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The hardware store in the town where I grew up had been around over 100 years, until recently. Driving around back home a while ago I noted it’s now a nick-nack shop. Like so many other little hardware stores it folded due to lack of support. It’s a bit sad that a hardware store that was around when a hitching post was considered parking could simply disappear one day — but when I got to thinking about it, that’s not really what happened.

The old-school hardware store flourished back in the day because it sold what the general public in that area needed. The problem moving forward was that as the community grew and changed, the old hardware store didn’t reflect the same change. That’s not to say they didn’t change at all but rather they couldn’t keep the status of “catch-all supply depot” that they’d enjoyed in decades past.

The community’s needs became so widespread that a small general hardware store just couldn’t pace folks who were diverging from the rather limited fields of focus seen in days gone by. In the case of the Krum Hardware store the town went from a few hundred people all centered about rural farm life to a few thousand people who have nothing to do with farming. Each household has different interests and needs , and it’s extremely difficult to cut a large enough cross section out of that to keep a tiny hardware store afloat.

Some stores were able to adapt to the change by concentrating on service or by carving out a specialized niche for themselves. A few just changed direction entirely and became lumber yards or equipment dealers.  And some, like the little hardware store in my hometown, just didn’t make it.

In all honesty it shouldn’t come as a surprise to me — the Krum Hardware store didn’t carry the tools and stock we needed even when I was growing up. We would often drive right by it on our way to the larger lumber yard or big box in the next town over because we needed stuff they didn’t have.

It hurts to see the store close; however if we’re to learn anything from the last century it’s that nothing lasts forever. To put it in perspective, the feed store and saloon that were right next to the hardware store in the 1880s are also gone, but their run was much shorter. So in the grand scheme of things, the hardware store was more of a success than anyone around the turn of the century might’ve predicted.

 

14 Responses to Editorial: Old-Time Hardware

  1. KMR says:

    Local hardware stores thrive in estabalished old communities. I’ve never seen plaster button washers at Lowes or HD, but when I needed them I drove over to Killian Hardware in Chestnut Hill (Philly PA) and they had them in bags of 100 for about $10 a bag. AWESOME! Killian even has a website now:

    http://www.kilianhardware.com/index.html

    You just can’t get this specialized hardware for old homes at Lowes or HD. Another local hardware store is Beach’s, and they’ve got some industrial supplies I can’t get anywhere locally (I’d have to mail order).

  2. PutnamEco says:

    I used to live not far from another of the “old time” family hardware stores, The kind of place that had a little of everthing, squirreled away. Puts the big boxes to shame. Some of the old timers that worked there where a veritable storehouse of information. Bring them that old rusty mystery part and they almost always could identify it and find you a replacement from stock on hand.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Meeker's_Hardware

  3. Jim German says:

    I remember the hardware store in my hometown, it was a good sized store and had most everything. But the store was ancient, and horribly laid out. The rows were narrow and extremely cluttered. They had lots of stuff, but finding what you wanted could be impossible. Everyone who worked there was old and got along great with the older customers, but tended to look down on anyone under 40. And they still had one of those mechanical cash registers from the 40’s.
    The store closed up a few years ago, not because they didn’t have products that people wanted, but because they fell behind the times in their staff, organization, layout, and inventory management. Last year, a new Ace hardware opened up thats about the same size, and is doing quite well. But its a great place to shop, even if you didn’t go to school with the manager.

  4. Gary says:

    Whenever I can’t find something at the borg, and don’t have time to order online I go to a family owned hardware store near me. They almost always have what I need, and if I’m in the area, I go there before going to the borg. I hope this one is still around when my son grows up.

  5. paganwonder says:

    Ace has done an awesome job of evolving in our little town- they have parts for old houses and mowers (and the old-timers who know where to find them) and they also have the latest in electronics (and the snot nosed kids who know how they work). I haven’t been to the borg for hardware in a long time.

  6. Old Donn says:

    Sad fact is, compare the number of people in the local hardware store to the nearest big box on any given Saturday.

