Busy Bee Hardware, Est. 1918
November 17, 2009 7:58 AM   Subscribe


(There are hundreds if not thousands of these kinds of stores all over the country--if you're ever in Akron, OH, stop into West Hill Hardware.)
posted by box at 8:04 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

I once had an associate at Lowe's claim he couldn't tell me whether the 6#16 to 2#10 gauge wire connectors in my hand were the right size for a simple rewiring project.

My local hardware store is a Tru-Valu franchise and likely doesn't have the history of Busy Bee, but this rings so, so true. The store is maybe the size of just the kitchen display section of the enormous Lowe's/Home Depot, but somehow they have all the same stuff. Seriously, it's like the Tardis in there. In fact, if anything, they have *more* stuff than the big box store. They had multiple brands and styles of furnace cement which I don't think anyone even uses anymore. They have a much larger selection of nuts, bolts and nails in both size and material *and* will sell them individually or by the box.

And seriously, the employees at the big boxen know absolutely nothing. They usually can't even tell me what they carry in their own department, let alone other departments or if it's what I really need. Whereas at the local place, it's almost scary how they know the exact square inch that contains the precise faucet stem I'm mutely fumbling with a broken version of.
posted by DU at 8:08 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is why I like living in the city.
posted by signal at 8:13 AM on November 17, 2009

There are hundreds if not thousands of these kinds of stores all over the country--if you're ever in Akron, OH, stop into West Hill Hardware.

I'll plug Hedlund's Hardware in Indianapolis, IN, which is right down the street from me. It's less than a block from a Lowe's and has managed to hold it's ground pretty well for years and years (or so it seems).
posted by symbollocks at 8:17 AM on November 17, 2009

I loved places like that. There are fewer and fewer in my city, especially since they built a Home Depot right in the east end.
posted by octothorpe at 8:29 AM on November 17, 2009

Brookland Hardware has been in the same location for 50+ years. It became a Tru-Value franchise somewhere in it's history, but it continues to thrive and stock EVERYTHING, only a few blocks from DC's only Home Despot.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:31 AM on November 17, 2009

Berger Hardware, Hawthorne, NY. Best place on earth. I bought a propane torch there on a whim when I was young just to have a more interesting way to light shit on fire.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:32 AM on November 17, 2009

This is why I like living in the city. (Emphasis mine.)

Here's one of the last old school specialty hardware shops that used to dot this area. Canal Rubber. It's run by a woman who survived her partner-husband, and has been dispensing her rubber wisdom there for over 50 years. Hey kids! Need a photo-essay for a class project? The place is visually fun, and the proprietor is a strikingly handsome woman considering she's probably in her eighties.
posted by StickyCarpet at 8:38 AM on November 17, 2009

Must put in plug for Briggs Hardware in Raleigh, although it was lot cooler when they were in their old building downtown.

And there is a local Ace Hardware franchise here in town that is awesome. My dad use to go there a lot, when my mom told the clerk he died she thought the clerk was going to cry.

Hooray for old-timey hardware stores!
posted by marxchivist at 8:41 AM on November 17, 2009

We had one of these up here just outside of Muncie. An old country hardware store out on West Jackson in Cammack. It's one of those old, huge, meandering stores where you KNOW some of those boxes have been there since the store opened back at the turn of the last century.

No computers, of course. You showed the guy the obscure, busted part you need to replace and he knew exactly where the thing was on the shelves. Great, great place.

Sadly, of course, it's gone now. Once the local farms started giving way to sub-divisions, and the big-box stores sucked-up the DIY business, the place simply couldn't survive. Sad.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:42 AM on November 17, 2009

The Home Hardware chain, which started like a century ago just north of me in St. Jacobs, Ontario, might be the biggest home-grown hardware store chain in Canada, but they expand by hooking up with mom & pop stores with a history -- instead of building big boxes. The little stores get the benefit of a distribution system, and the community keeps the little-store-that-has-everything right downtown. It's a really great way of doing business, and so much more refreshing than the "orange" (Home Depot) store or the "blue" (Lowe's) store or the "yellow" (Rona) store. That said, I still buy lumber at the Blue store because they have a bigger bin to pick from. (ashamed).
posted by seanmpuckett at 8:43 AM on November 17, 2009

I will say that my local places (one's owned by Ace and the other is a Do-It chain) are fucking amazing. The Do-It has a blown up cartoon on their service desk about having forensic sketch artists in hardware stores in order to identify random parts people bring in.

Many times I have been sent to the hardware store by my parents (and once my boss) with a halfass drawing of some various fiddly bit and walked out with the perfect piece at an extremely reasonable price.

