If you ever visit a local hardware store, you are familiar with their ambience of community. This is where professional contractors and do-it-yourselfers meet and exchange knowledge, support, and friendship. They are a reminder of our own infrastructure, of how things fall apart when you don’t take care of them, and how skills can be developed by tackling concrete problems. An example is Crest True Value Hardware in the Williamsburg area of Brooklyn. In business since 1962, the Franquinha family not only sells hardware, but also incorporates the history of the neighborhood, and even works with local artists to bring the different types of neighbors together. One of their secrets is to stick with what’s worked in the past.
When Crest was planning its renovation, Joe sought out the advice of True Value’s specialists. “The first blueprint they gave me had no back counter,” he said. The consultants advised that his plan to keep all the nuts and bolts behind the counter was not an efficient use of space. “Says who?” he protested. “Do you have any idea how many times I get returns of ripped-open nuts-and-bolts packages … because customers bought the wrong one the first time, because there was no one helping them and they just grabbed it? Now they go to the back counter, because it’s the only place we sell nuts and bolts, and they get the right thing the first time.” That exchange has a value that doesn’t show up on the balance sheet, Joe said. The customer “might’ve only spent a dollar-fifty, but they walked out with a wealth of knowledge, with exactly what they need, and with the confidence knowing that the next time they have a project, they have a place that they can rely on.” Here he makes an argument that is extremely rare today, an argument against the casualization of labor and against the “responsibilization” of consumers to be self-sufficient.
Shannon Mattern, who grew up in a hardware story family, tells us how these stores evolved from general stores, how they changed with the times, and how they survive in an era of big box home improvement stores. -Thanks, Deborah!