The Workingman’s Headquarters, a hardware store that sold tools to, and made keys for the Mission for nearly 50 years, has closed for good, more than a year after the proprietor Samuel Joseph Anmuth died in November 2017.

Known as simply as “Joe” to his customers, Anmuth and his brother Marvin held court at 2871 Mission St, making keys and cracking jokes in their trademark blue smocks. Now, instead of classical music and a store crammed with every sort of saw, machine piece, or obscure vintage tool, there’s nothing but empty shelves and a lot of memories.

Joseph’s son Michael, who lives in the Sunset District, is getting ready to sell the property. He remembers working at the store during the summer.

“I grew up going there as a kid, and worked there in the summer.” said Anmuth. “I used to watch the lowriders cruise by. It really instilled a love of the Mission in me.”

The business began in 1928 as a shoe-repair shop in the South of Market, run by Anmuth’s grandparents, Mendel and Yetta Anmuth, who were Jewish immigrants from Poland. They later added hardware goods to their inventory.

“My grandparents came here for a better life,” Michael says. “They came here after World War I.” Later, after Mendel and Yetta had opened the store, they helped relatives escape the Nazi occupation of Poland.

Joseph began working for his parents in the ’40s. The business stayed put until the era of redevelopment changed the South of Market area. Redevelopment, and the construction of BART, moved the Anmuths to the Mission.

“My grandparents were redeveloped out of the South of Market. Their store was bought by the city for the development of Moscone Center,’’ Anmuth said. “It was cheaper to buy on Mission Street in the ’70s because the street was all ripped up for BART.”

The new store opened in 1972 in the former site of a television and radio repair shop. The hardware store was surrounded by other small businesses, including Dianda’s Italian American pastry company, now the only business still in operation from that time, and 10 vacant buildings.

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Joseph ran the store with his brother Marvin after the latter retired from his job with United Airlines. Together, the brothers left an indelible stamp on the neighborhood.

Adam Lesser, whose grandparents owned Lesser’s Mirror House across the street, had an open tab at the Workingmen’s Headquarters. He remembers the store vividly and the brothers’ comedy routine.

“Customers would ask for a key to be made,” Lesser recalled. “Joe and Marvin would say ‘I don’t make keys, the machine does.’ Then the person would say, ‘can you ask the machine to make me a key?  And they’d say ‘You’re crazy! The machines don’t talk!’ and start laughing.”

The store was famously cluttered, but the brothers knew where everything was.

Photo by Elizabeth Bell, December 31, 2016.

“To an outsider, the place looked like an episode of Hoarders,” Lesser said. “But they both knew where everything was. One could move a wrench to another drawer and subconsciously the other knew where it was.”

Joseph worked six days a week, including Thursday nights. The store became legendary for the quality of their key making.

“I meet people all the time who remember my dad,” said Michael. “They’ll pull out their key and show it to me. He stamped every key he made with his name.”

Until the end, the store attracted a wide variety of people: those looking for a key or a hard-to-find vintage tool, or simply the pleasure of talking to two Mission old-timers.  

“There was always a mixture of people in the store,” said Michael. “My dad would hold court. That’s why people loved him so much. He was a natural storyteller! He had a story for everything.”

The business began to drop off after the big retail hardware stores like Home Depot and, later, Lowe’s, opened on Bayshore. Marvin died in 2008, and Joe worked alone for the next nine years, undaunted by time or age.

“Up to the week he passed away, he was still telling stories and planning to get back into the store,” said Michael.

After 2016, Joe Anmuth stopped working daily in his beloved store. He opened once more on New Years’ Eve 2017, and died 10 months later, in November. After that, family members and friends were faced with the gargantuan task of clearing out almost 50 years of accumulated inventory.

“Before my dad passed away, he was trying to liquidate stuff,’ Michael said, who inherited some of the vintage tools from his father’s vast collection. He isn’t sure what he’ll do with all of it. “No one wants to buy old tools anymore,” he said.

In preparation for sale, the building was finally cleared of its voluminous collection last week.

Michael, who used to manage the Heath Ceramics space at the Ferry Building, never planned to continue the family business. After the store is sold, he’s moving to Mexico City.

“It was a bone of contention,” he said. “I never thought that hardware was my thing. I’m the least skilled at fixing things! Me and my partner thought about taking over the space and putting in a restaurant, and fixing up the second floor to live in. But as we got older, our priorities changed.”

The neighborhood, too, is different from the one Joseph and Marvin moved into, he says.

“The city has changed. It’s not as friendly. I’m not one of those people that says the city shouldn’t change,” he said reflectively. “It’s always been a transient space, but there’s been a cultural shift. People don’t really appreciate where the city has come from. It seems like they just want to make money.”

Joe at Workingman’s Headquarters in 1994. From the “Shades of Mission” collection of the San Francisco Public Library.

Photo by Elizabeth Bell December 31, 2016.