Published in Black Mountain News, August 20, 2015
Not Your Grandfather’s Hardware Store
By Myra Schoen
Town Hardware & General Store celebrates its second anniversary this summer under the ownership of Beth and Peter Ballhaussen. It was love at first sight for the couple when they learned that this historic and iconic “Main Street” destination was up for sale two years ago.
“We had already planned to eventually retire in Black Mountain when the time came,” said Beth. And when the previous owners, Barry and Susan Robinson, decided to sell, the time seemed perfect, she said.
In stories, when a stranger comes to town, anything can happen, often life-changing to the inhabitants of the town, be it sinister, wondrous, or gradations in between.
Bob McMurray, executive director of the Black Mountain Chamber of Commerce, said, “When Beth and Peter came to town, they fit right into the community. Peter joined the Chamber of Commerce marketing council. He and Beth improved Town Hardware and they do a great job of promoting it.”
He added, “What’s good for Town Hardware benefits the town’s business economy.”
Of most importance to Beth and Peter was staff retention. They are loyal to staffers, some of whom have been at Town Hardware for 10, 20, or even 25 years.
Susan Brackett, a Town Hardware salesperson for more than 20 years, said, “They’ve made us feel secure in our jobs.”
According to Peter, “I don’t know of any other hardware store in this area or other places in North Carolina where we’ve lived that can offer the staff expertise of Town Hardware.”
People in Black Mountain rely on the shop’s personnel to find the solution for their household repair problems, whether replacing a lost screw for an appliance, recommending the appropriate tool for a do-it-yourself job, or identifying a cleaning product for a glass stovetop, Beth said.
“We like to think of Town Hardware as a resource for all things household,” Beth said. To that end, the couple has introduced several new product lines.
“While it’s important for us to maintain the traditions and atmosphere established by previous owners,” Peter said, “we’re also making some subtle improvements and integrating new product lines that we believe enhance customer experiences.”
If a customer wants something not in inventory, it will be ordered on the spot. Town Hardware is part of the Do It Best cooperative, which enables the store to compete with “big box” stores, Peter said.
With 4,000 other small businesses in the national network, the Do It Best cooperative enables Town Hardware and other members to buy in bulk, helping them to keep prices competitive. A regional warehouse in Lexington, South Carolina, stocks more than 70,000 products and supports customer requests. Special orders can be speedily fulfilled, Peter said.
“We’re constantly looking for ways to build upon Town Hardware’s base, adding new services and goods, and improving the accessibility and appearance of the three distinct shop areas that comprise Town Hardware,” Beth said.
A revamping of the shipping area (with Federal Express and UPS services) at the back of the store cleared the way to a mezzanine, which now houses the new Book Nook. This treasure trove of new titles includes the works of Black Mountain authors such as Pat Christy and Jerry Pope, as well as cookbooks, how-to books, and those addressing regional history, nature, and art. There are also rocking chairs in which to enjoy respite and perusal of the eclectic collection.
The store’s original wall-length countertop in the hardware section has been sawn into two parts and reconfigured into a shape that accommodates two checkout stations rather than one. At the rear of the store, the exterior deck has been opened to customers and transformed into a showplace for gas grills.
Town Hardware is no small Mom & Pop enterprise. Peter and Beth estimate their inventory contains a quarter-million items, which includes 37,000 different products. Nearly 200 vendors supply the store in addition to the Do It Best consortium.
Comparing Town Hardware to an old-fashioned general store (although it has that feel) is like comparing a pad and pencil to an iPad.
The variety of items ranges from garden hoses and birding supplies to kids’ metal lunch boxes; from pop-up birthday cards to jars of local jams and honey; from axes, screwdrivers, and pocket knives to toy dinosaurs and miniature John Deere tractors; from cast-iron skillets to nuts, bolts, and nails; from shaving supplies to egg timers and pepper grinders; from craft brands of local and regional soda pop to snow shovels, sleds, and garden gnomes.
Like most of “historic” downtown Black Mountain’s structures, the Town Hardware buildings were constructed in the 1920s.
[Cut by editor due to space availability:]
The original hardware store was flanked by a drugstore in the corner building and a five-and-dime on the other side. Previous owners acquired the two adjacent properties and connected all three to form the current layout. The corner store has kitchenware, small appliances, gifts, cards, old-fashioned candy, and a variety of food typically found in a general store, such as grits, corn meal, and country ham. The middle room has hardware, electrical and plumbing supplies, toys, tools, key-making and plain good advice on fixing stuff. The third room features outdoor living products, yard and garden equipment, cooling and heating devices, and seasonal goods.
Town Hardware’s website, Townhardware.com, lists an inventory of some unique and popular products as well as a how-to-do-it video encyclopedia.
In the months to come, Town Hardware will introduce new customer enrichments and delights, and continue to repurpose spaces for new ventures and uses.
“We hope that for today and into the future, Town Hardware will continue to surprise and satisfy visitors and customers with the diverse products we stock,” Beth said. “As we like to say, Town Hardware has ‘aisles of smiles.’”
8/14/15 2:14 PM