  7. river1 says:

    SINE HARDWARE is a hardware store that is the oldest continuing operating store in glendale az. they used to be in an old building downtown til the city wanted to use the building for redevelopment. they moved a few miles away. when they were in the old building it was PACKED with stuff and there was no way joe public would be able to find anything but they had it all. in their new building they still have everything you need if you live in the area and anything they don’t have they can get. the staff is still the most knowledgeable staff around, just wished i lived closer. they had to affiliate with ACE to stay competitive but they still are the best around.

    later jim

  8. Adam R. says:

    I have an old time hardware in my town. They don’t have much in the way of tools, but they do have the things needed for running a house. Can’t find vacuum bags at the supermarket? Look here and they have them. The little things that aren’t worth driving the 30 minutes to the bigger stores are in this place. I think that is why they have been able to stay around. Not every store needs to have everything. If a store owner/manager can figure out what the people in the area need and stocks those things there is a great chance for success. If there is something needed, order it for the customer and don’t kill them with shipping costs. They will come back the next time something is needed.

  9. fred says:

    Here is a typical story about a place that sold nearly everything, was well respected and friendly – but just couldn’t compete:

    http://www.centredaily.com/news/local/story/323237.html

  10. Mike Yancey says:

    Is that Krum, Texas?

    I’m still mourning the loss of the Clay Pot restaurant there. We used to go there when and after we were at North Texas State University *cough* now University of North Texas.

    Man that place had good food. It’s been gone 20 years now, at least.

    When in that area, also check out the Ponder Steakhouse. It’s a shack, with a screen door. Best steaks and pies I’ve found and not expensive. Can’t resist giving the place a plug. (BYOB).

    The last area competitors left, having not yet been killed by the big boxes is Elliots Hardware (3 locations around Dallas). Fantastic selection.

  11. Jerry says:

    In Salem, OR there is an old – very old – hardware store. Saffron Supply has just been a part of old downtown “forever.” I like the service and the knowledge of the folks working there. I especially like that so many of the items they carry are carried in bulk fashion. Those 30 amp cartridge fuses that the big bix has in a pack of 2 are simply in a large box (the one they shipped in) and you get out how ever many you need. You can even take just one if that’s all you need. Old, old building with wooden floors and the most wonderful smell of “old hardware store.” When you walk in you notice the smell and spend a couple moments just breathing it in and smiling. If you ever get to Salem, do not miss this place – even if you don’t buy anything!

  12. Michael Pendleton says:

    One of my theories on this subject (the death of the old fashioned hardware store) is that, as is pointed out in the original piece, people’s tastes and needs changed, and hardware stores didn’t keep up. Or more to the point, the ones that did keep up are now something other than a hardware store! We still need a general store, to buy all those random bits and bobs of life, but when I think of this kind of shopping, I think of drug store chain, like CVS or Walgreens. I’m hardly ever buying drugs, but maybe some pencils, some shampoo, and hey, a candy bar… These are the regular needs of my life, and individual screws and washers don’t figure into it.

    I say all that, and I’m a (semi-)professional carpenter with a more than occassional need for some hardware that I can’t get from HD or some big box. However, when that happens, I recognize that I am looking for a specialty item, and therefore won’t be able to find it at just any location. I love the hardware stores that still have the walls of hardware in individual drawers, but I can’t imagine how they manage to support that much inventory on the shelves. How many 1 1/4″ cork tapered stoppers do they sell in one year? In my dreams, I have enough money to have one of these walls installed in my shop (in the Hardware Room, which is between the Machine Shop and the Wood Shop and below the Finishing Wing), but until then, I’m resigned to using mostly online sources for my peculiar hardware needs with the occassional visit to the local store…

  13. amos anon says:

    The reason the old, small hardware stores are out of business is that they don’t make any money.

    I remember our old hardware store: the owner was 70, worked thirteen hour days, six days a week, paid two or three part time helpers a little over minimum wage, and his profit was less than minimum wage or he lost money every day for years. He sold the building and retired. None of his kids wanted the lifestyle or the pay cut that came with the store.

    The kicker is that for the things he could stock at a price difference that wouldn’t just tick people off, the time savings between him and home depot was huge – you could get in and out in 5 minutes, where it takes that long to walk across the parking lot at HD, not to mention walking across the store, tracking down a clerk to find out where something is, waiting in line (for the clerk, and later for checkout), walking back across the parking lot, etc.

    Time is money, but tell that to the guy in accounting, or to your aunt who needs a washer or something.

  14. Hive Pirate says:

    Amelia Paint and Hardware in Fernandina Beach, FL. is alive and well old timey hardware store. I grew up in Denton and used to go to the old hardware store and feed store up at the square frequently.

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