It's 7 a.m. and the sun has just risen over Ocean Beach as Dottie, a sales associate with OB Paint and Hardware, arrives at 4871 Newport Ave. She opens the store for the day's customers and to meet with the salesmen.
Dottie walks to work each morning, walks back home for lunch with her sister, then walks back to work, and finally, walks home at 4:45 p.m. And she does it all again the next morning.
"It takes about 10 to 15 minutes each way," said Dottie, who prefers not to share her last name. "It depends on how many times I get stopped talking to people."
Dottie's co-worker, John Trudo, who has worked at Ocean Beach Paint and Hardware for 12 years, noted the many friends she greets on a first-name basis during her five-mile daily loop. "Everybody knows her because she walks around OB every day," he said. "They say 'hi' to her and she knows most of them, too. They're (people's) grandkids, their kids' kids, and it's like they all know her."
However, one aspect of Dottie's persona remains unknown: Her age.
Trudo said he considers Dottie his best friend of over five years, and since has stopped asking, "How old are you?"
"You didn't ask her age, did you?" Trudo said. "She's never told anyone."
Dottie said she refuses to reveal her age as the number of candles on each year's birthday cake are not a defining feature of her livelihood. "Age is relative," she insisted. "If you're healthy and active, it doesn't matter. I've never cared about age, ever since I was young."
Dottie credits walking and an active lifestyle for her good health. Trudo backs her up stating he watches Dottie climb ladders to retrieve products for customers and work the over-eight-hour shift each day. "She just amazes me," he said with a smile.
Ever an educator
Originally from Syracuse, New York, Dottie said she studied at the New York State College for Teachers, and moved out west to San Diego in 1957. For 30 years, she was a special education, elder education and girls physical education teacher, earning a master's degree in general education and administration from San Diego State University.
After her career in education, she retired. And grew bored quickly. "I don't want to sit in a rocking chair," Dottie said. Unhappy with her retirement, she took to the streets of Ocean Beach to find a job.
"I couldn't stay retired, I needed to be active and busy," she explained. "So, I came down to the hardware store and asked if they were looking for anybody, then I went home, had lunch, came back and started working. And that was over 30 years ago."
At the beginning of her hardware career, Dottie recalled, customers often opted to speak to the male employees, assuming they could better answer hardware questions. "I don't get that anymore," she said. "A lot of men come to me now, over a male, since I've been here longer!"
Each day Dottie cuts glass, makes keys, helps customers find the products they need to finish projects, and often serves as a counselor to long-time customers. "That's one of the parts I really like," she said. "I enjoy talking to the people and helping them do what they're doing. And their families have become important to me, too."
Her knowledge of repairs and her willingness to help with people's projects have not gone unnoticed Trudo said. "All of OB comes here to get her advice on how to fix things," he said.
Dottie said her interest in repairs sprung from a young age, when she worked alongside her father, who worked as a tool-maker and grinder. "He was brought up during the Great Depression, with obviously not a lot of money, during a time when people did their own repairs. They didn't go buy something new," Dottie said.
Although she is a retired teacher, she continues to teach. Her new classroom is the hardware store. "I really like the high school kids who stop in," Dottie said. "They're interested and waiting to learn. I like to see them grow."
How's business been lately? Dottie said she's watched the store's foot traffic decline over the years.
"It's a lot slower than it used to be," she said. "The big stores — the Lowes, the Home Depot — came in and took out most of the small, neighborhood hardware stores." She pointed out that Ocean Beach Paint and Hardware is one of the last standing family-owned hardware stores in San Diego. It opened in 1919 and owes its success to its friendly staff, competitive prices and sense of community.
"We work with small businesses and help them do their projects and sometimes they'll bring pictures or things that they made to show us. We get a lot of that," Dottie said. "It really is great."
When not working, Dottie said she likes reading, gardening, and enjoying a treat from OB Donuts.
"Dottie comes in here all the time," said OB Donuts manager Vivian Le. "She brings lemons for my dad from her garden."
— Ocean Beach Paint and Hardware, 4871 Newport Ave., is open 8:15 a.m. until 4:45 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. Parking available at back of store. (619) 223-3083.