A.J.’s recent post about the dreary state of hardware stores touched a nerve for me. I’ve been ranting about the demise of small business for years now as I see one after another bulldozed into oblivion by the “big box” mentality.

I have two main concerns (outside of the destruction of the small business economic base). The first is the loss of diversity. It seems like, no matter what store you pick, no matter what the store calls itself, it will pretty much have the exact same stuff on the shelves as the last one you went into. There is no chance of stumbling across something unique. It’s like going into a fast food franchise restaurant (an oxymoron to be sure). The ones in New York City have exactly the same “menu” as the ones in Dallas. You will never see anything different.

The other thing that I really miss about the “big box” stores is Homer. Homer was a guy who worked in the hardware store in the town where my shop is. He was almost 90 when they were shoved off the table by the last straw blow of a third “big box” hardware store opening up in the town. Homer went to work there when he was 16 and he knew where every speck of dust in that store was. He knew hardware like no one else I’ve ever known. What a contrast to the well intentioned young man who greets me with a huge grin that quickly morphs into a look of puzzled confusion the minute I ask him for something Homer probably would have had right there in his pocket.

I used to work on old cars and that meant lots of hours spent in junkyards. There was this guy everyone called Stringbean. Yes, tall and skinny, dressed in grease stained coveralls and rarely speaking more than a word or two. We were convinced that Stringbean was physic or had some trick because no matter what tool you asked him for, it was always right there in his front pocket. He never had more than one tool in that pocket but it was always the one you needed. These days, you can’t even find a good junkyard, much less a Homer or a Stringbean. What a loss …



  • Frank says:

    David I agree with you on this. All of the small hardware stores in my area were shoved-out by the orange and the blue stores. Luckily, a smaller chain opened a few miles from me. It is a franchise that is individually owned. The owner knows his hardware and if he doesn’t stock an item he will get it for me in a few days. Even though most of his stuff is more expensive than the big box, I frequent his store as much as I can to help him stay in business. The extra few dollars I spend are made back when he gets me an item I can’t find in the big box.

  • Lennis says:

    This is no doubt a tragedy! There was one in Carlton MN it had it all, even a barrel of peanuts w/ the shells. Then came Wal Mart and others, which has ruined the Mom and Pops’ of the mid west. Forunately, were I now live, there is a hardware store that’s got it all. It’s not close by, though. I believe it has survived because it is in a rural part of Wisconsin, St. Nazian. For me it takes near a half of an hour to get their but it is always worth the trip. Some thing well forever remain sacred!

  • Douglas says:

    We still have our little Hardware store here in Fredonia, KS. You are right about the uniqueness that you find in these places. When you need something that you don’t think exists anymore…Steve has it. And then you just start browsing around and find something from 30 years ago and think, “Wow, I have got to have that.” Luckily for me the “big box” store is at least an hour or more away. I will always pay a little extra to buy at Steve’s to keep our little hometown store going (even if I lived in a big city)>

  • Crai says:

    I worked in a real hardware store for over 20 years, where if we didn’t have it you didn’t need it. We carried stationary wood working machines 2-56 screws to 1′ grade 8 on the shelf heavy hardware paint etc. We had the buying capacity of True Value as well as our own. Third generation came along and the greed took over and wound up in the daughters control. Last time I was in the store she had 1 1/4″ corded electric drill on the shelf. Fortunatley we do have a good local store that caters to the needs of those who can’t find unusual items in the big box stores, Smart operator. Our local Home depot employees go out of there way to great and help,I was in the local Lowes 3 times before anyone greated me and that was a flagger guiding a fork lift.

  • I agree. There are very few of these places around any more. What amazes me is the box stores are not cheap places to buy. In Ontario (Canada) the box stores focus on a few items to WOW the consumer with low prices… then get back everything they discounted on the items they are high on. It’s a strategic game they play. In fact, one local lumber yard owner told me his prices went up when “orange” came to town. Interesting. Their marketing is so strong they can get more for something than the Mom and Pop shops.

  • After reading this article, I feel very plessed to live in a Western town that has not one, but, two old fashioned stores that cater to the residents. One is called “Red’s Trading Post” and they buy just about everything that comes in the door. You can find #4 x 3/8″ brass screws to septic tanks, pipe of every size and lawnmower wheels, steel of every type and stainles steel and brass in odd shapes and sizes. Foam rubber, hand tools lamp parts and just about everything that a home, business or farm owner needs to fix things. Old Red started the store in 1952 and it still is a main stay now run by his son.

    The other store is a “Tru Value” store that was started in 1955 and is now run by the son. They have the greatest new hardware that I have found. I will give the biggest “Box” store a run for it’s money.

    Yes, we have a Home Despot here as well and everyone that I talk to hates to shop there. The employees all say, “That is not my department”,and page someone that works there and knows less about the stock that the cashier at a local grocery store.

