The Nordstrom shoe department doesn't sell nails, but if it did, it would probably feel like Ellis Ace Hardware -- a family-owned business that has been open since 1946. You rarely have to wait for one of the half-dozen employees working behind the counter to get what you need and bring it right to you. (That's faster than it takes to spot a clueless staffer at Home Depot disappearing down an aisle one hundred feet away.) If you do wait, there's plenty to look at -- nearly every square inch, floor to ceiling, is filled with coveralls, fishing knives, toilet plungers, and even a stack of videotapes you can pop into a TV to learn about extending ladders and cable clamp hooks -- whatever those are. Employees wander through the floor-to-ceiling aisles, sometimes inviting you back through the swing doors with them to match an odd screw, replace an old gas-pipe fitting, or pick out the best socket wrench for your price range. Especially for those who tend to freeze up and when forced to speak hardware lingo, the knowledgeable staff can help you figure out what you need even if you don't know.
Pastime Ace Hardware
10057 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito, 510-526-6615