I need picture hangers, so the local hardware store seems the right place to start. The one down the street isn’t part of a big box chain, and I’m drawn to its giant sign which is visible for blocks. An employee greets me near the door to ask if he can help me find something, then leads me to the correct aisle. It’s a good thing – otherwise I might just spend an hour here. Partly because the store is a jumble of all kinds of things that aren’t always organized in a recognizable way, and the merchandise is fun to peruse.
Bins of nails in different sizes, screws of different length and with regular or Phillips-head tops. Stacks of sandpaper in a range of grades from very rough to very fine. Light bulbs, including the special size we always needed for our old chandelier. Masking tape, blue painter’s tape and fancy duct tape in decorator colors. Bird feeders, grills in various sizes, rakes, and snow shovels tucked into a corner. There’s a whole section dedicated to paint. Stacks of cans and racks holding color chips. Brushes, rollers, and drop cloths. Seed and trowels. Bags of mulch and a weed whacker. Ladders and wheeled grocery carts. It’s the closest I see anymore to a general store.
The neighborhood “shopping center” where I grew up was a collection of small stores arranged around an oblong. The Loop, a former turnaround for the city’s trolley system, had a flower shop, a dress shop, a bakery, a candy shop, a meat market, a produce store, and a hardware store. There was also a supermarket, but we visited the smaller stores for a special cut of meat, the most beautiful fruit, or a bag of Jordan almonds.
A bell jangled when I went into the hardware store, alerting someone in the back. As my eyes adjusted to the dark interior, I took in the displays of pots and pans, cups and saucers, model train cars, planters shaped like ladies’ heads, tea towels, toy trucks, woven baskets, Christmas lights, and door mats. After squeezing through the narrow aisle, the center section had tools, nails, and painter’s coveralls. The mixing machine was on one wall, usually vibrating madly as it blended a can of paint to the correct shade. Two-by-fours and quarter rounds were visible around the corner leading to the back storage area. The owner, emerging from a shadowy corner to pluck just what I needed from the wall, would add up my purchase with a pencil on a paper bag before ringing it into the large brass cash register.
Somehow a trip to Home Depot isn’t the same. The aisles are wide, the ceiling high, signs identify each section, and it’s brightly lit. I’m sure there are lots of employees, but they seem scarce as they are spread over the vast acreage. So I’ll duck into the neighborhood hardware store – I’m sure there’s something I need.