Hardware Store vs. Big Box

Gene and Katie Hamilton
Gene and Katie Hamilton

If you’ve been in the home improvement field as long as I have you have to admit there’s been drastic changes over the years. When we began remodeling houses and writing about it in the 1970s we shopped at hardware stores and lumber yards along with contractors. As consumers became more confident and products were designed for do-it-yourselfers a spirit and market was created. Hence the birth of “big boxes” spread across the country wherever new homes in neighborhoods were being built or old homes were being remodeled.

Lowes opened its first hardware store in 1946 serving the returning World War II veterans and their families; today there are 1,750 blue big boxes spread across the U.S., Canada and Mexico. Home Depot opened its first two warehouses in 1979 and today there are 2,245 of them including some in China. And both of these giants continue to open both large and smaller space stores wherever the market warrants.

While the early stores were nothing short of warehouses with crates of tools and supplies we have the woman consumer to thank for their transformation to more civilized shopping centers. The market surveys I’ve seen show the woman consumer has always been the driving force behind major remodeling purchases which is why we see illustrated product displays and kitchen and bathroom showrooms in every big box.

Today the march of giant home centers across the country (and world) have eliminated many hardware stores in their path, but I’m happy to say there are still some around. Our favorite is Easton Hardware in Easton, Maryland where the workers have an uncanny knowledge of just what you’re looking for. Even when you have difficulty describing the little knob that won’t turn or the screw that disappeared they know exactly what you’re talking about. You’re lucky if you have a good hardware store so support it because the big box nearby is stiff competition.

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