(The Ace let me down recently in that they were all out of Honda 96-00 key blanks and weren't sure when they were going to get them in again.)
posted by sperose at 9:19 AM on November 17, 2009

Authentic, old-timey hardware stores have a special aroma that greets you as soon as you walk through the door. I find it every bit as comforting as the smell of cookies baking.
posted by klarck at 9:26 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Palmer's Hardware in St. Petersburg, Florida is like that. I once took a broken plastic piece from a kitchen faucet to a Home Depot and they told me they didn't sell repair parts for faucets. I took the piece to Palmer's, the guy takes one look at it and says "Ah, Price Phister" and goes straight to a tiny little drawer on the back wall and pulls one out. I think he charged me about a dollar-fifty.
posted by lordrunningclam at 9:27 AM on November 17, 2009

I recently rented a raccoon trap at Frager's in DC (est. 1920), in sight of the Capitol dome.
posted by MrMoonPie at 9:32 AM on November 17, 2009

Quite frankly, I love Home Depot. Maybe it's different elsewhere, but the ones locally have hired a number of folk who were contractors in their previous life. Not everyone in the store is knowledgeable, but it certainly isn't difficult to hunt down someone who is. Another good thing about HD is that their installers are established professionals.

The local Home Hardware(s) do okay on knowledge, but I can't say as they've a great selection or great prices. I won't go to the local Rona any more; they're continuously out of stock, and their staff seem to be clueless.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:50 AM on November 17, 2009

This is why I like living in the city.

Hey, good hardware stores exist in the country, too! They maybe sprawl a bit and have space for some lumber and concrete and possibly animal feed, but they have the same goodness.

Most neighborhoods I've lived in Seattle have had a reasonably good hardware store somewhere, often chain-afilliated in some way (Ace, True-Value, etc) but sometimes not (as in the excellent Hardwick's).
posted by hattifattener at 9:53 AM on November 17, 2009

Ace Hardware^ stores seem like a centralized, national brand, but it's actually a cooperative, not a franchise chain, and every local store is really an independently owned local. I live four blocks from store #101 in the network, and have basically gone there since I was a kid. Great place, serves around 80% of my needs as a landlord.
posted by dhartung at 9:54 AM on November 17, 2009

Some worthless, smug bastard at a big-box hardware store I'll call "Nome Repo" was helping me look for hangers for my gutters. He suggested some that attach to the sofits; I replied that my house didn't have sofits.

Him, smugly smugging: "Well, I guess we don't carry parts for all the newer construction!"

Me: "My house was built in 1895. It never had sofits."

Him: " "
posted by IAmBroom at 9:55 AM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

And seriously, the employees at the big boxen know absolutely nothing.

Not true! On numerous occasions, I've had them direct me to the local Ace because it's the only place I'll be able to get the help I need.

So I guess you could say that they know what they don't know.

And to be honest, I'll not slag Menards or Home Depot too hard either way, as long as I don't need questions answered, I find both big box stores to be exceptionally useful.
posted by quin at 10:27 AM on November 17, 2009

There was a big local hardware store in Sonoma County, California that my father patronized for many years. I don't remember exactly what it was called anymore, but I remember it had two branches; I think one was in Petaluma and one was in Santa Rosa. It had been in business for ages...I'm pretty sure I was told that it was over a hundred years old. Any time we needed a part for something, that was where we went, even though it was a long drive, and I don't think we ever left without what we came for.

Sometime in the 1980s, the main branch burned to the ground, and my father was horrified and almost grieving. I didn't really understand why, and he said something like, "Son, there were parts in that store for anything you could imagine. No matter what weird thing you had, if it was broken, you could take it there and probably get what you needed to fix it. They won't be able to do that now, because those parts just aren't made anymore."

I never really internalized why he was so upset, but in looking at this store, I start to understand what was lost. It takes some age under your belt to understand the value of things that are so much older.
posted by Malor at 10:28 AM on November 17, 2009 [2 favorites]

Here on the island we have Sebo's Do It center, which I like a lot, and a pretty decent Ace up the road a bit.

One thing I will say is that depending on the item, you can get really raked over the coals. I buy a decent number of heavy-duty castors--I can get them for a few dollars each at Home Depot, but they're $25 apiece down at the local stores. On the other hand, I don't have to drive 30 miles to get there.
posted by maxwelton at 10:29 AM on November 17, 2009

It's worth noting that, in Detroit, Home Depot and Staples are the only big box store willing to set foot in the city. I think they're actually the most profitable Home Depot in the Midwest.

That said, I agree with the sweet juniper guy that, although it can be inconvenient as hell, I like that Detroit doesn't have much national chain retail.
posted by ofthestrait at 10:32 AM on November 17, 2009

Scheidt True Value Hardware in Maplewood, MO has been in business for over a hundred years. Bless them, their dogs, and their hand-lettered signs.
posted by Monsters at 10:37 AM on November 17, 2009

I walked into the true value/home hardware store down the street in my new neighborhood recently and its fantastic for all these same reasons. I walked in asking the woman at the counter "I need something to convert this to this" and showed her two plumbing adapters. She found the exact piece I needed in about 30 seconds. In a huge store. Amazing.
posted by cbecker333 at 10:52 AM on November 17, 2009

Whoa. A link to a blog post by a law school classmate of mine about my local hardware store. It's all aboooout ME!

