Rancho Grande Keeps Traditions Alive, Clothes Washed In San Francisco
On a weekday morning, the corner of Cesar Chavez and Bryant is full of the sounds of people going to work. This is a street where you can find day laborers looking for jobs and tech workers waiting to get on a Google shuttle.
On this same corner, you can find Jorge Bermudez Senior putting used refrigerators, stoves, and washers onto a hand truck and setting them on the sidewalk outside his store.
“People can see when they are driving by. ‘That guy has stoves.’ So they go around and buy it. That’s my showroom there. My driving showroom,” he says.
Jorge Bermudez Senior is the owner of Rancho Grande. He takes old worn out appliances, fixes them up, and resells them. Or, as he likes to say, “We are not just selling used appliances, we're selling refurbished appliances, because we refurbish them.”
Let me explain. Let’s say your washing machine stops working.
What do you do? Get it repaired, or buy a new one, right? Well, Senior shows me a hand painted sign right out front that offers a third option. It says: “Rebuilt Appliances: The Other Way Of Recycling.”
And not only is this option eco-friendly, it can also save money.
“So this is most likely directed to the people that are underprivileged. You know, they’re people that don't have much money.” says Senior.
Just because the appliance is old, doesn’t mean it’s not good. In fact, Senior puts a six-month warranty on everything he sells.
“We're talking about less than half the price of a new appliance with the possibility that it's going to last even longer than the new one,” says Senior.
The shop has been on this corner since 1996, and from the get-go it’s been a family business. Also working are Senior's wife Ana, his brother Alberto, and his son, who everyone calls Junior. Junior shows me around the inside of the store.
“All the saints, you know, Mother Mary, La Virgen De Guadalupe, pictures of my parents or my grandparents, calendars sticking out everywhere.” says Junior, describing the inside of the store.
It feels like you’re walking into a family’s living room. Except this one has 20 refrigerators in it.
To complete the scene, Ana is changing a little girl's diaper, right on the front desk. You see, raising a kid in the store is a Bermudez tradition.
“There's always going to be a baby here, you know. In 1996, it was my son, and then my cousins, and now it's Alexia.” says Junior.
In fact, Senior was raised in his father’s store. Not in San Francisco, but in Managua, Nicaragua. His father didn’t sell appliances, he sold party supplies. But there’s one big similarity between the two stores: the name.
“Well, there's a song. I don't know if you guys know about the song that goes: ‘Allá en el Rancho Grande, allá donde vivía...’ and he liked the song, he liked the name, and down in Nicaragua he named his store Rancho Grande. Once I decided to open my business and someone asked me, ‘How do you want to name it?’ I said, Rancho Grande. I got to follow in my father's footsteps.” says Senior.
After nearly a decade of revolution and unrest in Nicaragua, Senior decided to immigrate to the United States with his family in 1985. He found his calling in San Francisco at a place called Sam’s Appliances.
“They were looking for somebody to wash the stoves, to wash the appliances. But when I saw the business, I said, You know what? This is a place that I'm going to learn.” says Senior.
That job at Sam’s Appliances planted the seed that grew into Rancho Grande.
On the sidewalk outside of the store, Senior is putting the finishing touches on a refurbished refrigerator. Wearing jeans and a denim jacket, about half of his body is obscured as he reaches inside. Once it’s done, I head out with Junior to deliver it to an apartment building in the Castro.
Junior and a helper put the refurbished refrigerator onto a hand truck and haul it up a flight of stairs. But the refrigerator that is being replaced looks fairly new. Jorge Junior finds out from the property owner that it’s only four years old.
Here’s the problem. That refrigerator has a computer. When that computer breaks, nothing works, and it’s expensive to fix. In this case, It’s cheaper to buy refurbished than repair this one, and Senior says this 15 year old refurbished refrigerator will last longer than a new one.
“They used to compete before on who would make the best appliances. Now they don't care. They compete to see who is going to sell more and they don't care if it breaks in one year or two. I don't know if anybody remembers the Maytag guy who used to be on TV, all bored because Maytag was so good that nobody would call for repairs. That Maytag guy would be crazy now with all the recalls that the new appliances have.” says Senior.
It turns out that what the Bermudez family does is part of an ongoing debate about the right to repair. Some people, like Senator Elizabeth Warren, say that big companies knowingly charge a lot for repairs or make parts scarce, making people more likely to just buy new.
“Right to repair just basically says: ‘Hey guys you gotta make the information and the parts available, you get to sell them, you can make a profit off it, but you gotta make it available to everyone.’ ” says Senator Warren.
Here, Senator Warren is talking about repairing tractors. But it applies to appliances as well.
“I sometimes charge for repairs what those guys charge just for the service call.” says Senior.
At the end of the day, I go with Junior on one last delivery. They’re swapping in a refurbished Rancho Grande washer for one that broke at an apartment building in South San Francisco. The refurbished washer is old, basic. It only has three dials. A top loader. It might look old, but to Rancho Grande it’s gold.
On the front is an old faded smiley face sticker. Jorge Jr. tells me that’s what Rancho Grande used to put on their refurbished washers years ago. Before they got a more official sticker.
“That means that this washer was sold already, and it came back, and we fixed it again, and then we sold it again.” says Junior
After being repaired — and resold –– twice, this washing machine is ready for a third life. That’s how Rancho Grande makes what was old, new again.