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After I bashed on ex-Home Depot HBIC Nardelli this week, an interesting discussion ensued in comments.  A Depot employee defended the chain while others complained, but what really caught my attention was some readers’ indifference to the old-school local hardware store.

So here’s a chance for you to share your opinion: are local, non-chain hardware stores all they’re cracked up to be, or are we better off without them?  Do they really provide additional service and knowedge, or are they just more expensive shops with less selection?  Let us know in comments.

(Thanks, Moyix, for the great CC-licensed photo.)

 

37 Responses to Hot or Not? Local Non-Chain Hardware Stores

  1. KMR says:

    HOT!

    There are two great local hardware stores that I frequent. Both have been around for 50+ years, and one is also a post office. Doesn’t get any better than that, dropping packages each day and finding the oddball stuff that HD and Lowes don’t bother to carry.

    The second hardware store, while not a post office, has an awesome fastener section. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stopped at Lowes and HD first, only to find myself down at this local store getting the hardware I couldn’t find anywhere else (including Fastenal – but they also. have idiots working in their stores).

    I am also lucky enough to be about 30 minutes from McMaster’s NJ warehouse facility… so if I really need something unique or that no one else has, and it is in McMasters giant catalog, I can go pick it up and my order will be ready when I pull into their parking lot.

  2. Paul says:

    More expensive? For me the local ones are always cheaper. Which makes them HOT for me. But they also usually let you try before you buy, which is still hot.

  3. Pete Hartman says:

    In my neck of the woods, the problem is that the local non-chains all had such impossible to reach hours that it wasn’t very easy to evaluate whether they were all that. One store closed every day at 3 and wasn’t open on Sundays…the few times I made it in on a Saturday they were extremely helpful, but clearly their model didn’t work because they closed a month or so back.

    The only other “local” style hardware stores are all ace franchises, which are still better than the big box stores in terms of being able to get knowledgeable help and guidance, but still sit in the middle of that impossible hours problem. One of the two local aces closes at 5pm on weekdays…. I will go to the other one whenever possible, as they actually stay open until 7 or so, but of course if I can’t get out the door before 7 then it’s off to Menards or Home Despot.

  4. false_cause says:

    The local hardware stores in Northern Virginia usually, in my experience, have better selection than Home Depot if I’m looking for particular screws or bolts. Sure, in theory HD stocks a wider variety, but at least 50% of the time they’re sold out of what I need or the stock is misplaced and mixed up and impossible to find. The local shops usually have at least a handful of every reasonably likely item and they are well organized and rarely sold out.

    As for helpfulness, you can’t beat the local hardware store. The second I walk in I’m asked if I need help and the employee is guaranteed to know exactly where an item is and if they are sold out or don’t carry what I need. Beyond than that, I’ve usually found that they will know where I should go to get what I need.

    Local shops can’t fill every need, but where they do have you covered, they put HD to shame.

  5. JamesBrauer66 says:

    Its about 50 miles from my house, but McGuckins in Boulder has almost every piece of hardware known to man. Plus about anything else. And they are actually open reasonable hours. People like to take their pet dogs in there, which is just plain silly, but other than that it is a pleasure to visit. The only players in the town where I live are HD, Lowes, Ace, and DoItBest.

  6. luthier58 says:

    Every time you do one of these, I end up saying “it depends.”

    I live full-time in Memphis, and for all practical purposes there are no “local” hardware stores anymore; it’s big-box or nothing. I have a vacation/future-retirement OLD house and farm outside a small Missouri town, where the only choice is the small, local stores, or an hour drive to the closest Lowe’s. The truth is that for sheer selection, you just can’t beat the big boxes (be honest), but you’d better know what you want, because good help is rare (not impossible, but rare). The small places often have some old guy that knows everything, but they may not have it, or even be able to get it, versus that they may have some oddball “rural” things that the big boxes never heard of. Actual farm stores (MFA, Tractor Supply, Orscheln) are a different story, and indispensable in a rural area, but maybe not so needed in the city anyway. And I second the weird hours thing, in the small Missouri town, literally every local hardware store closes at NOON ON SATURDAY AND ALL DAY SUNDAY. If you’re there mostly on weekends anyway, you’re screwed except for the long drive to Lowe’s.

