San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

A Hardware Store for Every Do-It-Yourselfer

That blasted ambition has got a hold of you again: You’ve decided to build or remodel your house. You know there are people who specialize in these sorts of things, namely contractors, but there’s something to be said for utilizing those two appendages that normally only wield a pen or computer mouse to build your own abode.

But the question remains: How to start such a formidable task? Thankfully, the San José area offers enough options to suit every level of construction aspiration, from momand-pop corner shops to full-service megachain hardware stores.

For those starting out on a full-fledged project, the larger chains make one-stop shopping a straight shot.

On the high end, Construplaza offers consummate design options and packages.

Its complex in the western suburb of Guachipelín de Escazú feels more showroom than hardware store, with a fleet of staff members ready to navigate you through products for every room of the house. (Note: Construplaza does not sell kitchen cabinet sets directly, but orders them from a company in the northwestern La Uruca district. Also, while selection in seemingly everything else is abundant, the store offers only one type of hardwood flooring.) Ultimately, Construplaza is more sit-back-and-relax-while-we do-this-for-you than do-it-yourself.

At the Curridabat branch of home improvement giant EPA in eastern San José, on a Saturday afternoon, José Bogantes, 45, and his brother-in-law, Brian Gutiérrez, 28, load two-by-fours (or their metric equivalent), electric wiring and a few lamps onto their pickup. The pair made the day trip up from the Southern Zone port city of Golfito expressly to come to this location, which they prefer for its ample parking and product selection. Bogantes says they “almost never” bother to go to other stores because “if they don’t have something here (at EPA), it’s going to be even harder to find something somewhere else.”

The Venezuelan chain, which looks like it takes its style cues from a certain Swedish furniture giant, also has a branch in Escazú. In downtown San José, the long-standing Abonos Agros is a popular option, especially for those who make regular purchases.

“They’ve got a wide variety of products,” says José Vargas, 23, who also notes their low prices as he loads a healthy supply of ducting material into his air-conditioning company’s truck at the chain’s main branch in western downtown San José.

The chain, a subsidiary of the Guatemalan Grupo Progreso, also has branches in La Uruca, in Limonal de Abangares in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, and in the Southern Zone crossroads town of San Isidro de El General.

For the more adventuresome and frugal, just down the street from Abonos Agro lies a trove of small ferreterías amid the labyrinthine rows of the Mercado Coca-Cola. Larger stores such as Abonos cater to wholesale purchases, while smaller shops like these do more retail for the individual consumer, or “normal people,” says Carlos Cedeño, 22, a supervisor at Ferretería JEC inside the market.

Product selection here may be more limited, but the rock-bottom prices – especially on new and secondhand plumbing fixtures and appliances – would entice anyone.

“Lots of people go to Abonos Agro first,” Cedeño says, “but once they come here, they keep coming back because it’s cheaper.”

Should your purchases be on the smaller scale, or if you’re just looking for more personalized service, your corner ferretería should not be neglected. Eric Rockbrand, 46, has operated his Ferretería y Cerrajería del Este for 10 years in the northeastern San José neighborhood of Lourdes, just up the road from Universidad Latina. Most of his customers, he says, shop for basic projects and small repairs.

On a Friday morning, his three clients are a young lady getting a key copied, a man in a medical jacket buying a pint of paint and an elderly woman buying a kilogram of nails.

“We get all types of clients here,” says Rockbrand, who also offers cell phone lines and repairs.

He says he doesn’t buy anything from the big hardware stores because if he doesn’t carry the product himself, he can order it directly from the warehouse, a service he passes on to customers. Furthermore, Rockbrand says he makes referrals for just about any type of repairman or specialist his clients might seek.

EPA, Abonos Agros and Construplaza all provide customer service in English.


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