I Like This

I remember back when Wal-Mart and their ilk were building stores everywhere, and small-town businesses everywhere were being put out of business by their erstwhile customers falling prey to the fallacy that Price Is King, and lured into the soulless caverns that were Wal-Mart, Home Depot and so on, all for the chance to save a couple bucks on nails and screwdrivers.

I was heartened when I visited Britishland for the first time, back in 1997, and found that there were still plenty of ironmongers (hardware stores) dotted in the main streets of British towns.  Invariably, I’d drift into one, and wish that I lived somewhere nearby because of all the cool stuff they sold, stuff which I hadn’t seen in over decade of walking through Lowes or Home Depot, let alone Wal-Mart.

Let me be clear here:  to men of my generation, hardware stores are to us like drugstores are to women.  Yet while you can find a CVS, Walgreens or Osco drugstore within spitting distance of your house in any town, you will not find a hardware store which caters to men.  Oh sure, drive a few miles and get drawn into a Wal-Mart, only to find that if you want a couple of #2 self-tapping screws for that project on the honey-do list, sorry but they’re only available in the 50-pack, $5.99 instead of a buck for the two you needed.  (And yes, I know all about economies of scale and bulk savings — but at the end of the day, you end up spending six bucks instead of two, and are saddled with four dozen screws that you may or may not need in the future.)

It doesn’t have to be that way.  Here’s a story from, of all places, Wales, where the local ironmongery was about to close its doors after years of serving the town, but the locals, realizing what they might miss if the place disappeared, did something about it.

Note how carefully they structured the financing, so that GlobalMegaCorp Inc. couldn’t sink their ravenous fangs into the place and turn it into something other than what they wanted to keep.

I wish we’d done something like this in small towns Over Here, but that bullet’s gone through the church and we’re stuck with megastores, damn it.

There are about three or four posts that burst the banks of this stream of consciousness, but they can wait for another time.


  1. Spot on, and well done to the good folks of Newport.

    For the 30 years we lived in Chico, CA that place was Collier Hardware at the corner of West First St and Broadway. Established in 1871, still in business today. From the worn wooden floors that flex in places because there is a basement underneath, to the old machines waaay in the back for cutting and threading iron pipe.

    Here in Texas, I did the happy dance when I discovered the ACE Hardware stores actually stock a small but through selection of gun screws. Searching their website just now, even with a local store selected, I am mildly miffed but not surprised to get “0 results” for “gun screws”.

  2. I will definitely add a tour of Havards on my trip to Wales next summer. When my SIL and wife head off to a week in London to visit the SIL’s adult daughters, my BIL and I will catch the Fishguard Ferry to Ireland for our annual Pub Crawl and Nature Walk from Rosslare to Points Unknown. Havards is on the way to the ferry and just a short stumble from the Golden Lion Pub & Hotel.

  3. I remember these as a kid too. And the utter wonder I had roaming around when my Dad or Mom needed to get something. They sold guns too, and the glass display of Case knives held me in awe. They’re gone now. First they joined TrueValue or Ace to be able to buy, the quality of items went down, and the corporate wankery went up (e.g. “The helpful hardware folks” v “The helpful hardware man”), and the magic disappeared. I also remember a half-full ashtray at the cashier, was never a smoker but somehow I find that a little bit of magic loss.

    Used to be able to go into a garage and see a pin-up calendar too. Not anymore.

    Its also why I quit going to gun shows. They became as soulless as Wal-Depot-Lowes.

    There’s one place left where I live now. And I try to frequent it as often as I can to keep it alive.

  4. There are a few ACE Hardware that still retain the old hardware store flavor, the older folks working there who can actually understand your rambling questions and point you to a solution.

  5. On skoolie and other home-built forums for converting vehicles into mobile homes, I *always* leave a polite tirade anytime somebody suggests:
    * “I bought it on-line…”
    * “I am waiting for my order from Amazon…”
    * “I got it at Lowe’s/The Home Depot…”.
    My response gently suggests going with ‘local-owned family-operated’ because these are the people I see everyday, at church, at community BBQs, at the auto parts house, at the hair shop.
    Eugene, Oregon.
    Springfield, Oregon.
    We are blessed to have two local-owned family-operated Jerry’s Home Improvement Centers.
    For comparison — for sharts-n-giggles — I occasionally walk through the Lowe’s/The Home Depot conglomerate compound.
    And ‘yes’, the rumors about them sharing a parking-lot are true.
    Inconceivably, the two are adjacent.
    (A cynic might be reminded of the comedy skit about the Starbucks across the street from the Starbucks.)
    Walking through either Lowe’s or The Home Depot — and I am often the only customer — I see perhaps thirty employees, workless, staring at the ceiling, puddles of drool accumulated from hours of stationary idling.
    If I ask the location of something — “Which way to plumbing?” — they need to call a manager, and the manager consults the WorldWideWeb through the in-house cyber-system.
    In comparison, Jerry’s is a bustling community center, staffed with local talented contractors and retired builders.
    A popular response to running into a pal from working together on some project — me asking “Are you ever going to retire!” — is their “I am having too much fun to retire…” while digging through the Mile ‘O Screws And Bolts.
    And, in my experience, pretty much everybody knows pretty much everything about everything at Jerry’s.
    One greeter — although ‘director’ is an appropriate description, too — is an old Injin (casino, not curry).
    I roll in with my cart foraged from the parking-lot, and usually ask something off-the-wall… “Oscar, where can I find rat traps?”
    His response is an instant “Hey, LM, good to see you! Rat traps are on E-3, let me know if you need anything else!”
    At our every meeting, I ask him about his age… Oscar is perpetually “17 in a few months!”, but I am sure he is probably the other side of 90.
    Oscar understands the concept of ‘customer service’.

  6. We have a local chain (2 stores) family hardware store. It’s my go to for most things. Only hit places like Lowe’s if it’s for something they don’t stock.

    But if I want to find a bolt for a fitting with missing pieces, I can take the fitting into them and they’ll sort through some drawers and come up with the correct one in a couple of minutes. Or advice on the correct float to replace one in my toilet, or get window screens redone…

    Growing up in small town IA we had two hardware stores that were technically chains (Western Auto and Coast to Coast), but they had the family owned feel to them. I got my first bike and first BB Gun from them.

    1. I bought my first .22 from Coast to Coast. Still have it. Ruger 10/22. That was a looooong time ago.

  7. I bought my first gun, a 1960 Marlin 39A, with my newspaper/lawn mowing savings from a neighborhood brick walled, wood floored, nails by the pound, rope by the foot hardware store. I was just 16 then; I’m pushing 80 now and while I still had that rifle til last year’s canoeing accident, that store is long gone to a shopping center parking lot.

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