Busy Bee is freakin' awesome and it's good to see them get some respect. Totally helpful, too, in terms of customer service. I've never once been "talked down to" by their employees even though my home improvement ignorance would likely justify it. Just good people all around.

Metafilter: It's all abooout ME!
posted by joe lisboa at 11:06 AM on November 17, 2009

Same here, maxwelton--I do some hobby welding, and the local place charges about 150% what Home Depot does for rebar. However, I'd rather drive 1/2 mile on residential streets than 15 on the DC beltway with long pieces of metal hanging out the back of my car. And Frager's definitely over-charges for things like saw blades and drill bits, but I can stop by there on my walk home. Plus, they rent raccoon traps.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:09 AM on November 17, 2009

I see your favorite hardware stores and raise you Elwood Adams, which is the oldest continually operated hardware store in the U.S. and conveniently located just a few minutes from me.
posted by rollbiz at 11:11 AM on November 17, 2009

Reading this made me go check all the stores I remembered on the town squares as a kid, and I'm happy to see that Hawk Hardware, in middle Tennessee where I bought camping supplies and various bolts and washers for my long procession of junker cars is still open.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 11:11 AM on November 17, 2009

Clark & Devon Hardware, best damn hardware store in Chicago. If they don't have it, you don't need it. Every person who works there knows what the hell they are talking about and they treat DIY-women with respect. Never had a bad experience there.

Unlike Home Despot where I am frequently treated with disdain by male employees who don't know what backer rod is and actually lectured me about how I should replace my 95 year old wood Prairie-windows with vinyl instead of restoring them.
posted by jeanmari at 11:34 AM on November 17, 2009

Might be worth mentioning that Busy Bee is also a small Canadian retailer with several store locations. Not to be confused with the Busy Bee in the FPP.
posted by five fresh fish at 11:49 AM on November 17, 2009

I collect and restore antique electric fans as a hobby. Since there obviously aren't places to find NOS electric fan parts, I usually have to make do with materials I can scrounge up or rig myself. I used to go to West York Hardware (here in West York, PA naturally) where there was an old guy who Knew His Stuff. I would describe to him what I was looking for, whether it was a specific-thickness brass washer or a certain-sized metal piece and he would disappear in the back and then usually reappear with just what I was looking for. On several occasions he took me into the back with him to show me different items - in a room that was covered with a floor-to-ceiling cabinet with hundreds of tiny wooden drawers. And he knew what was in each one.

I probably never spent more than $5-6 with him at any one time (and probably more like one dollar on an average visit), yet he never brushed me off and in fact I sometimes felt guilty for him spending so much time tracking things down for me. By the third visit he greeted me by my first name like I was an old pal.

I absolutely love stores like this.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 12:04 PM on November 17, 2009

Oh yeah, Frentz and Sons when I lived in Michigan. I was a kid, and they had the coolest toy aisle. One short aisle jam packed with Aurora Monster models, Airfix figure sets, and a showcase full of Matchbox cars and train set stuff.
posted by marxchivist at 1:00 PM on November 17, 2009 [1 favorite]

Must plug for Madison Park Hardware, the heart of the Madison Park neighborhood in Seattle, which has now even been (lovingly) reviewed on Yelp.
posted by bearwife at 2:02 PM on November 17, 2009

I'll agree with MrMoonPie, Frager's is great. The aisles are a meter wide and packed from floor to ceiling. They have a garden center and tool rental, and they used to have an entire brush-clearin' section. The staff is super helpful and they always get you what you need fast so you can get some actual work done. I really miss it since moving out of DC.

Up in my area, across the DC border into Maryland, the last independent hardware store closed in the spring, killed off by the Home Depot and Lowes. The next best thing is an old hardware store transformed into a brewery, restaurant, and toy store.
posted by peeedro at 2:22 PM on November 17, 2009

I am lucky enough to live a half-block from a hardware store - if not as old-timey as Busy Bee, a great place. And it is nice to live close so I can go back and forth several times to find the right size screw.

Used to be an Ace; now Fairfax Hardware in Denver. The thing is about these neighborhood stores: they have parts for the kind of fixtures/plumbing suited for the homes in their area. (Ours: first half of the 20th Century.) The big box stores are pretty useless for fixing things around the old house, although they have more lumber. You'd think the big box stores would have better deals on tools, too, but: not really.
posted by kozad at 6:47 PM on November 17, 2009

A musical tribute...
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:12 PM on November 17, 2009

My in-laws owned Collier Hardware of Fort Lauderdale, FL for many, many years; my MIL is still working her way out of the business. Mr. F may never get over his lack of unfettered access to the key-cutting machine.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 11:57 PM on November 17, 2009

I live across the street from a Home Depot and a few blocks from an Ace. If Ace carried lumber, I'd never go in the Home Depot.
posted by drezdn at 4:44 AM on November 18, 2009

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