Len Martin of West Deer has always turned to Hampton Hardware on Route 8 for those hard-to-find items that he couldn't get anywhere else.
"I would always end up there when I couldn't find something and would always say, 'I don't know why I just didn't start here first,' " he said.
Mr. Martin will have to look somewhere else for his hardware items after March 30, when owner Jack Richardson closes his doors for the final time after nearly 50 years in business.
Mr. Martin said that the wealth of inventory probably had to do with the years the independent hardware store was in business, plus the attention to detail for customers.
"It is really something that I can't put my finger on, but they always seemed to have that unusual spring, odd screw size or a certain valve that I needed," he said.
But, unfortunately, there weren't enough sales of those hard-to-find items for the owner to keep the store open.
Mr. Richardson, the owner, who lives in nearby Shaler, said he has worked at the store since 1966.
"I married into it -- my late father-in-law, Charley Schmidt, had opened it in 1952."
It wasn't a career path that Mr. Richardson, 72, had planned on.
In fact, it was quite the opposite.
"When I was a kid, I worked at a drug store where I grew up.
"I was only 15 and after I left, I swore I would never work in retail again," he said.
That "never" turned out to be a few years. After serving in the military and marrying his wife, Carol, Mr. Richardson found himself helping his father-in-law, who was in poor health.
"Before I knew it, I had taken over," he said, "But I haven't ever regretted it."
Mr. Richardson said that over the years, the opening of nearby big-box stores hit his business hard.
"All the big contractors started doing business with them. A lot of the little guys still come in -- I get 100 to 150 customers a day, but it just isn't enough to keep the doors open," he said.
It wasn't just those little items though that kept the "little guys" coming in, but the expertise.
"I trusted them for their advice and their ability to help solve problems," said Dave Young of Shaler. "You can't reliably get good help or advice at the big box stores. I've been frustrated many times by the lack of knowledge at those stores, but never with the folks at Hampton Hardware."
Some customers, like John Redal and Amber Bierkan, both of Hampton, have shopped at the store for decades.
"We moved to Hampton in 1974, and I found them shortly after. They always have the hard-to-find things, but also their knowledge is unbeatable," Mr. Redal said.
"It doesn't matter if you are buying something for a dollar or $50, they will give you the same time and attention to help you out," he said.
Mrs. Bierkan agreed.
"I've been a shopper of Hampton Hardware for over 25 years. They would always give such personalized attention," she said.
As an artist, Mrs. Bierkan often works on unusual projects, she said, something the staff at Hampton Hardware knew and understood.
"They would help me brainstorm on my various projects -- like dowels for my Santa heads. PVC pipe for the necks. And they would always have the hard-to-find item for a older home or know where to get it," she said.
Plus, said Mrs. Bierkan, they treated her as an equal, something women don't always find in a hardware store.
"The men that ran the store were always kind to me as a woman. Many shop owners didn't respect women who were handy around the house. My dad, being a carpenter, taught me a lot about wood working and repairing things, and Hampton (Hardware) always respected me for that and I really appreciated that service," she said.
Mr. Richardson said after all these years, he will miss his customers, many who have now become friends.
"I love working with the people and visiting. I'm really going to miss that," he said.
Mr. Young also enjoyed the camaraderie of the local hardware store.
"I always seemed to run into people I knew who were also shopping at Hampton Hardware. All that was missing was the cracker barrel and the pot-bellied stove," he joked.
Mr. Richardson's two full-time employees including his son, Eric, and one part-time employee will lose their jobs, something that has him worried.
While the family considered keeping the business for Eric to run, it wasn't economically feasible, Mr. Richardson said. To hasten the decision, when he put the property up for sale, it sold in two weeks, much quicker than he had anticipated.
"I thought it would take months, maybe even a year and it went right away," he said. Mr. Richardson said that Milano's Pizza Shop next door and his renters will relocate at the end of the month.
Starting today, Mr. Richardson will mark inventory to 50 percent off with hopes of selling his stock before he closes the doors at the end of the month. He said he plans to travel with Carol and enjoy more golf.
"It will be hard because here I am the boss, but at home, I'm the employee," he joked.
Mr. Young said: "It's a shame. The traditional hardware store is a lost piece of Americana."neigh_north
Kathleen Ganster, freelance writer: email@example.com.