Mourning the passing of an American icon

The anti MallWart thread which I started in the Pit caused me to think about some prophetic words spoken roughly thirty years ago.

When I was a little cat, Saturdays were fix things days, and I’d tag along with Dad as he went about repairing and improving our home. Such projects occasioned visits to a variety of places loosely grouped under the heading of ‘hardware stores’. To a child, these were magical places with shelves reaching to the sky, thousands of items of which I knew little, but these things were understood by Dad. The proprietors all knew Dad by name, would ask about my Mom and siblings, and usually a friendly dog could be found, asleep by the cash register.

Their commonalities were well-worn wooden floors, a bell on the front door, slow moving ceiling fans in the summertime, a smell of work, a mixture of pipe or cigar smoke, aroma of wood, with a tinge of dog. Bulk goods such as bags of sand or cement were outside on wooden pallets, but no one worried about theft. In retrospect, I have to wonder if the door was even locked.

Although similar, each store seemed to have a specialty, a personality as unique as the man or woman behind the counter. One would carry a better selection of electrical supplies, another had oily machines off to the side where pipe could be cut to length and threaded, the shop down in the next town had the best selection of paint, and this fellow could take a tired old saw and restore the edge to a keenness equalling that of a new tool.

Years passed, and I joined the volunteer fire company. Owing to an apprenticeship under Dad, I’d become fairly handy and often worked on projects at the station. Visits to Ed’s Hardware were regular. An affable fellow, he and his wife lived in a modest house attached to the rear of the store, and sometimes you’d find him watching TV with the door to the house open so he’d hear the arrival of a customer. Always greated by a hearty, “Hey, pal. How’s your Mom and Dad? or What are you workin’ on today, buddy?”, simply walking through the door was an enjoyable experience. The man possessed a mental inventory of that store which astounded me. If I asked for #10 x 1 1/4" flat head wood screws, he could tell me how many aisles to walk, where to turn, and what they were next to, all without leaving his seat at the counter.

Pricing was negotiable. His query was standard, “Is this for you or the fire house?” The fire company, being a community organization, was strongly supported by men like Ed, and pricing reflected his convictions. Once that was determined, he’d muse for a moment, and say, “Ah-gimme a buck and a half.” If I’d hand him a dollar, and pull change from a trouser pocket, and not find two quarters, he’d say, “Ah-that’s good. I’ll get you next time.”, although next time never seemed to be remembered. If I tried to remind him of the quarter or so, he’d shush me with a wave of his hand, and his ready laugh.

One other oddity of Ed’s Hardware was the pool table. Between the pipe rack, and the storm door parts was a full size slate bed pool table, like one would find in a tavern. One afternoon, he invited me to play, if I had the time. Offer accepted, and play commenced. Ed knew my age probably near as closely as did my parents, and he offered me a beer. This was a great afternoon, shooting pool with a fellow I’d been seeing since I was around 5 or 6, and enjoying a cold one. Ed won the rack, turned to me and he looked sad.

“You know the old Grants store up on York Road?” he asked. “Word is they’re gonna put in a Rickel.” If you don’t recognize the name, Rickel was one of the early home center stores, and was part of Supermarkets General Corporation, the parent company of Pathmark. “They’re gonna put me out of business.” I couldn’t understand what he was talking about. Why on earth would someone go to some other place when they could find what they needed at Ed’s? I saw fear in the mans expression-he was probably in his late 50s or early 60s then, and likely all he had ever done was hardware.

I kept going to Ed’s for anything that he had, even if it cost a bit more, but it was only a matter of time. New developments were filled by folks who never knew the man, and so it came to pass that he closed the store, and hopefully got enough money out of the deal to retire comfortably. All the other places I’d visited with Dad have gone the same route, and those who brought about their demise have devoured one another.

Perhaps I have better prices now, but I’d trade that for independent business men such as Ed. :frowning:

I agree with you in every way. I grew up in a very small town with a thriving downtown area–packed full of tiny little locally owned buisnesses, including two hardware stores exactly as you described. There were several dry-goods stores, and five locally owned department stores.
Then came the Wal-Mart and the mall, ten miles away. Now the downtown area is dead. The movie theater is still there, but has changed hands many times, the drug store is still going strong, 107 years running, and there’s still one department store. Other than that, not a single buisness left from my childhood.

