By Arthur H. Gunther III
The vitality of main streets, our nation’s downtowns, have largely disappeared, decades-long victims of shopping malls, suburban strips and large chains that have the money to invest in bigger but not necessarily better.
So many main street stores are gone – the shoe repair fellow, the dress shop, the men’s haberdashery, the pharmacy and, good grief, the bakery. We’ve traded hands-on service from neighbors, often second or more generation, for self-service shopping, usually without a guide. We will wander with aim but not direction up and down chain pharmacy or super-supermarket aisles looking for a box of aspirin that Joe the druggist would have quickly handed over, usually with some cheerful banter and reference to, yes, the weather, but also to “How’s your Aunt Leah doing?” Even if he were irascible, it would be an experience to remember.
Yet while so much of American commerce is now at the mall (which is probably owned by foreign investors, not your neighbors), somehow at least quite a few hardware stores have survived. Rockland has about 10 still serving.
The village of my youth -- Spring Valley -- had four hardware stores along a short Main Street – K&A, Scharf’s, DeBaun’s and Call Me Dave. They all did business. They all seemed to have everything, including human help. You could park in front, hop in and ask for assistance, get the right part quickly and leave, having had contact with live people, not the chain-store speaker bellowing, “Assistance needed at the front registers.”
Yes, the human touch. Soon, though, one more hardware store will be left to history, a downtown anchor gone. In the hamlet of Pearl River, Hadeler’s Hardware, begun in December 1905, is closing, the old building sold. The store has been in the family since Paul Hadeler’s grandfather served what was then largely a farming community. His brother George III passed last summer, and now Paul and his wife Rita want to experience well-earned retirement. Paul has worked in the store for half a century.
I still have a box of wood screws that his dad sold me decades ago. George Hadeler Jr. told me to mark the box so I would recall the date, promising me that the box of screws would probably outlast me. They will. Each time I take another aluminum fastener from that small red cardboard box, I recall the welcome charm of the old hardware store, the friendly Hadelers and the absolute trust I had that I would find exactly what I needed and some free advice on how to install it.
Progress is vital to this nation. We must always seek a new frontier, for it is our nature, our chance at success and improvement envied by others. But in the fast march, we sometimes pave over our connections to community. It is only when they are gone that we feel the loss.
Much happiness to the Hadelers, who served the Pearl River area beyond operating a hardware store -- in the old high school, in the churches, the ambulance corps, Scouting and library and just by being a good neighbor. No new hardware store is likely to come to Pearl River, and that is a loss. But an even greater chasm will be created by the passing of community touching.
The writer is a retired newspaperman.
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