Hardware store builds Petaluma legacy

M. Maselli & Sons, a longstanding family business on Lakeville Street, has a solid history in the city.|

From the street, Petaluma’s M. Maselli & Sons appears to be an ordinary hardware store, similar to other outlets where a shopper can stop in for new faucet valves, hinges for the gate or a flexible garden hose.

And, of course Maselli’s carries these items, along with every other conceivable tool or replacement part any contractor or weekend handyman could possibly need. But the view from the street and from inside Maselli’s 15,000-square-foot hardware store is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg - a 7-acre salvage yard with far from ordinary inventory of tools, pipe, steel and building materials also sprawls out behind the shop.

The family-owned business on Lakeville Street bears little resemblance to the original 2,700-square-foot building Paul Maselli and his brother, Jim Maffia, constructed in 1960 to sell government surplus supplies. But 56 years ago, few people recognized the vision and determination that Paul Maselli possessed to succeed.

Among the key components of his success is the fact that he’s a calculating risk-taker willing to gamble that his unique perspective on business would eventually pay off.

That risk-taking trait was probably handed down from his grandfather, who made periodic business trips from his native Italy to New York City in the latter part of the 19th-century, and from his father, Micheli Maselli, who spent 14 years undertaking adventuresome travels across the U.S. before eventually ending up in Sonoma County.

It was also Micheli Maselli’s risk-taking that led him to form his family.

It was 1928, during Prohibition, when Maselli was busted for making the alcoholic beverage grappa and sentenced to a stint in the county jail. Noting that he was an accomplished dairyman, a local judge released him to the custody of a friend, Lena Maffia, a widowed Sonoma dairy rancher with three small kids.

Not surprisingly, a romance blossomed and the couple soon married. Paul Maselli was born in 1930, joining step-brothers Jim and Pete, and step-sister Josephine. A sister, Mary Maselli, came along later.

In 1941, Micheli Maselli took a job at a Sausalito shipyard, selling the dairy business but keeping the property. The next year, the family moved to North Beach in San Francisco, much to the consternation of 12-year-old Paul Maselli. Around the time Paul graduated from Galileo High School in 1948, his family relocated to a home they’d built in Petaluma.

Paul Maselli was working at Mare Island Naval Shipyard when he was drafted into the Army during the Korean conflict and sent to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, where he met his future wife, Virginia. Married and out of the service in 1954, he quit his shipyard job and began selling cars in Petaluma for Sanderson Ford and G.K. Motors.

In 1960, Maselli and his brother each invested $1,000 and formed a partnership. They named the business M. Maselli & Sons after Micheli Maselli, and started out selling the only supplies they had, which were 51 tons of government surplus bolts. Amid tough competition, they started adding pipe and steel to their inventory, before mixing in hardware and items that ranchers could use. In a calculated move, Maselli once purchased a decommissioned cold-war Nike missile site (sans missiles) and salvaged its parts.

Additional acreage was acquired in 1966 and a building housing Maselli Ironworks was built, but after a few years the Ironworks was sold. In 1974, Maselli made a concerted effort to grow the business by adding commercial grade and heavy industrial materials.

In 1980, 20-year-old Jim Maselli joined his father and within a year, thanks to his expertise and advice on expansion and changing with the times, the business grew substantially.

Today, Jim Maselli is the sole owner, and his own sons are deeply involved in the family business, which also features “Rustore,” an inspiring concept of using repurposed, recycled and salvaged metal in creating sustainable art.

“Jim and I are not only father and son, we’re great friends. There aren’t many family-owned businesses still around,” said 85-year-old Paul Maselli, who lost his wife to cancer in 2006. “I’m proud of the success we’ve enjoyed and I’m excited about where we’re headed. I’m very proud of my family for keeping it going - we all work together.”

Paul still shows up for work every day and, along with his 92-year-old brother Pete, and 93-year-old sister Josephine Pucci, who are frequent visitors, enjoys greeting and socializing with long-time friends and customers.

(Harlan Osborne’s column Toolin’ Around Town appears every two weeks. Contact him at harlan@sonic.net.)

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