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It seems like we visit the local guys less and less now that they’ve built Home Depot and Lowe’s stores on every corner — or even just blocks away from each other. But we can think of numerous items that the big box retailers just don’t stock.

What’s your experience? Have the big guys finally steamrolled the locals flat, or do you still have a mom-‘n-pop alternative in your neck of the woods? Let us know in comments.

(Thanks to adiything for the great CC-licensed photo.)


26 Responses to Reader Question: Is The Local Hardware Store Dead?

  1. I shop at mom & pops sometimes through their online storefronts. All of my local shops have repeatably disappointed me with inflated prices and lack of selection. Sure they sometimes advertise sales, but they never have enough inventory to back it up.

    If the big-box retailers don’t kill mom & pops, a website may be their salvation. There used to be quite a few plastic supply shops in NYC. Now, I’m hard pressed to find one worth walking into.

    I shop according to convenience and price.

  2. Ken says:

    If I need some guidance on how to do what I’m doing ,then I go to the local hardware store.I get tired of walking around Lowes and Home Depot trying to find a knowledgeable sales associate to help me.When i go to a well stocked small store ,all I have to do is ask one person who is usually the owner and chief sales person. Lowes and Home Depot may stock more but try to find someone to help you.Help you Ha!Ha!Ha!

  3. Katie says:

    Where I live, we have two HDs and 3 Lowes within 10 miles, however there’s a local place three blocks from my house. I always go there first for two reasons, one is the convienence factor, they’re just a whole lot closer and less of a hassle and two, if I walk in with some vague description of the part I need and what I want to do with it, they can generally help me out.

  4. Eric says:

    There is a local place down the street from my office. I get more customer service there buying a 10-cent bolt than I do at the big-box places buying $300 power tools! I try to visit the local places as often as I can. A lot of times, I’m trying to fix something or solve a problem without a defined answer, and I have to brainstorm the solution. I can find all sorts of interesting brackets and parts at the local places that aren’t at the big-box stores.

  5. Tom says:

    I love the local shops. Growing up I got a charge account at the local hardware store at age 16. I had a bunch of friends who worked there so I hung around the store a bit and when I was broke I could charge bags of peanuts on my account and then pay it off at the end of the month. It was in a building that is almost 200 years old now with a tin roof and the most warped floorboards ever. I knew where everything was and it was easy to run in a grab something and get out in a few minutes.

    Now I pass by a HD on my way home so I often stop by there. After walking in from the parking lot, try to find what I need, can’t find help, eventually find something/someone and get out of the store its a half hour to pickup one thing.

    I am blessed to now live near another small, downtown hardware. Often they don’t have what I need (lumber, 15 versions of one thing, etc) but what they do have they are at least semi-knowledgeable about and they have more people working per sq/ft then a big box.

  6. My local place has more cool stuff in its tiny (3,000 square feet?) footprint than the entire big box in all its acres. I can walk through there and learn so much by just browsing the selection, a dozen new things I didn’t know existed, every time I visit. The clerks are knowledgeable, helpful, and resourceful. I shop there when I can, but the big box is closer and I’ll confess that my allegiance hasn’t been what it should.

  7. ned.ludd says:

    They’re all the same to me, big box or indy or whatever: they rarely have exactly the hardware I need. My dollars keep going to mcmaster carr or msc, and I get EXACTLY what I need in the mail in 2 days, max.

  8. KaiserM715 says:

    I would shop a local place… if I knew where one was. At the rate they are disappearing, they are getting harder to find.

  9. Chuck Cage says:

    KMR: Yep, it’s pretty important to us. After establishing before that there’s interest in ’em, I couldn’t help but wonder if readers were — like me — having trouble finding one nearby.

  10. Brian says:

    The problem is selection and price.

    Growing up in Battle Creek, MI there was a place called Warren Radio where you could buy just about any electronic component made, and the guys that worked there were extremely encouraging to me as a kid tinkering in electronics. That’s something you just don’t get at Radio Shack these days (the selection OR the direction and encouragement), and certainly not at the online/mail order companies. As Nate wrote, there was just so much to learn by walking the aisles.

    Those old buildings with creaky plank floors, roofs that made a ‘ping’ noise when it rained, and musty/dusty smells, I miss the magic those old mom & pop’s held for me as a kid.

  11. Dave says:

    I drive past a HD to get to a local store for many of the reasons stated above. As for prices, I find theirs in the ballpark with the big boxes, and for those things that are more expensive, I’m willing (and thankfully, able ) to pay more for the better service.

    I do hit the HD for appliances, and the rare item the local doesn’t have, or if I’m in a hurry.

  12. One Donn says:

    KMR beat me to it, I thought this sounded familiar. Just as then, it’s the local every time. Price wise, they’re right there with HD. Unless I see something in a sales flyer worth the trip, HD & Lowes are a distant second choice.

  13. tim underwood says:

    My local hardware store, Overland Hardware, even though they’re an Ace Hardware now is well into it’s 4th. generation of employees and have won many consumer awards. Where else can you go and buy the proper packing for a 70 year old faucel, 5 drywall screws, 3/4 pound of custom mix grass seed, have a screen windows custom made for odd sized windows, and new car keys cut at the same place for a reasonable competative price?
    The best part is checking out and having one of the older guys asking how my folks are doing while hand writing the receipt.