The irony here is that when I go to Home Depot or Lowe’s, I get nostalgic for the down-home friendliness of Rickel. I’d tag along as a lad with my father there, and all the employees would have a friendly word. It wasn’t like dad was in the construction trade, spending every day there either. Maybe every other weekend we’d go in for some supplies for whatever the Saturday project was, and everyone had a “Hiya Joe!” for him. Plenty of the workers kept treats stashed that they would slip to me. It was like Halloween every other weekend.

I remember the guy at the paint counter always made sure to send me off with a few paint stirring sticks, which for some reason I found to be enormously fun toys.

Rickel has been gone from town for probably better then 20 years now, and I now live and die by Home D (and the very occasional stop at Lowe’s). But I must say, finding a store where I could share a brew and shoot a little stick with the owner would be a fine thing indeed.

Hmmm… I just realized another irony here – we do have a small, old-style hardware store close by, but every time I’ve gone in there, the owner has been a right unhelpful bastard. :slight_smile:

By the by, thanks for the memory, dances. It’s been ages since I thought about Rickel.

Interesting parallels between this and the current “old-style barbershop” thread.

There’s an independent hardware store right near me, Stewart Brothers hardware. I go there for all my hardware needs. Unfortunately, there’s a Home Depot preparing to start construction in the neighborhood; we’ll see what this bodes for Stewart Bros.

My small town had three hardware stores, all within a half mile of each other. Literally. They were all busy places, even when times were lean nobody folded.

Home Depot opened up a few years ago. First, the lumber yard went out. They had a store too, but they really didn’t stock much of a much.

Then, the really great old place with the wooden floors, the guns for sale up front ( oh god. I about fainted. ), and the UNBELIEVABLE selection of machine screws in odd sizes and lengths. That place was teetering because of Home Depot. Then, one of the sons murdered the father who owned the place, had grown up with HIS dad who’d founded it 100 years ago. The place folded within a year.

The last of the three just went under. My experience with this last place has been identical to that of the OP’er. As a member of the local ambulance corps, I was asked the same question. " Is this for the Corps? " We got a serious discount, and never paid tax. I took Mae to the hospital once for her heart, and asked after her health each time I was in subsequently. When I broke my back, she kept after me to do my P.T. and follow up.

It’s community. It’d be great if Home Depot, or Wal-Marts really did mix into the community. Sadly, for all of the big signs showing how community-oriented the stores are, and what the employees donate to the local food pantry, they are soulless husks. Echoing with pages and smelling faintly of orange citrus cleanser.

I did not grow up in this small town, but I don’t have a drop of contempt for the inertia of it, the feelings the long-timers have for it, or the hatred they feel for the Big MegaStores. I feel it too. I loved moving into this town, and it’s slowly becoming another whore to the MegaChains.

It is sad.


Another weird parallel is that we still have old-fashioned Mom-and-Pop hardware stores in NYC as well as old-fashioned barbershops.

We’ve also still got a few independent bookstores (not nearly as many as we used to, thanks to B&N, damn their eyes) . . . We’ve got French and Austrian bakeries and Chinese restaurants and seamtresses and locksmiths who will get you into your apartment at 4:00 a.m., and a corner diner where the cat will sit on your lap while the waitress gets you a cuppa joe.

Is it possible that New York City is one of the last “small towns” in America?

IIRC, these Mom and Pops closed at 5 pm, at 1 pm on Saturday and Closed on Sundays.

I leave for work at 6 am and get home at 6 pm. I am glad the Home Depots and Walmarts are open when I can go shopping.

Sure, I would like the clerks to know my name, but I am sure glad that I don’t have to shop at these stores on Saturday mornings, when I try to play some golf.


Thanks for making me spend some time remembering going to Arnold’s Hardware in Red Lion as a kid. I wonder if it’s still there?

I really ought to go read your anti Walmart thread, since I feel that the Walmartization of our country (and beyond) is going to be the downfall of civilization as we know it.

Yes, I have an independent frame shop and somewhat feel the pinch of the big boxes who run those coupons for 50% off and such and get people in merely because of a coupon. In actuality their prices with the coupon are about the same, and frequently more than my prices. But hey… there’s a coupon! Sorry, I’m rambling. (Or is it ranting?) :slight_smile:

You know, danceswithcats, I agree with you. But here’s something to think about. There was a mom and pop donut shop in a small town that everybody went to. There were no prices posted. Everyone knew that donuts cost, say, a dime a piece. That’s if you were white. But if you were black, you paid a quarter. I heard that from a guy on NPR’s Marketplace once. If that’s old-fashioned service, give me Wal-mart. They treat everyone like crap.
But I really do agree with you. I swear. Really. It was just a good point about the objectivity of Wal-mart, and the fundamental equality of the bar-code scanner.

