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Old-School Hardware Stores and Industrial Suppliers

Having worked in an "old school" hardware store during my late teens, this thread has special meaning for me. In the early seventies we still sold nails, rope, steel wire, TSP, and sheet asbestos, all by the pound. Paint thinner could be had for 50 cents a gallon if you brought your own container. There were still wooden bins that had once held red and white lead for mixing with linseed oil to make paint. George Andreasen's comment about the Calcium Carbide container brought back a memory. We kept a five gallon carbide drum in the back room, but it held the oiled sawdust used for sweeping the wooden floors. We also had some NOS Clipper belt lacing and the crimping tool that I wound up with when the store closed for good. R.I.P. Orange Hardware Co., 1905-1972.

Clark Dye Hardware in Santa Ana, CA was larger and had "everything", including nice assortments of Starrett and Mitutoyo precision tools. It lasted into the 1980's.

Still in existence are Placerville Hardware (Placerville, CA), and Fulkerson's Hardware (Camarillo, CA). Placerville Hdwe. is in the touristy "California Gold Rush" area, and is worth a stop. It's still a working hardware store and is complete with narrow, crowded aisles with high shelves, wood floors, and trolley ladders. Fulkerson's in Camarillo is an old school hardware store that serves the farming community and is also interesting to poke around in.

Brian Smith
Dubben Brothers Hardware & Plumbing in Delhi, NY. It is an old time store that has been owned & run by the same family for several generations. They specialize in "country plumbing"- and have stuff like well pump cup leathers and valve flappers, as well as a line of hardware. I forget which chain of hardware stores they affiliated with, but they have plenty of old stock in the store. I went in there one day, en route to Hanford Mills, needing some copper tubing for a lubricator line on the steam engine. Dubben had refrigeration grade tubing, and I got to see their back-store. Old wooden bins from floor to ceiling, filled with screwed black iron and brass pipe fittings and nipples. Old US made fittings in those bins. Some bins held bolts and other hardware.

Despite a "Tractor Supply" store opening up the street, Dubben hangs on. I think this is because they also handle propane and do actual plumbing work.

Hansen & Hassel, in Brooklyn, NY closed in about 1968 or '69. They were on Myrtle Avenue at Duffield Street. They had been there since the 1850's, and were a Starrett dealer along with mill supplies, heavy hardware, cutting tools and Lunkenheimer lubricators and valves. I got a lot of odds and ends when they liquidated their remaining inventory. They were in an old wooden building with clapboard siding, predating the Myrtle Avenue elevated subway line (which ran in front of their store). The neighborhood had once had a lot of industry, but that was nearly gone by 1968. The neighborhood had also become quite dangerous, with a hard drug rehab or withdrawl program center located next door. I remember at the end, we got a box of "Collins House Axes", in the original box. When was the last time anyone in Brooklyn needed a "house axe" to split kindling for a wood stove or range, or coal fired boiler ? I remember there was this huge Crosby shackle there, too big to be of any use to anyone other than a heavy rigging contractor or shipyard. I got a beautiful Atha 6lb cross pein blacksmith sledge and handle there, which I use to this day. They threw in a pair of hoof nippers. At the end, the fellows in Hansen and Hassel were just putting odds and ends they thought I could use into cartons and asking a few bucks. I was a freshman in engineering school (Brooklyn Polytechnic), which was within a couple of blocks, so I kept going back to Hansen and Hassel as they unearthed the last of the inventory.

As a sad but funny note to this: While they were selling off the last inventory, Hansen and Hassel was burglarized one night. The fellows there took the cash in the till home each night, so there was no money in the register. There was an ancient safe, the kind with fancy nickel plate finials on the hinges, and a scene painted on the door. The safe was locked, and that is what the burglars tried to get into. The burglars took new hacksaws and cut the finials off the hinge pins, then drove out the hinge pins. The door stayed put. They then knocked the dial off the combination lock, and beat on the "tee handle" that racked the bolts of the safe lock. Still could not get in. The thieves then took a NOS Black and Decker rotary hammer masonry drill and started attempting to drill into the safe with that. All that happened was the carbide masonry bits scarred the face of the safe door. The thieves gave up after a while and left. The funny parts of this are that an oxyacetylene cutting outfit which was used to cut heavy chain and wire rope, stood nearby. The other funny part of this is the safe was empty, as H & H no longer kept any money on the premises overnight.
Clearly, it was time for H & H to close.

