The Sebastopol Hardware Center is not your typical Ace Hardware store, and Mark Sell was no ordinary nuts-and-bolts guy.
Sell left a career in banking — he’d managed the Sebastopol branch of Bank of America — to don a red Ace shirt and expand his interests in retail sales, marketing and customer service.
“He was innovative, he was brilliant,” said Jack Jones, who owned the Sebastopol Hardware Center in 1989 and invited his banker, Sell, to come work for him.
Recalls Jones, “He came aboard as an employee with the proviso that if it worked out, he could become co-owner. It was quite early evident that that was going to happen.”
For the past 28 years, Sell built upon the reputation of Sebastopol Hardware as a small-town general store with neighborly values. The store, which carries clothing and fishing gear and pet supplies and all sorts of things beyond hardware, will close at noon today for Sell’s funeral services.
The native Californian and longtime member of Hessel Church died May 29 at the age of 66. He’d lived for several years with heart disease.
A resident of Sebastopol for nearly 35 years, Sell was named Citizen of the Year for 2007 by the town’s Chamber of Commerce for his myriad contributions to the community.
The store donates generously to local causes and Sell gave of his time to the board of the former Palm Drive Hospital and the Rotary Club, Mt. Gilead Bible Camp, Sebastopol Little League and Sturgeon’s Mill.
He was born in Pasadena in 1951 and grew up mostly in Visalia, graduating from high school there and going on to what was then San Francisco State College.
“The weekend he graduated, he married my mom,” said son Chris Sell of Lodi. He said his folks met in high school and when they married his mother, the former Lena Kitterman, still had a year to go at Chico State.
The couple moved to Chico and Mark Sell found a job at a men’s clothing store. He’d worked at a haberdashery in Visalia while in high school and was so good at it the store’s owner offered to sell it to him, but “he decided to go to college instead,” his son said.
At the men’s store in Chico, Mark Sell’s customers included a fellow who worked for Bank of America. The man recruited Sell to come to work for the bank.
In the early 1980s, he left the BofA branch in Grass Valley to manage the Sebastopol branch.
He became a customer of Sebastopol Hardware and a friend of owner Jack Jones. Sell expressed interest in the hardware store and Jones hired him as a potential partner.
“He was a natural,” Jones said.
Sell became a part-owner, expanding the business until his retirement early this year. He remained an owner of the store, managed now by partner Mike Bishop.
Friend and former partner Jones visited with him at home not long before he died.
“He was a true man,” Jones said. “His last words to me were, ‘I love you, brother.’”
In addition to his wife of 43 years and his son, Sell is survived by a daughter, Brook Payne, of Burbank; a son, Joe Sell, of Carlisle, Pennsylvania; two brothers, Steve Sell of Visalia and Paul Sell of Bellevue, Washington; and four grandchildren.