Big Box Blues

In my travels I have come across many perfectly delightful old fashioned hardware stores; you know – wooden floors that creak when you walk across them, narrow aisles, with tall shelves, each just packed with all manner of hardware treasures, and a cavern-like back room where only the staff may go to ferret out something extra special for you.  Most places I’ve lived have had at least one such store to serve me – if I look hard enough for it.

hardware - not big box
Wilton Springs True Value Hardware

Where we live now is no exception.  Wilton Springs Hardware is one such store.  It sits out in the middle of nowhere along a lonely two lane road.  Not a big place, but chock full of things I need and staffed by folks who actually know their trade.  I am particularly grateful for the staff’s knowledge of plumbing supplies – a plumber I am not! But I occasionally have to put on my plumber hat and pretend.  No matter what kind of Rube Goldberg conglomeration I take in to show them, they find a way to cobble together stock parts to fix or replace it.

We also have one of those big box home improvement stores.  But I don’t like going there for most things.  For one thing the place is so big you need to take a snack along to keep up your strength while you search out the things you need.  And the knowledge of the staff is pathetic.  I once sent my wife (and partner in woodwork) in there to get a moisture meter – a device that measures the water content of wood, so you know if it’s dry enough to use – she searched through the tool department, didn’t see one anywhere.  Finally their tool guy noticed her frustrated wandering and asked what she was looking for.  She told him.  A puzzled look washed over his face he scratched his ear for a while then finally said, “No.  Not here, try the plumbing department.

They have a half an acre of paint and finishing supplies, do you suppose I can get a can of Bloxygen there?  Nope!

They do have lumber too, mostly construction grade stuff, nothing I’d use in furniture making.  On occasion I have gone in to look for lumber to use in building a porch, deck, garden trellis, etc.  They claim to have A#1, top of the line grade lumber.  And maybe they do, somewhere, but you have to dig through layer after layer of gnarly looking boards to find the few good ones.

Bryant & Pack is our local (old fashioned) lumber yard and has better quality stock than the big box store.  And if I have a question about whether I need a 2×8 floor joist or a 2×10 for a given span, they can tell me.  They have all the metal brackets and hangers and things I don’t even know the names of.  But they know them, and if I describe what I’m trying to accomplish they’ll help me find the right parts.  And if I’m too busy to get away to go after them, they’ll even deliver the load of supplies to my house.

Call me old fashioned, but I like the smaller, locally owned places where they know my name, are friendly to everyone, and actually know their trade much more than the box stores where they don’t give a hoot about whether you find what you’re looking for or not.  And especially in these hard times, I prefer to throw the money I spend on hardware and building supplies to the local boys, not the big box store.

Note: In the several years since I originally wrote this piece the knowledge level of the local big box store has improved significantly.  This is due in large part to the fact that they have been hiring the folks who lost their jobs at the small lumber yards that were put out of business by the big box store.

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