Max Shur, a similar type of store, stood in the Centre Street/used machine tool district. Shur was a Starrett dealer where I bought my first Starrett tools while in HS. They had everything and anything, carbon steel lathe tool blanks, HSS toolbits, rough castings for chuck backplates and various handwheels and knobs, cutting tools, abrasives, supplies like cans of Kasenite and layout fluid, fitting for coolant systems, Williams industrial wrenches and lathe dogs and hold down hardware.... Shur closed sometime in the 1980's, I am guessing. The used machine tool district is completely gone, and only the painted business names and what they dealt in remain on some of the brick building walls.

Coming back from a trip to Minneapolis, MN, my wife asked to see a town where I had lived in 1975-76, Oak Harbor, Ohio. We swung inland off I-80 and went to Oak Harbor. I had not been back there since April of 1976. Main Street had changed here and there, but the hardware store with its original sign still stood on a corner. We walked in, and the wood board floors & smell were the same as they had been in 1976. Little had changed. Two men were behind the counter, and I explained I had worked out at "the Nuke Plant" (Davis Besse Unit I) and lived in Oak Harbor for a stretch in 1975 into 1976. I told them who my landlord had been, and they remembered them, both deceased. I asked if they were still known as "Halblitzel's Hardware", and they laughed and said they were the Halblitzels. We had been young fellows when I used to buy stuff there. I was 25, and they were a little younger. Halblitzel's did not look to have affiliated with any of the big chain hardware operations (Ace, True Value, etc). They had the modern and more homeowner-oriented goods in the store. Back in 1975, they were more farmer and mechanic oriented. Back then, you could get stuff like woodruff keys, taper pins, belts and pulleys and roller chain and sprockets and the hand tools were all good-name US made.Back then, they weighed the nails out on scale. It looked like this had drifted to the current stuff, made off shore for homeowners, fasteners sold by the blister pack or box, and not so much of the ag and mechanic type of stuff. But, the old store still stood, open for business, and still in the same family with the same old painted sign out front.

Smith's Hardware, in Saugerties, NY is another oldtime hardware store which has been there forever. They still have the wooden drawers and bins of loose fasteners, and carry a large line of tools and parts that people in rural areas might need. They have people who are knowledgeable, as I saw when an old farmer came in needing some bolts for a John Deere tractor. They move with the times, and carry stuff weekenders (second homeowners
up from "the City") would need. But, if I need a lsedge handle or wedges, or setscrews or nylock nuts or hemp rope ot chain, they've got it.

BTW: on the subject of Adze-eye handles: I have a "Warwood" (Woodings Verona) 8lb splitting maul with an adze-eye head. It developed some nicks and splitting, and was time to replace it. I went to any number of stores looking for another handle. I finally gave up, and bought a pick handle and some new wedges. I shaped the pick handle, which had extra wood on it, to fit the eye of my splitting maul. OTOH, when our son was a boy, he wanted to split wood with me. At a yard sale, I found a 6 lb Stanley-Atha splitting maul head. It was in nice shape, other than having the remains of the handle in the eye. I taught my son how to take out a busted handle and took him along to get the new handle. I also showed him, as my dad showed me, how to fit and wedge a handle. I had him take a scraper made from a borken powerhacksaw blade, and take the glossy finish off the handle, then brand his initials up at the end of the handle, and finish it with linseed oil. Our son split a lot of cordwood with that maul when he was home with us. Another time, I bought a Coleman lantern at a yard sale for 2 bucks. It was missing some parts, nothing major. I took our son into Houst's Hardware, in Woodstock, NY. Housts has drawers of Coleman parts. For another couple of bucks in parts and about $3.50 for some mantles, the Coleman lantern was operational. We've used that lantern countless times for picnics and camping, but also many times for emergency lighting during power outages. The old hardware stores carry stuff that the big box stores do not. But, people nowadays are far less likely to fix or build much for themselves. It's a throwaway society. I've found Coleman lanterns (liquid fueled) set out with junk for metal pickup. A trip to Housts for a few parts, and we have another lantern for power outages. The average person is either intimidated by a liq

Berkoff's Hardware, on Coney Island Avenue, in Brooklyn, was THE hardware store in the neighborhood when I was a kid. Berkoff's sold to builders, building superintendents, school custodians, homeowners, and custodians of private institutional buildings like religions schools, synagogues, and churches. They had a wide and deep store. They sold Shopsmiths and Delta/Rockwell power tools. At the back of the store was a raised mezzanine for the office. On the mezzanine handrail/wall was a display that proclaimed: "Williams- Tools for Industry". It had lathe dogs, boring bars, tee handle wrenches, spanner wrenches, and regular open end wrenches- all in the black finish. Berkoffs had a lot of loose inventory, and this was stored in "Breakstone's Cream Cheese" wooden boxes with finger jointed corners. They had a lot of inventory- shovels of all types including coal scoops, sledges, handles, grinding wheels, buffing wheels and compounds, and nails were kept in steel bins and sold loose, by the pound. They had the old style mechanical scale on the counter with a galvanized steel hopper pan to weigh out the nails. Bolts and nuts were in the drawers in the back.

