anywhere," says Barry Friedman, so the goal in their new store is to "provide customers a unique shopping experience."

That experience will include two 35 by 36 foot "living walls" at the front corners of the building that will be covered in plants.

In addition, the Petaluma store will likely feature a larger offering of agricultural tools to meet the needs of the Petaluma market.

His father adds, "We've traveled all over the country, learning from other operations and we've looked at the things we do best in our three stores and we're bringing it all to Petaluma."

(Contact Colleen Rustad at argus@arguscourier.com.)