In 1975, I moved to Newmarket, New Hampshire, and got my first full-time job working in a cabinet shop that was housed in an extension of a 100-year-old barn. The weight of the shop’s roof was spreading the walls and we needed to get a tie-rod to pull them back together. Steel rod was easy enough to find and have threaded, but we needed a big turnbuckle.

Two of us went to the hardware store in town to see if we could find one there. It was not a hardware store you’d recognize today—it had as much used stuff as new. The building was an aged white-clapboard telescope house with creaky wooden floors. We found the proprietor sitting by a hot barrel stove in a threadbare easy chair. We told him what we were looking for, and without a word he got up and led us through the maze of aisles to one of the building’s extremities. In the middle of the aisle he pushed some stuff out of the way and uncovered a turnbuckle that was about 24″ long, exactly what we needed. “They were for cinching up big wooden water tanks,” he said. “Not much call for them now.” I expect that place is long gone.

When I moved back home to Seattle and began building boats in 1978, there were three shops where I could buy new and used hardware and tools. There’s only one left now and its days are numbered. Hardwick’s Hardware was established in 1932 in the midst of the Great Depression by the current owner’s grandfather. The store has been in its current location since 1938. It’s a single-story building being engulfed by the construction of new, much taller buildings all around it.

Buildings like the one that looms behind the store will eventually eradicate neighborhood businesses that have been a part of Seattle's University District for many decades.

Towering buildings like the one that looms behind Hardwick’s will eventually eradicate neighborhood businesses that have been a part of Seattle’s University District for many decades.

Inside Hardwick’s, the aisles are so narrow that you have to turn sideways to shuffle past anyone else in the aisle. No one seems to mind; no one is in a rush to get through the store. Even when I have in hand whatever I came for, I won’t make a beeline for the registers as I do in any other store. There some narrow passageways between aisles, some blind corners that lead to dead ends, and so many interesting things lining the shelves that by the time I get to the end of an aisle it is easy to forget where I am and where I was headed.

I’m happy to wander the aisles, looking at tools or hardware that I’ve never heard of. On my latest trip to Hardwick’s, for example, I discovered paper drills, barrel bung hole drills, duckbill pliers for upholsterers, grozing pliers for glaziers, plier wrenches, scythe nibs, and taper gauges.

When the chuck key that came with my 20-year-old drill press took a walk after staying where it belonged for almost two decades, I went looking for a replacement. The big-box store had some keys, all the wrong size, and all in plastic clam-shell packaging so I couldn’t try them. At the local chain hardware store I fared no better. I found the right key online at a supplier of replacement tool parts. It cost $11.11 for the key and $11.45 for shipping—pretty steep for a chuck key.

I called Hardwick’s and learned they had a drawer full of keys. I’d been going there for since the ’70s and hadn’t noticed it. I took the chuck with me and was led to a drawer that must have once been used for index cards, set at about shin height. There was a pile of used keys inside and I found six that fit my chuck. I bought three: one in original condition for $1.95, one with a handle with a steel rod welded in place for $1.00, and one with half a handle for 50 cents.

The aisles are narrow and often cluttered, but the slower you go, the more you see.

The aisles are narrow and often cluttered, but the slower you go, the more you see.

 

Woodcarvers will find scores of chisel types.

Woodcarvers will find scores of chisels.

 

The hammer wall has something for every trade.

The hammer wall has something for every trade.

 

My local hardware store has only a few of these cases, and none of the unusual parts here. Lawn mower throttle hardware? Tail nuts? Ball-joint assemblies? They're here.

My local hardware store has only a few of these cases, and none of the unusual parts here. Lawn mower throttle hardware? Tail nuts? Ball-joint assemblies? They’re here.

 

Not everyone needs a compass plane, but the store is willing to stock items that may sit on the shelves for years before being sold.

Not everyone needs a compass plane, but Hardwick’s is willing to stock items that may sit on the shelves for years, waiting for the customers who need them.

 

Old and new wooden planes, Japanese planes and American Stanley plans and parts...