They kept accounts for various businesses in the area, and stocked or could get a wide variety of things. We could walk to Berkoff's and get a blade for my father's table saw, a handful of bolts, a vee belt, setscrews, woodruff keys, and loose twist drill bits and taps.

They also sold houswares, which included pots and pans and kitchen items. If a household needed a glass dome for a percolator or a gasket for a pressure cooker, Berkoff had it. Paint was sold under Berkoff's own label. They had a neon sign that was two stories tall, anchored perpendicularly to the front of their building.

I do not know when Berkoff's closed their store on Coney Island Avenue. I am guessing it was after the year 2000, as some signage was in place directing customers to some new location further South in Brooklyn. Why Berkoff's closed their store on Coney Island Avenue is unknown to me. I am guessing the neighborhood changed demographically.

Friends of ours had a heavy hardware store in NYC for 3 generations. They did most of their business with accounts from office building maintenance superintendants, apartment buildings, and other businesses in the area. They had the usual bins of loose fasteners, and sold plumbing supplies and cleaning/janitorial supplies. They were forced out when the building lease ran out. The real estate was too valuable for a hardware store, and they had been losing accounts to on-line sales. They also said that some of the office buildings which had kept accounts with them for many years went under new management. These buildings had had in-house maintenance people including locksmiths, plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters, and janitors. When the new management took over, they immediately laid off the entire maintenance staff and found outsources who could come in as needed. They also cancelled all accounts with the hardware and supply houses. Our friends now continue the hardware business in a different form.
They specialize in finding stuff that can't be found on-line. When the new management and outsource maintenance contractors can;t find it online, they call our friends. They call me for the odd stuff. Sometimes, it means duplicating something no longer available, or simply designing custom parts which I either make up in my own shop, or give out to shops I know. Stuff like bar-rail hardware from ancient private clubs, custom large brass lighting control panels, elevator cab hardware and sheet metal wall panels with finished trim fasteners. The old hardware stores in NYC had inventories of stuff their customers needed, "Bommer Hinges" for restaurant kitchen doors, Yale door closer parts, lockset parts. Nowadays, from what my friends have told me, and what I've seen, if a door closer does not work, they call in an outside shop. The outside shop, instead of rebuilding the door closer, throws it away and scabs on some light duty POS closer that does not even look right. The building staffs are all "adminstrative types" usually recent immigrants from places such that I've never met anyone from there previously. They have no more idea about what is needed to make repairs or modifications than the man in the moon. But, they are crafty. If I start measuring existing parts with a dial caliper and leave the caliper laying un-watched, they grab it and write down the name and model, then tell me they'd like one (hint that they want to be "schmeared" to give my friends the job). If I make sketches, they are looking over my shoulder, sometimes taking picture with their phones. If we name something in discussion, the building managers write it down. As soon as we leave to go back upstate and prepare a price/proposal, we know these clowns will be surfing the web trying to cut us out of a job. We've made samples of replacement parts and hardware, been paid for them, and instead of giving us a job to make a bunch more, these clowns shop the job. There is none of the loyalty that the old style building management had for the hardware or supply vendors in the neighborhoods who always came through for them. Now, when we go to measure up jobs or look at jobs to make replacement hardware for NLA stuff, we say as little as possible when the building management is in earshot. If they grasp one or two key words, they will invariably go online with them to try to undercut us.

