John Morrison Headley, who for three decades owned the Santa Rosa-based Yardbirds home improvement chain, has died at his Santa Rosa home at the age of 77.
Headley once ran a 67-store chain based near Seattle but gave it up because "it was too big." He was remembered as a man who knew and cared about his company's stores, workers and products.
He fought a series of decade-long battles against national home improvement stores expanding into Sonoma County. Those efforts ended in 2005 when Headley sold Yardbirds to Home Depot, the world's biggest home improvement chain.
"He was a fierce and good competitor," said Bill Friedman, president/CEO of Friedman's Home Improvement. "We had a lot of respect for each other. He was an innovator, and he was a good steward of the community."
Headley and his wife Delores were part of a dozen prominent couples who in 1981 provided the funds needed to purchase a former church complex in Santa Rosa that is now the Wells Fargo Center. The couples — including Henry and Madelyne Trione, Hugh and Nell Codding, Evert and Ruth Person, and Benny and Rosemary Friedman — purchased the Christian Life Center property at a bankruptcy sale for $4.5 million and turned it over to a nonprofit performing arts foundation.
Born in Webber, Kan., Headley moved to Longview, Wash., as a teenager. He entered the hardware business in 1961 at the age of 27 by opening his first store on the south side of Seattle. He eventually merged his stores into Pay N' Pack and became president of the 67-store chain.
He stepped down from that post and in 1975 moved to Sonoma County. The next year he started Yardbirds by taking over two former Pay N' Pack stores. Eventually he built Yardbirds into 10 Bay Area stores.
Headley knew virtually every product in his stores, said Brian Sobel, a spokesman for the family. "He was an incredibly hands-on person."
He called each store manager every day and wanted his stores close enough that he could visit them in one day.
"I don't want a big chain of stores," Headley said in a 1989 interview. "I don't like big chains; you can't run them well."
When Home Depot in 1996 sought to build a store in Santa Rosa, Yardbirds representatives opposed the plan and later joined with Friedman's and 22 other local merchants in an effort to keep it out of the city. Home Depot eventually withdrew its request and built a store in Windsor, in addition to one already open in Rohnert Park.
Yardbirds next spent $445,000 on two unsuccessful elections aimed at blocking efforts for a Cotati superstore by North Carolina-based Lowe's home improvement chain.
In 2005 Home Depot returned with a new plan for a Santa Rosa store. About 10 months later, the company announced it had purchased Yardbirds.
In the years since the company's sale, Sobel said Headley kept busy managing his real estate investments, including some of his former store properties that had been leased by Home Depot.
Along with his wife of 56 years, Headley is survived by two daughters, LeAnn Beutlich of Kent, Wash., and Patti Rarey of Gilbert, Ariz.; a son, James Headley of Sebastopol; a sister, Twila Ford of Peoria, Ill.; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
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