New and Expanding Hardware Stores Welcome by Residents and Sign of Neighborhood Rejuvenation
Published: February 14th, 2017
Accompanying images can be viewed in the Febuary 2017 issue pdf
By Larry Ray*
Oh, the childhood memories of hardware stores:
Bill: When I was a child, most children wanted to go to the candy store or the toy store, but, I wanted to go to the hardware store. What a wonderland!
Sharon: The first child impression of Irving’s Hardware Store was chaos, but ask Owner Bill and he knew where every item was.
DC’s neighborhoods are transforming, repositioning and rejuvenating. Residents have a priority of retail needs. According to the Urban Land Institute, grocery is number one and the hardware store is number two. When most think of hardware stores they think of nuts and bolts but they are so much more.
Hardware stores in DC never really went away but for awhile people were fixated on Loews, Home Depot, Target, and Walmart.
Over the years there have been independently-owned neighborhood hardware stores that have closed for one reason or another.
Many Dupont Circle residents still lament the closing in 2007 of Candey’s Hardware and Appliance, formerly at 1210 18th Street, NW. Ever since it relocated to the Connecticut Avenue store in the 1920s it was warmly known as a “neighborhood fixture.” ( The Washington Post’s July 27, 2007 issue had an informative article about the store’s long history; also see their going out of business ad on page 7 of The InTowner‘s September 2007 issue pdf.)
Other neighborhood hardware stores that are no longer in business include Coopers in Columbia Heights, at 14th Street and Otis Place, as well one on Georgia Avenue in Petworth and another at Florida Avenue and 12th Street, NW.
The good news is that the resurgence of DC neighborhoods has brought about the renovation and opening of many exciting hardware stories. A small sampling of these stores is highlighted below.
True Value Hardware on 17th
Originally founded in 1925 as Twomey Harware, owner John Spaulding is delighted with the store’s progress over the years he has been at the helm. Spaulding reported that having taken over the ground floor in their adjoining building, formerly occupied by Art’s Shoe Store which had closed last year, they recently opened a much expanded paint department offering a wide variety of house paints and painting supplies in the extensively renovated space below the second floor housewares department.
Along with expanding the paint department into its new space, they recently redesigned the entire store shelf layout and to create more efficient and less confusing product accessibility. “17th Street, Spaulding said, “is a great environment for us; we are solidly part of the 17th Street community.”
Nearby neighbor Beth Merricks told The InTowner, “I am a long-time Dupont Circle neighbor. When you first walk into the 17th Street hardware, it has a cozy, neighborhood=friendly atmosphere. It seems small, but each time, I have needed an item, they found it. I am glad to see they’re expanding and I’m committed to supporting them because they’re a good neighbor. They are also very helpful.”
Another Dupont Circle resident, David Knight, added, “I have frequented this hardware store for 28 years. I am amazed at the variety — even lumber!”
And posted on Yelp was this from Erika: “They are…well-stocked with pots and pans and shower curtains etc. This duo of stores is like a Target & Home Depot without the strip mall.” Another posting, this from David, added, “What a pleasure to get a quick, friendly answer to my call about needing copies of keys and hearing the price is very fair.”
Owners Gina Schaefer and Marc Friedman opened their store in the 1400 block of P Street, NW just 13 years ago, in 2003. Schaefer admits that while opening a hardware store was never what she expected to do for a living, it quickly developed into a passion during her first few years. “Logan Circle,” she said, “was the best place to open our first location. It gave us our start and helped shape who we are as a company.”
Two years ago they relocated into a 9,000 square-foot retail space on two–and-a-half floors in the 1700 block of 14th Street, between Riggs and S Streets.
With this substantially greater space, in addition to the range of hardware, paints, and housewares products in stock, they now have a party supplies department, an expanded pet section, and a lawn and garden department with an outdoor garden center.
In addition, there is also has a full-size conference room on the third floor where they hosts community events and DIY workshops.
Schaefer, who lives in the Logan Circle neighborhood, shared with us a bit of background about how she got into the business: “I lived in Logan Circle. My neighbors and I had often wished we had a local hardware store and we all felt like Logan was on the brink of big changes. I got laid off from my tech job and put it all together.”
About the reason for the relocating, she explained, “We spent almost 12 years in our P Street location starting in 2003 and were unable to renew our lease.” And as for her philosophy underpinning the business, she said, “Hardware stores help create the fabric of a community. We are a gathering place, a place for creativity, a place to put your life (project, home, craft, vision) together, a place to employ locals, and so much more.”
An example of their focus on the customer, the following comment from a customer reflects that: “I walked into your store at 9:09 as they were carrying in outdoor chairs. Asked if I could get one thing because I knew they were closed. All five people up front happy as can be and the response was ‘we’re open until you’re done shopping.’ Your team is THE BOMB!”
space below the second floor housewares department.