  14. PutnamEco says:

    I usually try to support my local small businesses, but in the area where I live now, it is rather hard. I have two big boxes and two chains within ten minutes drive. Nearest independent tool shop is an hour away and nearest mom n pop hardware is forty five minute ride. Tool shop has selection that blows away big boxes, but the price is in no way competitive. Over $100 more expensive on nailguns, and wanted over $200 more for a miter saw, I can’t justify spending that kind of money unless it is holding up a job. I try to stop in once or twice a month to pick up nails and such and see what is new. They don’t get the majority of my tool budget.
    I find I’m spending most of my tool budget online.

  15. Jim K. says:

    Personally I shop at both (which means that I’m lucky enough to live in an area where the big boxes haven’t completely driven out the smaller shops). If I need bolts or screws or what have you in less than huge quantities, no way you’d find me at HD, the store a block away from my house has a great selection and is (I know amazing concept here) organized. Power tools and big purchases though tend to go to HD or one of the other boxes as the small guys just can’t compete with the bigger stores pricing (qty discounts must make a huge difference). I’d love to go completely local with the occasional McMasters order for obscure things, but honestly it just isn’t gonna happen.

  16. Tony says:

    My dad shops at the local Ace Hardware because it’s closest and they have things he needs (fittings, fasteners, etc). He only goes to the big box guys if he needs a toilet or something. Things he can’t find at Ace, he finds at McMaster and has my mom pick it up (she works for them).

    I tend to go 50/50 with the big box places and the small Do It Best Hardware. The big box places are convenient for me (Lowe’s is next to Best Buy, Menard’s used to be next to the place I got my hair cut), but despite their much smaller size, I can find the things I need quicker at the Do It Best. They do cost more, but I generally only buy small things.

    Both of us just go to Sears for tools, but that may change with the warranty turning to crap.

  17. Zombie Dad says:

    Not only do we have a couple of great local hardware stores around here (complete with overcrowded aisles and wheezy old proprietors) but we have two local places that specialize in bolts and screws only! CDE Fasteners (http://www.cdefasteners.com/) and Screws Unlimited (http://www.screwsunlimitedinc.com/) I’ve been to SU and, although they charge by the box instead of single items, they’re usually 2-3 cents cheaper than the big box stores!

    Give me a mom and pop shop any day!

  18. Zaw says:

    I’d been looking for a quick connect chuck for my impact so I can pre-drill and drive lags with one tool. All we got here HD I looked there none. Online there are a few selection but over $30 with shipping.

    I went to True Value and found a nice one for $12. A lot of neat tools like that I got are from small shops.

  19. Michael W. says:

    I’m rural and lucky enough to be able to visit any one of five hardware shops in the next two biggest towns (which are too small for Home Depot). My favorite is a local store (Harland Fosters in Great Barrington, MA) that started out as a plumbing and heating supply years ago and now sells a better selection of tools (new and antique) than many online specialty shops.

  20. Steve M. says:

    I live within a few miles of 2 Home Depots and 1 Lowes. They all have knowledgeable people but my local hardware store (Roush Hardware) has people who know even more. Even though they don’t have the variety of the big box stores, they usually seem to have just what I need at a reasonable price. It’s usually easier to find things at Roush and their people are all very, very helpful. I hope they stay in business for a very long time.

  21. Adam says:

    I will second Steve M.’s opinion of Roush. I think the fact that they are employee owned has a lot to do with their customer service. They have a real stake in the company. It does seem that most of the Do It Best stores that I have gone to, Roush in Columbus and Westerville, Shull’s in Johnstown, and even Hader in Cincinnati have all displayed the same kind of service. They all started as the local guy and have kept that kind of knowledge around.

    I visit the local guys as much as possible when I am working on projects, but when I have to get lumber or other large items that they don’t carry I do feel the pull of the other aisles in the big stores.

  22. Shawn says:

    Here in Rockford, IL, we have a great local hardware store (Nicholsons). It certainly seems that they’ve found a great niche, as no matter when you go in there, there are always quite a few people shopping there and during the week there are tons of contractors there. They have quite a few employees so there’s always someone ready and willing to help. From what I can tell, they’re doing pretty well.

    That said, there’s many things I will buy there, but there’s some I won’t. Their price on copper pipe is 50% more than the big box stores. That adds up pretty quick; I’ll do as much as I can to support them, but there’s a limit at some point.

  23. Avisciciulli says:

    Based on their poor performance lately, the saturation of locations, I’m waiting to see Lowes and HD go the way of Builders Square or many other similae endeavors.

    Especially when you start going to Harbour Freight and realize there’s a lot of stuff there that non-Pro tool users can get away with using at a lot cheaper prices.

    As for winning the homeowner DYI $s, the small stores have, as Eric stated, the ability to actually help you figure out a problem.

    Their main problem, however, is that too many of them close at five pm, and aren’t open on Sunday! When do they think people are working?

  24. Harry says:

    I actually feature local hardware stores on the Hardware Aisle. If you want to promote your local mom-and-pop, drop me a line.

  25. Zathrus says:

    Shrug, I can’t disagree with saturation — there’s at least 4 HD’s within 5 miles of my house (and I’m pretty sure there’s another one opening), and 2 Lowe’s. But I don’t think they’re going under anytime soon — HF and its ilk have too few stores (there’s one vaguely near my workplace, but none within 20 mi of my house), and don’t carry things essential to DIY projects like lumber, pipe, nails, etc.

    There’s only one local hardware store that I can think of near me, and while I’ve frequented them before I’d rather go to the big boxes. Why? Because the local place has horrible hours, horrible organization (which is saying something in comparison to the big boxes), and higher prices (10-20% higher on many items). It’s also in a fairly lousy location (as far as traffic goes).

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