Vin­tage hard­ware stores thrive

Mom-and-pop shops have own tool­box in big-box world

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - DE­BRA D. BASS

ST. LOUIS — Hum­ble mom-and-pop hard­ware stores are com­pet­ing with ever-ex­pand­ing mega­s­tores by meet­ing mod­ern-day de­mand and vin­tage re­hab needs.

Steve Sch­nei­der, 61, is the fourth gen­er­a­tion of his fam­ily to pre­side over the 103-year-old New Mar­ket Hard­ware, and he said that the for­mula hasn’t changed. Cus­tomer ser­vice is key.

The shop in the Cen­tral West End neigh­bor­hood, spe­cial­izes in com­mer­cial busi­ness, but wel­comes home­im­prove­ment shop­pers with more grab-and-go im­pulse buy op­tions than in years past.

“We have rare finds that aren’t nec­es­sar­ily avail­able at a big hard­ware store, but we also try to carry al­most ev­ery lit­tle thing you’d need,” Sch­nei­der said. A quick trip around the store re­veals Qtips for clean­ing small ma­chine parts, re­fur­bished re­frig­er­a­tors for re­hab­bers and free, fresh-popped pop­corn in case you need a snack.

That sen­ti­ment of go­ing out of the way to ser­vice older prop­erty needs while stay­ing up-to-date was echoed by Steve Edele of the 105-year-old Edele and Mertz Hard­ware. Edele, 32, is also the fourth gen­er­a­tion of his fam­ily to own the op­er­a­tion. He bought the shop from his father and a part­ner this year.

Edele says he had no reser­va­tions about run­ning a small shop in a mega-gi­ant hard­ware world of shop­ping cart con­veyor belts and sales floor space that can be mea­sured in acres.

Edele seemed cool as a cu­cum­ber, with a bright, clean sales floor, wide aisles, easyto-spot mer­chan­dise and niche handy­man ser­vices for re­hab­bing the older homes of neigh­bor­ing Soulard.

The store is in its third lo­ca­tion in 105 years, but

● it re­tains some of the items that were around when it was founded, in­clud­ing the front counter and equip­ment that seems built to last sev­eral life­times.

Sch­nei­der said his big­gest mo­ti­va­tor is fear.

“We run scared,” Sch­nei­der said of his staff of about 12 ful­land part-time em­ploy­ees. “I’m al­ways afraid that the one time I don’t come through that they will go some­place else and not come back.”

So de­spite the old school small busi­ness look and feel that can be sen­sory over­load for new­com­ers, you can find a bizarre va­ri­ety of goods at New Mar­ket Hard­ware, in­clud­ing kitty lit­ter, de­ter­gent, lawn deer and porce­lain fig­urines.

Work­ers will also de­liver any­thing from a 50-cent bolt to a $1,500 air con­di­tion­ing unit.

The store has long­time clients at apart­ment build­ings, hos­pi­tals and huge com­plexes that are known to have nev­erend­ing main­te­nance needs. Sch­nei­der said he takes noth­ing for granted.

Three delivery trucks are loaded and sent out through­out the day, be­cause it en­dears the store to com­mer­cial cus­tomers by sav­ing them hours on the job when the need for a hands-on worker can’t be com­pro­mised.

Glen Boswell, a main­te­nance worker at the 1,700-unit Fox Grove Man­age­ment group, said that he runs to New Mar­ket about twice a day on av­er­age for parts, tools and ran­dom re­pair needs.

“The level of ser­vice is just off-the-charts amaz­ing old school,” Boswell said, wav­ing to staff and greet­ing them by name as he walked out the door. “Real mom-and-pop style.”

He was in get­ting a re­place­ment pump for a toi­let tank, an ex­te­rior door­knob and a mini shop vac­uum. He said he’s grate­ful to work just six blocks away from a shop that saves him a com­mute to a big box store and pre­cious time search­ing vast ter­rain. If New Mar­ket doesn’t have what he needs, they can get it by the next day.

De­signer and crafts­man Ken MacKes­son ex­plained: “I like it here be­cause you go to a Home De­pot and they carry things that a mil­lion peo­ple will buy. They don’t have spe­cific, un­usual things.”

When he goes to a big box store, MacKes­son said, he knows he’ll find a re­place­ment item, but he likely won’t find hard­ware or com­po­nents to re­pair and re­store an older item. New Mar­ket can’t per­form mir­a­cles but they care more about preser­va­tion, he said.

An ar­chi­tec­ture grad­u­ate, MacKes­son said that his pref­er­ence is restor­ing or re­mod­el­ing vin­tage in­te­ri­ors to look like they did when they were orig­i­nally built — in­stead of “look­ing like a Home De­pot dis­play got stuck in there.”

It has been a fam­ily-run shop since 1912, but Edele, the great-grand­son of the founder, is a univer­sity of Mis­souri grad­u­ate with a de­gree in po­lit­i­cal sci­ence and busi­ness. Af­ter grad­u­at­ing, he in­ter­viewed with ma­jor re­tail chains for cor­po­rate po­si­tions and quickly re­al­ized that every­thing he wanted to do was wait­ing for him at Edele and Mertz.

“We keep up with the times. We are lucky to have a re­ally good on­line rating,” Edele said. Among the un­usual stock is a healthy amount of plas­ter-patch­ing sup­plies for renters in the area to fix holes be­fore va­cat­ing.

He also has a full aisle of tele­phone lan­d­line sup­plies and a few corded tele­phones that amuse younger cus­tomers who have grown up in a wire­less world.

Mean­while, Nate Marschalk, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Dis­rup­tion Depart­ment housed at the CIC CET Build­ing, for­merly at the Cen­ter for Emerg­ing Tech­nolo­gies, around the cor­ner from New Mar­ket Hard­ware, said that he comes in fre­quently for parts to work with his 3D printer.

“We do high-tech and low-tech, so this is perfect,” Marschalk said as he clutched an arm­ful of ad­he­sive re­mover, drill bits and ran­dom com­po­nents he needed to ser­vice a ma­chine that was the stuff of out­landish sci­ence-fic­tion nov­els when the store was founded.

Un­til his non­profit group re­lo­cated to the neigh­bor­hood, he’d never vis­ited New Mar­ket.

“When I first saw it, even with the signs out front, I didn’t guess it was ac­tu­ally a hard­ware store,” he said. “I didn’t think these still ex­isted.”

St. Louis Post-Dis­patch/ROBERT CO­HEN

The owner of the 103-year-old New Mar­ket Hard­ware in St. Louis says the key to his store’s sur­vival in a big-box world is, “We run scared.”

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