    That said, I can remember when you could go into an old-timey hardware store and get a not-too-subtle sense of disdain from those old guys if you didn’t know exactly what you needed, or had to use “thingamajig” to describe a part instead of the exact name. The big-boxes are much more egalitarian, if nothing else, and if you need to sit down in the plumbing aisle with a bunch of pipe nipples and elbows and valves to figure it out they won’t look down their nose at you.

  7. John says:

    I love my local hardware store. It’s close 3 miles vs. 15 for HD. The staff knows if they have it, where it is, or where you can get one if they don’t stock it.

    However, prices are almost always higher. For example, the exact same brand and model of florescent tube was 3 times the price at the local as it was at HD. TSP substitute was just under twice the price – again for the exact same brand and size.

    I can justify 10-20% as saving gas and having the part I need quickly, but at 100-200% or if I need a lot of an item(s) – well, resistance is futile.

  8. Charlie says:

    Smaller, local hardware stores have the edge on Menards, Home Cheapo, or B’Lowes, mainly because they can get away with carrying some “oddball” merchandise a lot easier. Sure, you may get a better price at the bigger stores, but lots of times you’ll find that the lower price comes with a higher, uh, “user input” to make the product work for what you need, whereas with the local guy has a more “focused demographic” that he’s dealing with, so he can get a little more specialised products.

  9. F451 says:

    Super Hot. Big-Box Bonehead stores suck. There are some good people in Home Stinko, but there are far better ones in your local hardware stores. Support your local businesses!!!

  10. joe says:

    Seems to me it depends on how you value your time. The big box takes 30 minutes to park, walk in from the lot, walk to the other side of the store, figure out the the widget you want is actually where you started, pick it up, lug it to the checkout stand, wait for the know-nothing clerk to figure out what the price on the 1/4-20 wingnut is, etc. etc. etc. If you need to ask a question, you need to stand in line for that, too.

    The small box store may charge more (they have to – they can’t order in large quantities like HD can), but you can be in and out in ten minutes. If I am paying the salary of the guy who is the gofer, I need to add his wages for the trip to the cost of the item. If it is my time, it depends on the urgency.

    One other point – the big box sells fasteners by the box or by the bag. The little box will sell you 2 or 3.

  11. Sean McDonald says:

    There are a couple local hardware stores here in Chattanooga, TN. The rest are BigBox name brand stores. Ace Hardware here is generally the only alternative to HD, and Lowes. Ace Hardware you get lots of help .. or at least you get chased around .. by the can I help you comments.. but 99% of the time you get a young kid who knows little to nothing about what your doing or wanting to do. Yes they want to help .. but I usually end up teaching them a thing or two before I leave about the products they are selling not them teaching me anything.

    The one thing I do like about Ace Hardware and other independent stores is the fact that I can get in and out faster, but things tend to be higher in cost .. but everyone has bargains.. and I have gotten some clearance bargains at local stores that were much cheaper than the big stores wanted.

    The main reason I go to smaller hardware stores is that the screw and bolt selection usually is better, than the HD or Lowes, but my local HD and Lowes both have good knowledgeable employees , that most of the time can answer questions correctly when the smaller stores try but just don’t have the the experienced staff that bigger big name stores have at least here in Chattanooga.

    I would pay more for a smaller local hardware store that specialized in wood working etc .. like Rockler woodworking .. but so far I haven’t found any stores like that in my area .. if they exist I just haven’t located them.

    The closest we have everything store .. is probably Walter A Woods, they are more of a Industrial Supply house ..but they carry everything under the sun.
    That and Mill and Mine Supply .. they carry tons of tools, and industrial type stuff, That the BigBox stores would never carry.

  12. ~eriC says:

    I’m a big fan of being left alone when I go to the hardware store.(which usually isn’t a problem at HD or lowes) I am also for the most part a browser, i don’t like being a looky loo when someone livelihood is on the line.

