In the world of Costa Rican hardware, there are construction centers and then there are good old-fashioned ferreterías. If you’re a card-carrying Gringo or are simply accustomed to bright white isles, immaculately swept floors and staff in bright yellow shirts carrying walkie-talkies, please proceed directly to Construplaza, in the western San José suburb of Escazú (215-3000) or to EPA (588-1145), with locations in Escazú and in Curridabat, east of San José.
These are the Costa Rican equivalents of Home Depot.
According to promotional materials from both, you are all but guaranteed to find everything you need to decorate the walls of your shed or garage, along with supplies such as lumber, paint and industrial tools.
These stores have it all, and they’re sprouting up in Costa Rica like weed patches in the rainy season – but there is a caveat.
If you’re shopping, say, for a machete, a bottle of WD-40 (blue can, red top), a hacksaw or other common hardware item and are prone to occasional bouts of impulsive shopping, you will likely leave these stores with a cart full of things you never wanted.
You may be better off visiting one of the smaller, family-owned ferreterías found throughout the country, in almost every town and city.
You won’t find everything here, like you would in the larger box stores, but you’ll find what you need to get by – which is exactly what Costa Ricans have been doing for centuries.
Take Ferretería Arcal (221-1642), for example. On a recent tour of this small, family-run hardware store, which has graced Avenida 3 (between Calles 4 and 6) for more than 50 years, this Tico Times reporter was forced to dodge dangling toilet seats, lawn furniture and over-anxious store attendants before speaking with manager Edwin Salazar.
“What we try to do is offer something that will work for the customer in any situation,” Salazar said. “And we make it easy for them.”
A quick glance around the store proved the accuracy of his statement: even the walls had been hollowed out to make room for piping, and every size and color screw, hammer, and lawnmower was visible from the entranceway.
I grimaced at the thought of finding a tape measure or hand drill in the clutter, but Salazar reassured me.
“Of course, we help you find everything,” he said.
For those who don’t fit neatly into either of the above categories, rest assured, there is hope.
Some hardware stores, such as Ferretería El Mar (256-4636), which has sprouted from its home base on Avenida 3 in downtown San José to locations throughout the country, have somehow managed to do both.
Yes, the environment is a bit sterile, with bright fluorescent lights, attendants in red polo shirts and neatly ordered shelves.
But you can find things on your own – or ask for help – and you’re most likely to find what you need in just one trip (important when you venture into downtown San José).
According to Julio Navarro, who work at the main location in the capital, the chain recently joined forces with ACE Hardware brand in the United States, which allows it exclusive access to a range of supplies not commonly found elsewhere.
Navarro, on a tour of the store’s neatly partitioned aisles, assured The Tico Times that any product that falls under the broad umbrella of hardware – whether visible in the store or not – could be had through big brother ACE.
“If you need it, we can find it for you,” he promised.