There's caring there - a connection that's getting lost. Let's find it again.

Less than two miles from my home, Menards built one of its superstores. For those of you who don't live in the Midwest, Menards is equivalent to a local Home Depot. Their prices are often lower than Home Depot or Lowe's. We won't talk about the quality.

Shortly after Menards opened, Sears built a Sears Hardware store right alongside. The two parking lots abut; however, you have to go on the main drag to drive from one parking lot to the other.

About a year later, Home Depot built a store on the other side of Menards. Not to be outdone, Lowe's built a store about 100 yards up the street on the other side of the road. So, within a short distance, I have a choice of four big-box stores. The only convenience is going into one, finding they don't have it, going to the next, etc., etc.

A short block from my house was the local hardware store. He had been there long before Menards or Sears or Home Depot or Lowe's. It was the type of family hardware store that when you walked in, they knew who you were. They participated with the local activities in town. They were one of us.

After three of the four big-box stores opened, my local hardware store hung a sign reading, “Going Out of Business.” The owner was depleting his stock and had some great deals. I walked in the store and asked him, “Why?”

He said, “You always supported me. You always came in. There were some things you bought that you could have driven two miles further and saved a dollar or two. But everyone else has abandoned me. They have been going down the street for the better deals. I just can't make it anymore.”

I let him know how sorry I was. All the while, I was stocking up on items that were at bargain prices. I hated to pay so little only to see him go out of business.

I really missed my local hardware store when it closed. The business was different. The owner knew us; we knew him. I saw him in church and exchanged pleasantries. When I was in the store, he really cared about what I needed or what I was doing. I can't tell you how many times I just walked the block to buy a single metric nut that I needed for a piece of equipment.

Oh sure, Home Depot has “Louie.” And Louie has the canned presentation and is always jovial. But Louie doesn't know about my kids. Louie doesn't even care. He's just doing his job.

Now, when I need a single nut, I have to buy a bag full. My workbench has a pile of little bags of nuts and screws. Nuts and screws I don't need. But they're there because I needed just one at the time.

Boy, I miss my local hardware store.

In Search Of Something

I had a need for a small metal garbage can. You know, the one you use to store cement in your truck. Well, without my local hardware store, which I knew had these and where they were located, I had to hike two miles to the big boxes. I started with Home Depot. They had a small garbage can, but only in plastic. If you wanted a metal can, you have to buy a large one. Can you imagine putting this huge metal can in the back of your truck?

Well, Louie at Home Depot said, “Sorry.” I repeated the same scenario at the next store, and the next, and the next. Same answer.

My wife saw my frustrations. She knew these small metal garbage cans existed. Then she reminded me that the next town over still had a local hardware store. So, I drove the four miles to the next town's local hardware store. As I walked in, I felt that familiar feel of a local hardware store. I was at home again. A few aisles down, there it was, my small metal garbage can. A whopping $10 item.

As I bought the small metal garbage can - not to use for garbage, of course - I related my story about how I missed my local hardware store and was happy that at least they were still around, just one town away.

Enough people from my town must have said the same thing, because within a year, they opened a new store a block from my house. My local hardware store returned. I love it. I just bought another metric nut the other day. Just one, no bags of other useless nuts. So it cost 33 cents, big deal! That is all I spent. And they knew me.

So, while I can travel two miles for discounted items, I continue to patronize my local hardware store. If I need a small bag of plaster of Paris, they have this tiny little bag, not the giant sizes at the big-box store. When I need to touch up a little paint, they use their computers to match it, and I pay twice the price, but I have four times the quality in the paint.

It will be a sad day in this country when all the local hardware stores close up and go away. Local hardware stores are a part of Americana. They are part of the fiber of this country.

I know you may consider me “old school,” like trying to hold onto the Mom-and-Pop grocery stores. Well, I did like the Mom-and-Pop grocery stores and they are all gone. But think about walking into the local plumbing supply house. When you sit down at the counter, the guy on the other side knows you. He cares about you. He or she asks about your family, how things are going, what you are doing this weekend. There is a real connection.

I don't know about you, but I like that connection. It's a part of our heritage to care about our neighbors. For items you cannot get at the local supply house, you need the hardware store. So keep patronizing your local hardware store. Louie gets enough business. You also have to take care of your own. I hope my local hardware store never closes.