  13. Zathrus says:

    I live near (

  14. Old Donn says:

    HOT. My local store not only has knowledgable staff, but the prices are as good or better than HD. And I’ve never been made sport of if I didn’t have the exact name or nomenclature of what I was looking for. These guys can’t afford to be snobs. How many small stores have already gone under the HD/Lowes juggernaut. It’s simple. You want volume, HD or Lowes. Want the right stuff the 1st time, and advice on getting it done, it’s the little guys.

  15. Andrew C says:

    NOT EXISTENT (at least in my neighbourhood in Phoenix). There are some great local stores for parts here, but they tend to go by names like “plumbing supply”, “lumber supply” and “electric supply” rather than hardware store.

    I guess there are some Ace stores around here – not sure if that’s a chain or not. The quality / experience seems to vary from store to store. Some just want to sell lawn stuff and grill tools; others want to sell just plumbing / sprinkler parts. If you go to the right store, it’s OK – but still a hassle that they all seem to close before 5:30 pm on Sundays.

  16. Ray says:

    Bad help is universal.

    Just last week I was coming home from work and and stopped in a local hardware store. (I have never been in this store before). I needed a pex compatible shutoff shutoff valve to finish a little project. After rummaging through the plumbing section (Which was a disorganized mess) I found no pex valves or fittings (though they did have a stub of a role of pex on their tubing rack) My request to the guy behind the counter was met with a blank stare. I pointed to the roll of red tubing…Oh!! he said, you mean plastic pipe! I got what you need in the back! 15 minutes later he comes out with a pvc fitting and a can of solvent cement! I spent a couple of minutes trying to explain what I needed, he started to argue with me! Needless to say I ended up driving to Lowe’s that evening.

    At least in the chain you can ignore people who seem clueless and just search for what you need on the shelf.

    Don’t get me wrong though. A good mom and pop hardware store can be great! Its just that the bad ones are just awful! Sometimes it takes to long the sort the good from the bad and it’s easier to go to Lowe’s.

    This brings me to my Idea. How about a little directory of tool monger worthy hardware stores on the site! We the faithful readers of Tool Mongers can nominate entries and have some ability for other mongers to post reviews/comments.

    Just a thought.

  17. nx99 says:

    OK Ray,

    I nominate C&D Hardware on 11th in Houston. I’ll drive 4x the distance just to browse their selection. If they don’t have it, THEN I go to the big boxes.

    Oh – and I second luthier58. Depends on the store.

  18. Brau says:

    I would be lost without the local independent hardware stores! They carry different stock and are forced to by necessity, I suppose, but often they beat out the big boys on price with their local ordering.

  19. Roscoe says:

    Just to clear things up: Ace, Do-It-Best, and True Value aren’t chains. Each of these stores is individually owned and the owners have joined a “co-op”. The Coop has buying power and warehouse space that makes it possible for the little guys to buy goods they need. Each owner is allowed 1 share in the co-op for each store he owns, and no one else is ever allowed a share. The owners all vote on everything and any staff the coop has is paid by the stores collectively.

    In my opinion, most of these independents are worth supporting have a lot to offer that the big boxes don’t. I’m blessed to have an Awesome Ace right out the back door from where I work.

  20. Daniel Sroka says:

    Our local hardware store wins this one. Primarily because at the heart of the store is a big old service desk that is always manned by at least 2 people who can answer nearly any question. The store itself is just backup to those guys’ knowledge.

    http://www.morristownlumber.com/

  21. jeff says:

    Hot.

    My local Ace rules for knowledgeable staff. May be a bit more expensive but I haven’t stumped them yet with one of housing projects. Home Depot staff frequently put on the clueless face when I ask them questions.

  22. John says:

    Thanks for the clarification, Roscoe — I was actually worried that we didn’t have any non-chain stores around my area either. But the local Ace is worth driving 20 minutes past the Home Depot. If they don’t have it, they KNOW that they don’t have it, and they can usually suggest a substitute or a work-around.

  23. Uncle Flea says:

    There are some great unexpected finds in places like this. Carrollton, TX has a great little half-hidden hardware store called Turner Hardware. If I need a small fitting, or odd size bolts, I’ll go there first. Great folks, great plumbing dept. I don’t mind paying a little xtra for the help that comes with if I need it.

    Lately it seems as though the big box store employees turn and walk the other way when they see a customer coming.

