the south end hardware co. in Boston’s
South End, circa 1956.
discounts. Discounts aren’t as large as at big-box stores, but are good enough to compete.
Co-ops help small owners cope with the dizzying array they must stock. Owner Scott
Vanderhoof, Thomas’s uncle, says, “The
inventory sheet of 1904 was just one sheet,
and all the goods fit on one side of the sheet.
Now we’ve expanded to over 33,000 items”
— all in a 1,000-square-foot store. Co-ops also
take a proactive interest in their members’
family-succession business plans.
When it comes to service, the new generation works as hard to satisfy a new kind of
customer (one with plenty of options and little
time) as it does to know the right spring hinge
or tank flange for the job. This wasn’t always
the case. Russell Morash, creator of public
television’s This Old House, started the show
in part to demystify the insular world of the old
“When I was a boy,” he says, “my carpenter
dad would send me down to the local hardware place to get odd bits of things he needed.
In those days, before ‘blister packs,’ you could
buy a single nail, a screw, a jar of kerosene, or
an escutcheon plate in a store managed by a
surly character with little patience for those of
us who didn’t know exactly what we wanted.
‘Just what kind of es-cut-cheon plate did you
want, Sonny?’ he’d snarl. ‘We got 14 different
types.’ With an audience of other customers
listening, he would then rage at me for wasting his precious time. Some difference from
today’s home centers, where ‘greeters’ practically tackle you in the parking lot, so eager are
they to provide you with ‘today’s specials.’ ”
Nowadays, traditional hardware stores
dole out a lot less snarl but the same good
information. Stepping into one of these survivors, a kid could get inspired — or at least
learn something about escutcheon plates.