March 01, 2024

Opinion

A tribute to family-owned hardware stores

Hardware stores are my guilty pleasure.

I’m not talking about the big box monstrosities that sell gallons of milk and bags of dog food right next to the rolls of duct tape.

I like the small family-owned enterprises where the owner knows your name and the fellow back in plumbing knows exactly what part you need for a particular project.

One of my favorite Springfield stores, Noonan True Value, is getting out of the retail hardware business. The firm is going to focus on equipment rental, barbeque grill sales and selling tools in bulk.

Businesses have to adapt to changing times. I get it. But I’ll miss walking down the back aisle and buying the three 5/16ths bolts that I need instead of being forced to buy a whole box.

But more importantly I’ll miss the institutional memory. A while back, I was working on a home improvement project late in the evening. Noonan’s, Ace and the other family-owned operations had already closed.

So, I drove to Menards and walked half a mile back to their hardware section. I asked a teenager for some 3-inch-long ¼-inch bolts and the corresponding nuts.

When I got home and opened up the bag, I saw he had given me ¼-inch bolts along with ¼-inch nuts. I was furious. That size bolt takes a 7/16ths inch fastener.

Growing up on a farm, I knew what bolts and nuts went together when I was 10. But the youngster working in the hardware department didn’t have a clue. The most basic rule of sales is, know what you are selling. But apparently he wasn’t taught that.

I should have checked his work. But I’m so used to going to places like Noonan’s, where the staff is knowledgeable, that I forgot that not every retailer functions with the same level of competence.

When I was growing up near Galesburg, the town had at least four family-owned hardware stores. Today, it has none. But it does have a Lowe’s and a Menard’s sitting on the edge of town sending profits to out-of-town corporate owners.

When I purchased a home and moved to Springfield 24 years ago, my father hollered at me the day I moved in. Why? Because I had been foolish enough to buy a couple buckets of paint from one of those big box stores.

He believed in giving money to those who gave you money.

He was a veterinarian who bought his car from the Dodge dealer who brought his dog to his practice. Our family doctor had a herd of Polled Herefords under my father’s care. And we could only buy milk from the local dairy that bought milk from the farmers he served.

After the tongue lashing from dad, I became a customer of Dellert’s Paint Co. The store on South MacArthur Boulevard has been owned by the same family since 1943. The first time I entered the store, I handed a chip of paint to the owner, who began working there during World War II. He matched the color better than any machine.

I’ve been going there ever since. The service is excellent and they address me by name. Even when we put an addition on our house, I told our contractor all of the paint was to come from Dellert’s.

Independent businesses return to the community in a variety of other ways. For example, Noonan’s sells cheese on behalf of my Kiwanis club. The proceeds go to help local children.

It’s difficult to imagine a national retailer setting up a refrigerator near their checkout lane so customers can spend money that is not going toward the company’s bottom line but instead to a worthy cause. But Noonan’s has been doing that year after year.

It’s this type of community commitment that keeps me coming back. Running a small business is hard. But the benefits are great – not just to the owners and their customers – but to the community as well.

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at sreeder@illinoistimes.com.

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder

Scott Reeder, a staff writer for Illinois Times, can be reached at: sreeder@illinoistimes.com.