District Hardware & Bike
Founded in 1971 and for 35 years located in Dupont East a couple of doors west of 20th and P Street and for the past 10 years West End at 24th and M Streets, Neil and Simon Conway operate a hybrid hardware and bicycle store. [Ed. Note: As this article was being prepared for publication we learned that they will be relocating in the Fall to PN Hoffman’s about-to-open development in Southwest, The Wharf.]
Patriarch Stanley Conway opened his store selling cookware to the White House and servicing other high government officials. They have such a loyal following that they are now selling bikes to the grandchildren of their original customers.
When they open in their new, 6,300 square-foot 730 Maine Avenue location, in addition to hardware and bicycles, they will also be selling marine and aquatic sports equipment. In addition, a feature not usually associated with hardware or bike shops, there will be a café in conjunction with local coffee roaster Vigilante Coffee. As son Jarrett said, “We will offer hybrid retail so we can attract the nearby neighbors and boating community.”
Glover Park Ace Hardware
Originally opened in 2005, last year the store relocated to its new home in the 2200 block of Wisconsin Ave., NW. Its 7,500 square-foot retail space it is serving the Glover Park community. Noe Delgado, formerly the assistant manager is now manager and lives in the neighborhood.
Adams Morgan Ace Hardware
Not only do Gina Schaefer and Marc Friedman own and operate their popular Logan hardware on 14th Street (see above), but almost exactly one yaer ago at the beginning of March, they opened their new location at 17th Street and Columbia Road, NW, the site of the former Ontario Theater.
Designed to reflect the needs of the neighborhood’s ethnically and economically diverse apartment dwellers and row house homeowners often needing help with everyday maintenance projects, staff expertise is always on tap in this 5,000 square-foot store along with an extensive array of products from housewares to tools to paint, and garden supplies, to name but a few caregories.
As Schaefer said at the time of last year’s opening, “We have wanted to be in Adams Morgan for many years now, so opening in such an iconic location [was] very exciting for us.”
5th Street Ace Hardware
Opened seven years ago on the eastern fringe of the then — and continuing — redeveloping Mt. Vernon Square neighborhood, this store has become a mainstay and valued resource for the surrounding area. But even more than that, the owners have developed lasting relationships in the community.
A good example of this was the recently held sixth annual “do-it-yourself for women” event held in conjunction with with the Mt. Verson Triangle Community Improvement District. Held early in the evening of Sunday, February 11th, women — and men also — were able to visit with and ask questions and get advice from over a dozen product vendors, obtain product samples, learn new DIY skills, and enjoy complimentary wine and locally made appetrizers
In response to our question about the customer base, store manager Brad Johanson-Smith said that a substantial portion of its customers seem to be from about a two-and-a-half mile radius and are a mix of occupants of the older row houses immediately to the north as well as residents of the new, large apartment buildings and developments like City Vista. He also mentioned that they get lots of business from nearby businesses and contractors engaged in residential and commercial projects.
Annie’s Ace Hardware – Petworth
Owner Annie Stom describes why she opened the hardware store. “In 2006, I bought a house in the Park View neighborhood [just to the east of Columbia Heights and south of Petworth] that needed a ton of renovation. Although I hired electricians and plumbers, I did much of the other work myself at night after work and on the weekends which required a bazillion trips to Home Depot which wasn’t a great experience.
“Our neighborhood was changing, with lots of young people moving in and lots of renovation going on so it occurred to me that I wasn’t one of the only ones experiencing this frustration. What I didn’t realize — and shame on me for not realizing this — but people who had lived in Petworth, Park View, and Columbia Heights for years were also hungry for a nearby place to purchase hardware and home goods. And — and — this is the really important part, get knowledgeable and friendly customer service.
“So, in 2010 I began exploring options to open a retail hardware store. I decided to go with Ace Hardware because they are a cooperative, not a franchise and they provide great support, a tremendous brand, and a huge selection of quality products.
“The decision to open the store on Upshur Street was really one of availability. I needed a space with at least 6,000 square feet all on one floor with parking. I looked for a long time and our building on Upshur Street fit the bill.”
As for the recent expansion of the store, described how it came about: “The original plan was to lease the entire 12,400 square-foot first floor, but the bank, Ace, and the landlord were a bit wary about that. To make the numbers work, we were only able to lease about 7,000 square feet of the [then] available 9,700 square feet. We just weren’t certain that the neighborhood was ready for it. Well, thankfully, we were wrong! So we gradually expanded, first adding an additional 1,100 square feet and finally, [a year ago] January, the remaining 1,600 square feet.”
*Larry Ray, a resident of Columbia Heights, is Senior Adjunct Professor at The George Washington University School of Law. He has served as a former multi-term Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in both Dupont Circle and later in Columbia Heights and has also served as President of the North Columbia Heights Civic Association.
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