I grew up in a really small town in northern Kansas. Minneapolis. Not THE Minneapolis. No, when saying where we’re from, I’m certain every former and current resident always adds the important qualifying word: KANSAS.
One of my first jobs was working in a hardware/auto parts store alongside my mother who was a longtime, much-loved employee. Gilley’s Auto. Back in I believe 1971 or so. My job was merely inventory of parts available in store. Which involved transferring information from sales tickets and shipping invoices onto index cards so that, ideally, one could simply pull the card out of the card file for, say, Massey Ferguson fan belts, and see exactly how many were in stock. A simple process that totally relied on the efficiency and accuracy of the one who processed the tickets/invoices and added/subtracted the numbers on the inventory cards. I was 16-ish years old. And one of the frequent customers was a dreamy young handsome guy who worked building grain bins for North Central Steel. Let’s just say sometimes the numbers weren’t always completely accurate. Frowns could be seen on the faces of the employees (Mom and/or Dean Jr) when there really weren’t any Massey Ferguson combine parts in the bin. And oh, OH, the frowns on the stressed out farmers during wheat harvest who needed their parts NOW. Loud frowns at times. Inventory control did not become my permanent lifelong vocation. **spoiler alert** I married the young handsome grain bin builder. And his permanent lifelong vocation became….inventory control and warehouse management. !!
Not only was I familiar with these types of stores from working with my Mom, but Dad was a carpenter on the side. I love hardware stores to this day. Nowadays when we’re in Home Depot all we need to do to find what we’re looking for is pull up the HD app on our phone and search the item. Then it tells us the aisle location. No more index cards, no more searching for a sales associate, and possibly less human error factor. I love hardware stores AND technology.
In 2020 we helped my sister and brother-in-law move from California to Kansas. They lived in the San Francisco metro area. Fremont, in East Bay, to be exact. Population exponentially higher than Minneapolis KANSAS and Wichita. In the fall of that year we helped them prep their house for sale and then packed them up for the move across country. That process required many runs to the hardware store. Not far from their home was Dale’s Hardware. I believe it’s part of the Ace Hardware company. But really it seemed like a small town family-owned hardware store you might find in the Midwest. Friendly staff, fun product selection, neat and clean aisles that were easy to maneuver. Simply a delightful experience to stroll through the store. Just dreamy!
You might assume that inventory control in all stores in the East Bay Area, Silicon Valley for crying out loud, would be the ultimate in techno-everything. Well, not so much at Dale’s. We walked up to the service desk to ask if they had a certain item, and where we might find it. The employee behind the desk said “just one moment” and pull out a THREE RING BINDER NOTEBOOK. Then she flipped through the pages and ran her finger down the long list of products for the answer to our question. 😮 I felt like I’d just walked back in time into Gilley’s Auto/Hardware on Concord Street in Minneapolis. Maybe their computers were down, I don’t know. But I got the feeling that this was the norm. And that’s totally okay. Yes, refreshing even, in this day and age.
Speaking of hardware and hometowns, one of the coolest little hardware stores ever has been in my hometown of Minneapolis KANSAS for 20 years or so. Hometown Hardware. My sister-in-law Vickie is the owner and she really knows how to run an appealing business. Just like Dale’s, her store is neat and clean with a nice selection of fun and useful products. I’ve heard her lament computer issues, so it could possibly be more up to date with technology than Dale’s in the heart of Silicon Valley.
Technology aside, customer service rules in any business, and you definitely get that at Hometown Hardware. Plus, not only can you buy all things hardware there, but during the summer you can walk up to a window and buy soft serve ice cream!! Just how dreamy and cool is that?
Home Depot and such stores may have helpful apps that tell you what’s in stock and where to find it, but I’m telling you there’s nothing better than a real live smiling friendly helpful human employee. Small town or Silicon Valley.
And soft serve ice cream?? That’s just next level awesome!
For more about my early employment: https://simplyb.blog/2017/03/12/employment-enjoyment/