  24. Kurt says:

    HOT HOT HOT. I live in St. Louis and I love my local plumber and hardware store. Great service and good prices.

  25. Hotter than hot!!!

    I will NOT go into a Home Depot unless I have absolutely no other options. Never again. I’m sick of what passes as service there. If I have to use a chain it will be Lowe’s.

    But mostly I don’t have to use either, because Farm & Home Hardware in Wellington, Ohio, has everything I need at fair prices and service is superb.

    I even bought my 16KW Generac generator there–turned out to be $100 less than Home Depot and one of the owners of the store installed it for me.

    This is the kind of old fashioned hardware store where you can buy nuts, bolts, screws, etc. by the piece, put them in a paper bag, write the price on it and they trust you at the cash register.

    If they don’t have it you probably don’t need it.

  26. TL says:

    Nine times out of ten, if I’m going to the hardware store I know exactly what I need and the last thing I want is somebody trying to “help”. That normally makes the big box stores perfect for me. For those few times when Home Depot or Lowes won’t carry what I need, I’m more likely to hit a specialized store than a general hardware store. My local Ace hardware is next to worthless in both their selection and service (not to mention odd hours) so I don’t go there anymore.

  27. William says:

    Luke Warm

    I send alot of time and money at Lowes and I am frequently angered by the lack of small parts and the poor service. But the store is very close and I don’t like making a long drive for a $2 part.

    Kurt would you mind mentioning the St. Louis local plumber and hardware store you frequent.

    A friend of mine works for HD in a advertising role. She hates the company. A few weeks ago she went there with her Boyfriend to buy paint. The paint bucket wasn’t closed correctly and paint spilled all over the back of the car. They did pay for the repairs, but how hard is it to close a can of paint?

    I will list a good store in Louisville Ky. Keith’s True Value Hardware on Bardstown rd. in the highlands. They are pricey but they are very knowledgeable and will order anything you want.

  28. smoore says:

    +1 for McGuckin’s in Boulder. Honestly, anyone reading this blog should stop by there if ever in Boulder. it’s the best place in Boulder! I even bought my Occidental bags there, ’cause I didn’t know which ones I wanted without trying them on. They were the only dealer in the area. (ended up with the lites… everyone knew I would 😉

    As far as bulk purchases, if you happen to have a lumberyard in your town, go get a quote from Home Despot for your entire project and then take it to the local guy and ask if he can match it. If he can’t he’ll probably get within 5%. Just explain that you’d rather him have your business than HD and may be willing to pay a small (SMALL!) premium for that to happen.

  29. RobinB says:

    SO HOT!

    The best is the one that’s been there forever. they usually have everything somewhere in the store. Of course they tend to carry parts and fittings that are relevant to the neighbourhood as well.

    HD etc have their place as well.

    My local (chain) store sucks. 🙁 I end up walking out of there empty handed 75% of the time.

  30. N4NLN says:

    PLASMA FUSION HOT

    i always try to support the local hardware stores because they (in most cases) actually care about what you’re doing. I grew up in a small town with a hardware store the stuff of legend: creaking wood floors, 800 year old gnomes that could tell from a fraction of a busted coupling what you needed and where to find it in the stacks lining the walls up to the 40-foot ceilings. and they didn’t freak when the kid there with his dad played in the pipe fitting bins, screwing together all kinds of weird plumbing sculpture while waiting on dad to get some accursed doohickey.

    there is serious karma in a great hardware store, and as they disappear, the world is a poorer place because of it.

  31. Mel says:

    I second N4NLN’s comments. The older the store, the better because they’re much more likely to have that “doodad” you need laying on a shelf someplace, and someone who knows where to find it! My local hardware store (Hechlers.com) has been in business over 100 yrs., creaky wood floors and all. Great selection, service, and – they appreciate my business, even if it’s only a few nuts & bolts.

  32. Gnomes, in Oakton? Who knew?!

    We used to have an electronics and CB shop near here that was the same way. Walked in there, pulled an odd little bulb out of my pocket, and before I could finish “I don’t suppose you have parts for–“, the guy behind the counter said “Ford radio, yup.” and reached for the appropriate box. Unbelievable.

