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  1. #1
    jmc
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    Default Hardware store nostalgia

    A parallel thread on TBN wandered off topic a bit and we got into a few posts about an old hardware chain called Western Auto, and some of the firearms they sold. My parents started one of those stores so that thread caused me to reminisce a bit about our life in the mid 50's thru mid 70's, in terms of that Western Auto store. My hope is that you all will indulge me, for there is much overlap between then and now -but probably not as much as there should be.

    Long story short, Dad, as a young adult, worked his way up to managing a Kroger store in Indianapolis, got drafted into the Korean War, thought a twenty year career made sense, but could only hack it for 10 years. During that stint, he often traveled thru a tiny northern Indiana town that seemed ripe for about any retail attention. He picked Western Auto.

    Mom and Dad put their life savings into that store. At first, pillars of the community stopped in and instead of encouragement, my parents got an earful of why their venture was doomed to failure. Afterall, if it was a good idea, why hadn't the pillars done it? In the end, that Western Auto Store outlived some of those community pillars' endeavors. They managed what most would consider a comfortable life, if you didn't count the hours, and they put all three of us kids thru college.

    Later, retail changed, especially for small businesses within a radius of certain urban mega-retailers. Those stores could actually sell product for less than our store's wholesale cost, due to large volume purchasing. For example, we charged $17 for a Coleman double mantle lantern, for which we paid $15, while the mega retailer could make a profit selling tons of them for $14. Meanwhile, our customers who did comparative pricing thought we were price gouging.

    Those former customers didn't stop my dad from oiling their kids' bike chains, adjusting seats, handle bars, kick stands, and later, hand brakes, free when they stopped by with a problem. Similarly, he sponsored a little league team, supported 4H, the fire department, and every other charitable community function while he mused how much support the community got from the $14 Coleman lantern folks.

    He loved to squirrel hunt and that may be why we stocked 22 ammo in short, long, and long rifle, in each of Super X, Remington, and Revelation, (Western Auto's house brand). Also some standard velocity 22's and CB caps. We sold .177 and .22 pellet guns and pellets, Daisy BB guns, BBs, hunting knives, Case knives, and Kabar knives. And, to emphasis how standards of living have changed, we sold broken lots of shotgun shells. Yeah, if you felt lucky, you could buy one each 410, 20, 16, or 12 gauge #6 shot for $.10 to $.13 each. And hunting licenses that you had to tediously fill out, no matter how many other customers were in the store, and Indiana reimbursed you $.05 for your trouble. No slugs or high powered rifle ammo. These were the days before most people ever saw a deer in northern Indiana. His view was the only way to hunt squirrels sportingly was with an open sight 22, head shot. When customers bought shotgun shells during squirrel season we held our tongue but I thought less of them, as a kid.

    His biggest product was car batteries and his biggest disappointment was customers that already owed him money but just needed credit for a battery so they could get to work...

    In the end, they could retire and they sold that Western Auto store to a guy who "just bought it for his wife so she had something to do.". In other words, clueless what it takes to run a business.

    Post mortem, local customers were so seduced by saving money in the town 15 miles away that their local outlet eventually went under. Now, when they need a 3/8-24 bolt, they have to go 30 miles, round trip. Where's the economy in that?

    Thanks for reading this.

    John

  2. #2
    Silver Member Bwgad96's Avatar
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    Default

    Thank you for the great stories! And you are exactly right, you now have no choice but to drive all that distance for something small. It is sad.

  3. #3
    J F
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    Default Re: Hardware store nostalgia

    Awesome post John. My grandfather and I only got a few chances to go to the old hardware store together, due to distance and age, but good stuff.

    He'd been going there forever and knew the kids of the kids, of the owners, and what a great, monstrous place it was (even in my 30's, at the time).
    ____
    Jay

  4. #4
    Veteran Member Depmandog's Avatar
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    Default

    We too had a Western Auto, which was my favorite store to browse as a kid. I recall the smell of tires, the display of new bikes and the fully stocked bike parts, especially the banana seats.

    Then there was the sports section with the new ball gloves and bats, the guns and ammo and the camping supplies.

    I think about that store often. Don't recall having any money to ever buy anything - but it was like the Sears Wish Book, only better.

    Thanks for the memories!!
    Dean


  5. #5
    Gold Member Beltzington's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hardware store nostalgia

    Great memories, we had a Western Auto in our small farming town in eastern Colorado where as a kidI bought all my BB's and drooled over the real guns in the glass case. Unfortunately not many Mom and Pop stores left. Thanks for sharing.

    ps - Some things never change, I still drool over guns in glass cases.

  6. #6
    Super Member 2LaneCruzer's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hardware store nostalgia

    Quote Originally Posted by Depmandog View Post
    We too had a Western Auto, which was my favorite store to browse as a kid. I recall the smell of tires, the display of new bikes and the fully stocked bike parts, especially the banana seats.

    Then there was the sports section with the new ball gloves and bats, the guns and ammo and the camping supplies.

    I think about that store often. Don't recall having any money to ever buy anything - but it was like the Sears Wish Book, only better.

    Thanks for the memories!!
    Yep...if I recall correctly, we also bought fishing tackle there too. Our last one closed in the early 70's I believe. Western Auto also had some competition in this state, known as OTASCO, or Oklahoma Tire and Supply. They suffered the same fate.
    Have Wings, Will Travel.

  7. #7
    Platinum Member npalen's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hardware store nostalgia

    Ah yes, Western Auto, it's just a memory now. A good memory.

  8. #8
    Bronze Member Tchara's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hardware store nostalgia

    I grew up in a farming community in Wisconsin, and as a kid I remember Friday night shopping. All the stores would stay open till 9:00 PM, so the farmers could milk the cows, then come into town to do their weekly shopping. There wasn't a Western Auto in our town, but we had an Ace Hardware. I find my self nostalgic for the days of 2 party phones, typewriters, and the mom & pop stores that were more then just stores, but friends.

  9. #9
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    Default Re: Hardware store nostalgia

    My first BB gun was bought in a hardware store. I don't know if it was a local store or a chain. Guess I will have to ask my parents and see if they remember. I can remember looking a the BB gun on the wall and I know where we lived when I got it.

    Later,
    Dan

  10. #10
    Super Star Member murphy1244's Avatar
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    Default Re: Hardware store nostalgia

    We have a old hardware store that's been here since 1880's and is still family ran. I love the ladders that run on tracks that go around the outside walls.
    Murph ------------

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