Thursday, July 2, 2009

The Joy of a Local Hardware Store

Let me describe two experiences:

I walk into a big box home improvement store and ask for advice about screens for storm windows that were popular in Wellesley, Massachusetts in the 1960's. No one has any idea what I'm talking about. Not just about my storm windows, but any storm windows. The store is 40 aisles of 20 foot high racks without an easy to navigate map. Oddly, screens are not in the Windows section, they're in the Building Materials area. No one knows what tools I need or how much screen I should purchase, so I make several trips back and forth from home to store. I spend hours in the process and throw away an entire roll of screen I've wasted.

I walk into my neighborhood hardware store. A cheerful, experienced salesperson greets me at the door and asks to help with my project. The person instantly knows the type of windows I have, the tools needed, the best materials, and a few tips to get the job done right. The person wanders around the 5000 square foot store, picks up all the materials I need and rings me up. I spend minutes in the process, do the job perfectly the first time, and have no waste.

Just as I have extolled the virtues of embracing locavore food culture and community supported agriculture, I suggest supporting your local hardware store - let's take back the neighborhood from the big box stores.

Life is short and I really care about the quality of my day to day experiences. I want to shop locally from farmers, craftsmen, vendors, and salespeople that I know. I realize that in our complex world that is not always possible. If you have a choice of buying a bolt for fifty cents from a helpful, knowledgeable shopkeeper OR buying a bolt of lesser quality for forty cents that takes an hour to find a big box store, I suggest that you and your wallet shop locally.

I'm so impressed with Green's Hardware in Wellesley, that I actually seek out home projects to do on weekends, just so that I can enjoy the experience of getting sound advice and quality products from people who teach me how to maintain my home. My house was built in the 1930's but every part of it - from electrical to plumbing to carpentry - is perfectly maintained thanks to the partnership I've developed with Green's, my local hardware store.


Patricia Hale MD, PhD said...

"locavore"? As someone who grew up in upstate NY and lives in the Adirondacks I am amazed for the need for such a term...totally agree about the shop local and eat local products. What is interesting is that inner city and rural areas have a lot in common when it comes to having local small businesses but the urban areas suffer from loss of such wonderful resources.

Frank Bresz said...

I moved recently from the suburbs of Pittsburgh to the suburbs of NJ. Unfortunately one of the things I lost was a nearby hardware store. Now the closest small hardware store is as close as the big-box. Jobs @ the old domicile often entailed multiple trips to the hardware store, but it was only a mile away so it wasn't a big deal. I miss it.

Harry Covair said...

Pretty much the same thing can be said about the corner drug store and the local pharmacist.

Ken Cowan said...

Agree totally, and with Harry too. It's also true of our local garden supply store.


Mike Quinto said...

Yes, the sterilization and commercialization of the local retailer can be frustrating for some of those 'special cases'. But for the most part...isn't it much more efficient to standardize the hardware, to streamline the delivery and use 'best practice'. The 'evidence shows' that most people will walk in looking for certain items. Let's make it straight forward for them. In fact let's choose for's for the greater good...or so says "Standardized Medicine"...I mean...hardware...

Mike Quinto

Unknown said...

Dr. Halamka,

I have been reading your blog for a long time and I appreciate these types of articles so much! While it's not strictly "Healthcare CIO" material, it is still very relevant to our health.

It cannot be stressed enough that health care is not just what happens in the doctor's office. While I'm a supporter of health care reform, I don't think we're going to truly find better health as a nation just by focusing on the industry. The more we rediscover and revitalize our local communities, the better for everybody's health, not to mention the planet itself.

I feel blessed to have access to local farmer's markets with vendors who don't treat their gardening tips like trade secrets, the corner drug store, the neighborhood pharmacy, the local garden supply shop, and so on.

MammaGeek said...

Here in NJ, my 120 year old house is considered "odd". I thought it was time to replace the 120 year old water boiler furnace which had been converted from coal to oil. I did not want to replace the radiators or get rid of the steam heat (which is great for my asthma). Unfortunately the big box store doesn't supply those kind of furnaces. But my oil company (locally owned and operated) found me a plumber who could replace it with a gas boiler even though they would lose me as a customer to the gas company.
When I need to fix something in this old house, I go to our local hardware store (affectionately called Tiffanys) because they usually have the odd size parts for my really narrow pipes and they know how to make it work. Now what we really need is more electricians, carpenters and plumbers who know how to work in an old house. Unfortunately, scheduling these guys to come is almost impossible.

GreenLeaves said...

We have Busy Bee in Santa Monica, California that meets your definition. I go there for advice and just to feast my eyes on floor to ceiling tool and goods. Nails in the floor are used for measuring hoses, cord, etc.
I think some of the employees there are retirees that enjoy working with people.
Worth a visit if you wish to see a nearly bygone era.

Unknown said...

It was really disheartening to see so many local hardware stores and lumber yards close when the big stores all moved in. Other than the aerobic walking activity you get trying to find a few things, these big stores are really useless and appear to be getting worse. I've given up entirely and will now happily go to Harvey's in Needham and get great service and convenience for a few pennies more.

Unknown said...

I love Yumont hardware store in Jamaica Plain! Last spring, while I was unemployed, I decided to work on some home improvement projects on my rather long to do list. I originally planned to just buy Benjamin Moore paint there because Home Depot and Lowes don't sell it (and I'm a fan of BM paint) and I'd buy everything else at the bigger stores. I'd been shopping at Yumont hardward since moving into the neighborhood 11 years ago, but only to buy a paint brush, or some masking big purchases (I saved those for the bigger stores). The staff, who I always thought were great, gave me a 'friends and family' discount when they heard I was unemployed - they even offered me a part-time job. Now, I'm happily employed and they get all my hardware store business.