    They closed 2 or 3 years ago, though, since I guess my occasional projects weren’t enough to keep them in business and apparently nobody else went there. Somehow the local economy supports eight “worse than useless” Radio Shack stores, but not a single decent electronics shop? Now I have to drive 18 miles, or shop online, when I need basic components. It’s a shame.

    As for hardware, HOT. We also lost our local Ace last summer, and I’m still kicking myself for not having made the guy an offer on the whole Hillman aisle full of bins. Somehow Home Depot and Lowe’s manage to dedicate three times the aisle space but have less selection. There are still a few local hardware stores in the area, though, and I try to take my business there when I can.

    Same with the video store! There’s a nationwide chain around the corner, but I’ll happily go the extra 4 miles to patronize Thomas Video, which has a Hitchcock section and a Miyazaki section and a Godzilla section, and three giant tables of laserdiscs. Not that I’m necessarily wild about any of those things, but they also have a shelf of “filmed in Detroit”, which ranges from the big-budget flicks that use our skyline as a backdrop, to the college art-house productions where the foley artist is also an extra is also credited with scriptwriting. I love it.

    Local businesses are part of what differentiates us from a giant sea of bland franchise uniformity. I wouldn’t want to live there, would you?

  33. Kurt says:

    “Kurt would you mind mentioning the St. Louis local plumber and hardware store you frequent.”

    Sure.

    Mac Do It Best Hardware store at 40 E. Lockwood.
    and
    Soulard Plumbing Supply Company at 78 N. Gore.

    Both of those are in Webster Groves (zip: 63119).

    The plumbers are especially knowledgeable for a plumbing novice like me. They’ve probably saved me a few hundred in goof ups with “A common mistake to make is . . . ” and sure enough, it was what I was going to try.

  34. Dave Lloyd says:

    Hot.

    I can get in and out of Hanneke Hardware in South St. Louis faster than I could ever think about getting into and out of Home Depot on South Kingshighway.. When you factor the drive to the nearest Lowes or a better Home Depot, it’s definitely faster.

    But it’s not all about fast. The guys at Hanneke know old houses and stock parts for them, too. Where else are you going to find a brass fitting for a flush elbow for the original toilet in your friend’s 1912 four family? Not at a big box, that’s for sure. Plus, they have free popcorn and I can take my kids there and not worry about confining them to a cart (their favorite part is the popcorn and the fastener aisle with all the bins at toddler height). The staff know my name and my kids names and I always feel welcome when I go there. No question how burning hot my local hardware store is.

    I’ll also vouch for Soulard Plumbing. I’ve tried Henry and gotten the cold shoulder every time. Soulard has astoundingly good service and very competitive prices.

    Another great one in St. Louis is Fehlig lumber. High quality stuff plus excellent service. If you need something that you can use as bed slats, they’ll let you browse through the scrap pile, cut it to size for you and sell it for cheap. They also offer free delivery. Call ’em up, tell them what you want and give a credit card number. A couple of days later, a truck full of lumber shows up at your house. Truly a time and hassle saver. They’re only open M-F, but the ability to phone in your order makes up for that.

  35. Patrick says:

    Hey false_cause — What stores do you frequent in NoVA? I know there used to be one down by 236/50/29, but I ain’t seen many here in suburbia…where are you going?

  36. Kurt Schwind says:

    Wow, thanks for the tip dave Lloyd. I’ll try out Hanneke Hardware. I haven’t been there and I’m always looking for a good local hardware store.

  37. bmadigan says:

    I like my local HW store or a small Ace for most things. Home Depot never has what I’m looking for, and it takes forever to find out where it would be located if they did. That said I go to home depot at least 2 times a weekend. Most of the stuff I get there is consumables (tape, glue, nails, screws, etc), drywall, concrete and framing lumber.
    For hardwood I go to a real lumber yard. I won’t buy cheap oak or maple from HD, even if it is convenient.
    Any good lumber yard has much better lumber. Lowe’s is even worse. They package hardwood in plastic. I have no idea why. A real lumber yard has better prices and should be more ecologically aware, as well as knowing how wood should be treated.
    HD/Lowes employees generally lack knowledge. A wrong answer is worse than no answer, especially when it comes to stuff like concrete.

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