Billings Hardware has been the go-to place for Belmont Shore, Naples and Belmont Heights residents for decades when it came to home repair or improvement projects.

But in the last couple of weeks, Doug Billings has turned into a local hero.

In a time when people are waiting in long lines in front of stores to get a pack of toilet paper, a case of water or some sanitary wipes, Billings Hardware on Second Street has continued to have it all. Gloves, cleaning supplies, masks, solutions for mysterious problems — Doug and his crew (all masked and gloved) is ready.

"I'm a prepper," Billings said Monday. "I know how to get things. When I order, I don't stop at one (supplier). I call the warehouses. I've been to LA probably five times last week."

He has become a celebrity on the NextDoor.com social website. People tell neighbors ready to despair of finding something to go there — a response is effusive in praise.

"Can i just mention how amazing this place is for us?," one writer said "They’re working tirelessly to get us the things we need. The owner was cleaning up/sanitizing even handles and buttons on trash cans and stop lights on 2nd Street. They work hard for us and we need to support them the best we can."

Now that residents have stocked up on staples, they are starting to think about the weeks to come under the "Safer At Home" order.

"People are starting to talk about painting," Billings said. "And puzzles. They're in here looking for (jigsaw) puzzles, so I just ordered cases of them."

While Billings is more than happy to accommodate people looking for ways to spend their time, he says he is at heart a safety guy. His presence on NextDoor.com came first as he offered warnings to residents and fellow business owners.

His early morning arrival at the store showed several people camping in the door alcoves of business fronts, including his own. So he began spray cleaning his own with a bleach mixture, then expanded it to the rest of the stores in his block, then a bit further on. A recommendation to others to be careful of the situation first appeared on NextDoor.com.

"I'd spray it, and it would foam up pretty good, so you knew there were issues," he said. "You could smell it. But what was worse? I came back the next day and it would smell like urine again."

Billings is a cave explorer and experienced rescue crew member. He said he's used to wearing masks in toxic situations, so he knows they work. And when coronavirus first struck in China, he had a feeling.

"I saw it coming," he said. "So I started ordering. I've got toilet paper from hotel suppliers, from wherever. Now I've got what people need.

"I'm especially attentive to our elderly customers. I'll deliver stuff to them, stuff I know they need. I tell them, ’just let me know and I'll drop it at your door."

Billings wouldn't say when he thought the pandemic would end, but he did note that ultraviolet light kills most viruses.

"Just give us some good, sunny days," he said. "A little Santa Ana condition wouldn't hurt. Then we'll see."

Until then, Billings Hardware will be open and stuffed with needed items, just like always.

Billings stands out, but he is far from the only business owner who is stepping up to help their neighbors. Here are a few more examples.

Sevilla Restaurant in downtown Long Beach is donating food to food pantries and homeless shelters, as well as other charities. Recipients include the Ronald McDonald House, WomenShelter and Someone Cares Soup Kitchen. More than 2,000 pounds of food had been donated as of last week.

La Strada, an Italian restaurant in Belmont Shore, is offering a free roll of toilet paper and 50% off wine with takeout orders.

Primal Alchemy is delivering packaged multi-course meals. The delivery fee is being donated to a different charity every month. First up is Children Today for the rest of March and April, then for May we will be benefiting Pathways to Independence.

Many other business owners have gone above and beyond to help employees weather the coronavirus crisis. Extended sick leave is just the beginning. Dean Anthony Salon last week conducted a 20% off products sale to benefit workers, and encouraged customers to buy gift cards to receive services from specific employees once the business reopens. Other service businesses are trying to keep workers employed with virtual services for customers — Belmont Music Studio continues to teach lessons online, as do a number of yoga studios.

The Grunion will continue telling the stories who are going above and beyond. Email editor@gazettes.com.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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