I would say that changing demographics, a society that does very little for themselves, stores like Lowe's or Home Depot, and online sales have all killed off most of the oldtime hardware stores. I liken it to the evolution of hammers. Time was, if you bought a hammer, you bought just the head, and then either bought or made a handle for it. If you broke the handle, you bought or made another handle. You could knock out what was left of the broken handle, save the steel wedge, and put in another handle. Hammer makers started going to handles that are bonded into the hammer heads, and to handles made of plastics or fiberglass. Whether this was due to a fear of liability from loose hammer heads flying off in use, or to keep costs down is unknown to me. But, it kind of goes with the demise of the hardware stores. I remember as a kid, being taught by my dad to fit a handle to an axe head and to a hammer head, how to use a spokeshave and rasp, and how to wedge the handles. I am one of those people who picks up the busted or cut-off pieces of sledge handles and brings them home. I make handles for my blacksmith tools or for other lighter hammers from cutoffs from sledge handles. Mechanics on jobs often will cut down the sledge handles for work in close quarters. I am lucky in that the hardware stores up my way still sell the wedges for hammer handles.
Romax tool supply off 110 in farmingdale long island. Great place to spend sometime there. Lotta good bargains. Needed some dies to make screws for my 1898 krag. I asked if I could bring it in and then pull the screws. The gent that owned the place said ok. One guy used a thread guage to detirmine threads and got me the dies. I got called into his office and he showed my his wall of sharps buffalo rifles. Since he was the main supplier to shilo sharps also in farmingdale wolfgang droge would come in and get a bunch of stuff. Sometimes when they didn't have the money he would give the guy another sharps rifle in lieu of payment. Must have had at least 6 hanging on the walls. This was almost twenty years ago so don't know if they are in business anymore. Nice folks to do business with and there was always something interesting laying on the floor. When grummen went out of business they had an auction for the machines in the machine shops. Way back in the store you would find lathes,mills, and other machines and they were quite ready to make a deal. Frank
While not a hardware store, it is a family owned fastener store, Facca Fasteners in London, Ontario. Odds are, if you need it, they have it, or will order it, and at reasonable to fantastic prices. The website has not been updated in forever, the original location is only in operation on Exeter Road (behind the used car lot).

The "storefront" doesn't consist of a lot of floor space, 20x20 maybe, filled with shelves and display boards of various fastener types, automotive clips and fasteners (and not the brittle Dorman plastic auto hardware either), hooks, hinges, springs 'n things, odd'n ends of stuff they forgot they even had. They have tools, chemicals (even some ancient cans of items I should go stock up on that have real functional chemicals in them before it gets cycled out for the modern nearly useless replacements) electrical connectors, wire rope, lifting hooks, etc.etc. Basically it is counter service. You tell 'em what you want, and they disappear out back for a while and come back with what you want. Stainless, brass, plating of your choice, you'll probably walk out with what you came for.

And if the owner happens to be at the counter and you walk up with a bin of dusty ford collared lug nuts that was hiding near the floor and tell him you'll buy every one in there, you and your wallet will be happy, and he'll be happy they finally sold. Last trip I also got a bag of plastic ford lock clips for little more than the dorman garbage multipack of 6 different clips you get out of the Help! section at a conventional store.

And if you want only 1 4-40 nut. One. Single. They will sell you only one. And put it in a paper bag that probably costs more than the one item you bought. (No, I am not that guy, small stuff like that I buy "a handfull" and keep the rest for future use.... if I can find them... maybe those onsy/twosy buyers are ahead of the game afterall...)

My maternal grandfather and great grandfather had a general store in the central Ontario town of Bancroft .
The store changed over time to more of a grocery store and later into a furniture store and burned down over 30 years ago .
I have a couple of old catalogues that were left from earlier times that show what the wholesalers would have had on offer to the smaller hardware stores outside the main cities
Wood, Vallance & Co., hardware merchants, Hamilton, Ontario
The catalogue I have is much more recent than this one
You could order Starrett tools through them
if you scroll up and down from the link you can see quite a selection of tools That they could supply .
The Walter Woods Catalogue had evolved into a more general hardware merchant after 1921 and the catalogue I have is from I would guess the mid to late 1920 s

I also have a newer & larger catalogue from this company Caver Hill Learmont Co. of Montreal

There are several other hardware catalogues listed in this search on archive.org so some of you may be familiar with some of them .
https://archive.org/search.php?query=Hardware Catalogue
Not completely related, but it love Bancrodt. When a mineralogy student we would go up there to collect. Going to town was a great break from the digging. And I apologies to the restaurants who's sinks I bathed in while waiting for my order.
Barnett Tool and Supply in Kennelworth NJ sucks. I was doing a service call around the corner from them and needed a few pieces of hardware. Walked in and the counter guy told me there was a minimum purchase of 100.00 for any over the counter sale! Figured they were a front for the mafia at that point. Big attitude to boot!
Whartons Hardware in Pennsauken NJ has a ton of old stock. Neat place.
Busy Bee hardware in Santa Monica, CA is one of the few old-school (maybe mid-school?) hardware stores in Southern California. They have wall boards of proto tools, hardware in bins and guys that actually help you find what you need instead of making you go find it yourself. Their prices sometimes make your eyes water but they are in one of the most expensive cities along the coast, and you just can't find that kind of service any more. And they do carry hammer heads and wedges for the three of us that actually repair instead of replace.