There are a bunch of local businesses in Portage. There’s even a Small Business Association. One of the stores that impresses me the most is Campbell’s Auto Supply - located directly beside an Auto Zone. All they carry is actual car parts and such. so I go there for bits and pieces, even if I go to AZ for wiper blades and oil.

We’ve actually been doing not too poorly on keeping Wal-Mart out, or at least hurting it. There are . . . 3 or 4 Meijer in K’zoo/Portage, and 2 or 3 Wal-Marts. One of the Wal-Marts is doing so poorly because of Meijer that it closes at night. They’re building a new one about a block down from the NICE Meijer that people will drive across town to go to (passing the other Meijers and Wal-Marts), so I don’t know what kind of business they expect to get there. Meijer may not really be local, but they’re less evil than Wal_mart, and I support anyone who’ll hurt WM.

Unfortunatly, I’ve never had the Local Business Experience that y’all’ve had. I support small business whenever I can. but it’s not because of emotional attatchment to hold onto a Better Time. Maybe I’m too young to have had those experiences (I’m only 20).

My late dad was a great believer in supporting the local businesses.

A case in point: One Christmas he ordered a new color TV for him and Mom, and he ordered it from one of the local TV repairshops/dealerships we had in Villa Rica.

When I asked him what he paid for it, I nearly freaked and told him, “Dad! You and I could have driven to Atlanta and we could have gotten that same television set for 100 bucks less!”

His reply was. “Bill, that may be true, but there’s many a time when Jack would come out to fix the fridge or the old television or even the stove, and I appreciated that. That and the fact, that if it was something simple , he’d only charge me a minimal fee for coming out and just the price of the part. Now if we had bought this TV you speak of in Atlanta, he may still come out and fix it, but after all these years, I’d be ashamed to ask him to.”

I thought about that, and concluded my Dad was right; There is a definite advantage to supporting the hometown businessman and they tend to remember you for it.

Sadly, White’s Appliance Sales and Service is no more. The last time I passed through my American hometown I noticed the sign was still up (Frigidaire!), but now it serves as a storage building for a neighboring mill.


Well, I feel fortunate enough that we still have a genuine, honest-to-gosh “Gibson’s Department Store” here. They pretty much disappeared completely about 30 years ago. Though Gibson’s is, indeed, a “department store,” this particular store’s claim to fame is the hardware. But first, let me digress momentarily.
You see, Gibson’s is an icon in this community. It is located just three blocks from downtown and occupies the dead center of activity in our little burg. It has survived both standard Wal-Mart and SuperWal-Mart, as well as both Home Depot and Lowe’s, which both opened in the last 18 months. In fact, just this Christmas, the parking lot was literally overflowing every day from Thanksgiving onward.
Yes, our Gibson’s is a department store. You can purchase clothing, shoes, and kitchen goods. A few groceries, paint, hardware and pesticides, utensiles and appliances are also available. Purchasing a power tool, be it a drill press, bandsaw, or router is not a problem. You can get extension cords, egg beaters, television and audio cables, household repair items and heaven-only-knows what all else. Additionally, they offer a fully-stocked, genuine sporting goods section with rifles, shotguns, handguns, ammunition, fishing tackle, bait, cammo gear, bows, arrows, arrow tips, ammo reloading supplies, targets, binoculars, spotting scopes and just about anything you could possibly need. Knowing a few things about the store helps, too. For instance, at the ammo counter, you can ask for the ammo at the BACK of the shelf. They have a habit of not rotating their stock, so sometimes you can come away with a box of ammo for a buck or two less than what’s on the ones at the front. They really don’t mind; you’re helping them rotate the stock. All of this, and it’s still a “personal” store. Sometimes you might have a little trouble finding what you are looking for - but invariably, when you have a look of bewilderment, one of the local, friendly staff will help you find it. There is a saying here, that is very true, “If it’s not at Gibson’s, you don’t need it.”
I grew up with this store, and fortunately, it looks like it’s going to be around a lot longer. I guess a few of the “old fashioned” stores are still around.

  • Dirk