The MANual: Nuts and Bolts of the Hardware Store

The MANual: Nuts and Bolts of the Hardware Store

Walking in, it hit you. The bold smells of varnish, rubber, wood and seed. Your old man walked down the narrow aisle ways maneuvering as to not knock anything off the rack. In front of him, bins full of nuts, bolts and screws, behind him rows of rakes, brooms and garbage bags. While he chose the right tools for the job, you had your eyes on the marbles, toy trains and glass Coke bottles at the front of the store. Old men greeted you on the way in, and tipped their hat on the way out.

It's somewhat a distant ritual, a memory as far off as your first ice cream or the first day of school. The smells, the atmosphere, the people, trips to the hardware store as a kid spark fond memories. However you remember it, your first visit to the hardware store is an important part of childhood and an event that you come to appreciate deep into adulthood.

Today, “hardware store” brings to mind a couple destinations. For some it is the neighborhood shop that your old man visited on a regular basis. For others, it is the 36,000 sq ft. compound that seems to have no end. While many swear by one or the other, each offers you the chance to get your hands dirty, your shirt sweaty and is the precursor to satisfaction in a job well done.

With names like Jeben's, S&W Pro and Elwood Adams

With names like Jeben's, S&W Pro and Elwood Adams Hardware, neighborhood hardware stores offer both convenience and a reputation for quality service. They are the classic image of creaking floors, bells ringing as patrons enter and the crank of an old cash register. The staff ranges from the old man in suspenders in a John Deere trucker cap, to the bright eyed teenager taking on his first job (and quite possibly related to the old man). Local shops not only provide the convenience of being a walk away but the staff can offer advice from first hand experience. Whether you are adapting your home to city ordinances or adjusting the locks on the old barn, your local shop is the best choice for the weekend do-it-yourself project.

Aside from providing you localized advice, these relic stores have the basic tools that are needed to handle day-to-day maintenance. Say you have just purchased a new home, a beautiful 1920's Victorian right off Main St. With the age of the house came original woodwork, brass fixings and original locks. The hardware of the house is what gives it its charm and you're determined to keep it working. The local store knows the area and often times has the equipment needed to keep up the neighborhood. If you walk in with a broken lock and in need of a new key, the big box store's inventory has moved on, but in the back of that neighborhood store is an early 20th century key maker, ready to service your needs.

If you are unsure on proper steps for the job, that old man in suspenders becomes the wise old man in suspenders. You gain simple solutions from first hand experience and you're steered in the right direction. If the task becomes bigger than expected, your return trip is often quicker than trucking it out to the big box. From the family atmosphere, the local advice and the array of timeless tools, local hardware stores are a great go-to for the weekend do-it-yourself.

Now, a big job calls for a big shop and that is when you set foot into the compound. Like a candy store for grown men, the big box hardware store houses all the propane, twin blade, lumber goodness that will soon be at your fingertips. It's the first step to your masterpiece, everything you need to weld, crank, cut and strip, helping you make that big idea come to life. Whether it is caring for the back 4-acres or putting the blueprint for the 2 car garage into action, professional grade work needs professional grade tools.

Unlike the neighborhood shop, when it comes to larger hardware stores it's important to have a plan intact. While the stores are often packed with employees, their specialties become more concentrated. You may need advice on lumber and the employee you finally come across is purely electrical and has to track down the lumber guy. The trip can be time consuming if you are unsure of the right path. While spending a day in the hardware store is not always a bad thing, it cuts into productivity and daylight hours. You want to go in knowing exactly what is needed for the project. With a plan of attack you are bound to find everything you need in a one stop shop.

Like brushing your hands along a brand new car, nothing brings a twinkle to a man's eye like horsepower. If you are in need of a new riding lawn mower, pressure washer or cultivator these stores offer you a large selection of brands and styles. With the equipment on display, you have the chance to get a feel for the product. Like a little kid gripping his first baseball bat or clutching the steering wheel on your first car, you're bound to find that glass slipper that fits just right (by slipper we do mean that steel-toed, industrial rubber, waterproof shin-high workboot).

A day in a big box hardware store is also great for just killing some time. In one afternoon, you can get that Birthday/Christmas/Father's Day/Anniversary gift list ready to go. You can spend hours inside running the aisles, allowing ideas to flow of what you want to do next around the house. Of course, with all that running around you're also bound to hit that hot dog stand on the way out.

Now while many swear by one or the other, hardware stores both big and small have something for everyone. If it is a repair around the house or a small project that you need a little direction on, Flavin's Family Hardware is the place to go. Knowledgeable staff and family values drive the success of these shops and it's often been around for 70 years for good reason.

If it is a big summer project or time to upgrade big equipment, the big box hardware store is where you should be. With a huge selection of everything from generators to propane grills, this is a one stop shop that will put you on the right path to become the next Bob Vila.

Wherever the job takes you, frequenting the hardware store is a duty of yours as a man. It is more than a trip but an event, one that is steeped in tradition and allows you to be a kid again. Of course, this time around you leave the marbles and trains behind for 9 Volt batteries and gas powered hedge trimmers. Each visit is a chance for you to breath in the glorious scent of raw materials, get your hands dirty and build relationships all in the name of getting the job done.

Andy Case

Andy Case

Andy Case is the founder of MidwesternGentleman.com, a site dedicated to the Great Lakes Good Life. When not writing on the necessities of modern day manhood you can find him lakeside, often with a rod and reel in one hand and an ice cold IPA in the other. Andy resides on the outskirts of Detroit, MI with his wife Feionna and son Caleb.

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