Also McGuckin's in Boulder, Colorado, is another gem. It's not in a funky old building, but it has a little of the 'old hardware store' vibe. Their fastener section is amazing, staffed by a bunch of older gentelmen (and a few ladies) who are more than happy to help you find that 1/8" dowel pin, 3-56 nut or brass washer that you need.
Newbert's Hardware in Sacramento. Long gone but a great old hardware store. Wood floors with the rolling ladders behind the counter. Everything was in bins that the clerks would get for you. Rope was in the basement and was stuck through holes in the floor so that they would pull up how much you wanted. Only place that had a full stock of Adladin lamp parts. Sold anything and everything. If you needed #7 or #9 wood screws they had them.
Oh man, Barnett[skis] is still there? Kenilworth, NJ
My grandfather gave me a catalogue from Waites[sp?] when I was a kid, Worcester, Mass. Had everything for machine shop. I used to study it, trying to figure out what the stuff was...
Are they still around?
Up until 2 years ago we had an Industrial Supply house called Barker-Jennings here in Lynchburg, VA. They had everything, if they didn't have it on the shelf, most likely you didn't need it. They even sold Ford trucks back in the late 20's to the 40's. The last time I was in there was on a Thursday afternoon to pick up some 24" long carriage bolts, went back on the following Monday to get a few more and they were closed up with a sign out front that said "Barker-Jennings has closed, sorry for the inconvenience." I almost cried, been shopping there for 30 years.

Also in Poughkeepsie is Sarjo's, a well-stocked fastener place mostly but with lots of other stuff, and the Ace hardware store in Hopewell Jct. NY. It's a rare thing I can't find if I visit all three of them. Davies even carries some HSS taps and dies, but you have to ask specifically for them as they know most customers will want the less expensive carbon ones.

Duskes (spelling?) hardware in Montreal(these guys carried BSW,BSF and even had some sizes in CEI!) and the Handy Andy on the corner of Church and Wellington in Verdun. These guys were like going to heaven,or at least as close as I'll ever get, hee-hee.
"Isaac Selick and Sons" in Moncton, New Brunswick.

In 1980 I had turned 18 years old, had been running a trapline since the age of 11 and had a hunger to go to the wild places in Canada and homestead. There was still an area in northern British Columbia in which you could still do this at that time.

Lo and behold, there was a newspaper add that stated that Issac Selick and Sons were going out of business and was having a sale. I had never heard of the company and had no idea that they even existed until that day that I read the paper. There was a small list of stock.... like... axes, adzes, canvas tents, tent stoves, hemp rope, etc. ... which really piqued my interest... :willy_nilly:

So the next morning I went down the the place of business and walked in. The first sensation was smell... canvas, rope and steel... The feeling that I had stepped through a time machine was further enhanced when I laid eyes on the two brothers in their 90's, behind the ancient desk, penning the legers with wonderful penmanship. I was in heaven... :)

There was every type of axe that a man could think of, mostly produced by the Walters Axe Company of Hull Quebec. They had double bitted axes, broad axes, carpenters axes, adzes, felling axes, splitting axes, hatchets of every size and everything else that you could think of... all well fitted with straight grained ash handles. There was all manner of canvas tents, fitted with stove pipe rings, cordage of all sizes and all made of hemp and cotton, log dogs, peaveys, caulked boots, surveying equipment, shovels and everyting that you can imagine to service the forestry, mining and surveying industries. There was also a huge selection of hardware of the old types.

I did realize at the time, that I was witnessing the end of an era and sorely wished that my wallet was much thicker than it was. I did purchase a double bitted axe, a carpenters axe, an adze and several hatchets. It was a great pleasure to talk with the two brothers upon paying for my purchases and I walked out with a great deal of regret that I hadn't found this wonderful store before now.

I never did end up homesteading, but have lived a life of studying nature, hiking, photography and just being in peace with my surroundings.

I have good memories of growing up " within " the end of an era. The likes we will never see again.

This is an excellent thread.

Thanks for looking in... :)