    We also have a lumber yard that has been here since 1953 and can and will order anything that is needed for construction. I buy all my exotic hadrwoods there. It takea a few days and the prices are only 10% higher that I would pay in a wholesale supply. And, they deliver…

    I am very thankful for my little town, (18,000) and all the exceptionally nice business owners.

    Want a look? The Dalles Oregon, end of the Oregon trail. Wagon trains either had to float down the Columbia to the Wallamette Valley or go South to another trail over the Cascade Mountains, South of Mount Hood.

  • Judy says:

    While I don’t disagree with anything said above, I do feel the need to give some additional perspective. We’ve lost two independant hardware stores since I moved to this town 18 years ago. The first was right after I moved here, so that closing had nothing to do with big box stores as there were none here or anywhere nearby at the time.

    The second closed a few years ago, and I suppose they may have blamed it on the big box that had arrived a few years back. It was a GREAT hardware store; they had EVERYTHING. Including a visible haze of smoke from the owners and several employees who smoked in all parts of the store, at all times of the day. I’ve got respiratory problems, and I couln’t be in there for more than a few minutes, and then only at the end of the day as it was so bad I’d have to go home and clean up immediately. Maybe for some, that smoky haze is part of the experience, but for me, it meant going there only as a last resort, as much as I might have preferred it otherwise. The new tenants told me that a number of people had asked them, when they mentioned they’d be moving into that space, how on earth they thought they’d ever get rid of the smell.

    There is still a small, independantly owned lumber yard here, which I tried to patronize whenever possible. However, the front was often tended by people whose response when I asked whether they had an item would often be, “If we have it, it would be over there,” or something similar. The back was manned by people who clearly did NOT want to be bothered with anything out of the ordinary; at least not unless it was a large order. At best they were not at all helpful about any special requests, and at worst were snippy, short, and rude to me when I asked about anything not in stock. After years of this, I did finally decide not to waste my time (and theirs, as clearly they weren’t very interested in having my business) there any longer.

    Yes, it is a real tragedy that smaller, locally-owned stores are so often driven out of business by large chains that are often not really very good alternatives. However, not every such small store provided the great inventory and service we like to recall. I refuse to feel guilty for not patronizing a store that is indifferent to my business.

    In fact, rather than go to our local big-box, which is badly run, and has a terrible hardware department, I often drive to the next town to go to the big-box there (different brand). It is well-run by mostly knowledgable people, and has a very good hardware department. Not even the big boxes are all alike.

  • Joe Connors says:


    I used to live in Woodland, the town where I believe your shop is. I think the hardware store you are referring to was Cranstons. They had everything! They were the go to hardware store. I remember an old gentlemen in there I just didn’t recall his name. Thank you for bringing up an old pleasant memory!

  • A new “improved” America. I really believe we could restructure and get the small businesses back. The first step would be to think of a small business as one with ten or less employees. Our government has been worthless at helping this size business. It would be a big help just to have one tax for this size out fit and the government could figure out what goes where. Seven quarterly reports for a guy with one part time helper is insane.

  • BigStick says:

    The small business maybe past the point of no return.
    Government regulations have strangled the start up capital needed to open a business. The greed is rampant and the constant threat of being sued or fined or shut down to create a better environment for the employees. Why did big business go over seas, “to stay alive”.
    Insurance company, gas prices, workmen’s comp increase School Taxes and income taxes. Health insurance benefits’ became impossible to pay. Homer did his job every day,
    day in and day out. We moved to a service economy and now live off China goods that create goods that are made for a throw away economy. Junk is junk and now Price is the issue, how cheap can it be made. I still use my electric razor made in Holland by a American company and it is now 50 years old. I appreciate all the Homers out there; maybe will have a nice small hardware store again, after all David did slay Goliath.

  • Isn’t it amazing that everyone moans and groans about the Walmarts and Home Depot but they still support them with their dollars because it is “CHEAPER”. Don’t support bad behavior. The strength of the dollar is louder than words.

  • Douglas says:

    The only time I will support Walmart is if I am looking for a cheap video to watch. For anything of REAL quality you won’t find me shopping there!!!! I don’t think they know REAL QUALITY.

  • Dave Sochar says:

    I have been in a Wal-Mart twice in my life. I do not go to Lowe’s or Home Depot (unless I have to), but patronize the small hardware store with older clerks that know hardware and understand what you need. While things may be a few cents more, more of that money stays in the community, and even the worst parking space is closer to what I need than the handicapped spaces at BigBoxCo.

    The sad part is the loss of regionalism. It used to be that as you traveled, accents, words and food all took on new flavors, the flavors of the region that came from years of local culture. Now you get off an interstate and all the food is crap, the people are drugged, and the culture is gone.

    Damn, I sound like an old man!

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