Old and new wooden planes, Japanese planes, and American Stanley plans and parts…

 

...Swedish hatchets and English lathe tools...

…Swedish hatchets and English lathe tools.

 

There are boxes full of combination wrenches at very affordable prices.

There are boxes full of combination wrenches at very affordable prices.

 

 

There is a wide array of resin fiber discs, with many specifically for working stainless steel, and grinder cut-off wheels for aluminum.

There is a wide array of resin fiber discs, with many specifically for working stainless steel, and grinder cut-off wheels especially for aluminum.

 

One side of one aisle has sanding discs that you can buy individually or by the box. There are a lot of products that you can buy without the plastic packaging that is common elsewhere.

A side of one aisle has sanding discs that you can buy individually or by the box. There are a lot of products that you can buy without the annoying plastic clamshell packaging that is so common elsewhere.

 

This cabinet has 18" Irwin, barefoot, and ship augers. It's only a small part of the stock of augers.

This cabinet has 18″-long Irwin, barefoot, and ship augers. This photo captures only a small part of the stock of augers.

 

I spent a few years living of the grid and relied on kerosene lanterns like these.

I spent a few years living of the grid and relied on kerosene lanterns like these.

 

One cabinet is full of hardware for chairs. Even the drawers without labels hold parts.

One cabinet is full of hardware for chairs. Even the drawers without labels hold parts.

 

Half an aisle is devoted to gloves.

Half an aisle is devoted to gloves.

 

If you didn't inherit a Yankee spiral screwdriver from your father like I did, you can find this classic at Hardwick's.

If you didn’t inherit a Yankee spiral screwdriver from your father as I did, you can find this classic at Hardwick’s.

Property taxes for the land that Hardwick’s sits on have quadrupled in the past five years. And since the city decided last year to change the zoning code to allow buildings up to 240′ tall, high above the prior cap of 65’, taxes will go up even more, even faster. Before the owner can hand the reins over to his son—the fourth generation of Hardwicks—he will have to move the store and Seattle will be poorer for driving it out of the city. It may be a year before the Hardwicks sell their land and close their doors. If you’re in town, drop by. It’s as much a museum as it is a store.End of article

21 Comments

  • William Dowdell says:

    My first real job at the age of 16 was in a small neighborhood hardware store. It was the perfect job for a kid with a strong back, no real experience, and a desire to learn. I’m sorry that those neighborhood stores have all been replaced by the big chains.

  • George Hume says:

    I will cross the continent in June to visit Hardwick’s again.

  • Douglas Elliott says:

    Someone needs to start a petition to persuade the city to make some tax concessions in order to allow this unique and valuable business to survive and thrive. Seattle will be the poorer if they lose this store.
    You mentioned the compass planes, I inherited mine, but it would be unlikely I could replace it from any of the big chain stores. They have them in this store and at realistic prices.

  • David Johnson says:

    You’re right it’s just plain sad to see places like Hardwick’s pass into history. We have a small hardware store in Fillmore, California, that’s been here for probably close to 100 years. They have an assortment of old tools and farm equipment dating back to the 19th century. Every time I go in, there is a feeling of being somewhere special. You can ask them anything and they will know where it is. I’d like to see them stay around for another 100 years.

  • Jim Sandison says:

    If Hardwick’s doesn’t have it, you don’t need it.

  • Michael Colfer says:

    When I lived in Seattle, Hardwick’s was my go to place for all my needs, especially boatbuilding. I now live in Bellingham, Washington, and I hold my breath, hoping that our Hardware Sales will remain in business. Hardwick’s is such a treasure. It is criminal that our profit-driven nation puts such highly valued places out of business, replaced by Blouwes and Home Creepo. I will try to get down for one last nostalgic and useful trip through this national treasure. Thank you for this article, Chris.

  • charles parker says:

    Davies Hardware, Poughkeepsie, NY. If it doesn’t have it and can explain how to do it, you don’t need it. Now live 600 miles away and think of them every time I have to go to Lowes or HD. My thoughts are not printable.

  • John Leyde says:

    One of my favorite places is Anacortes, Washington,and its Marine Supply and Hardware store. We head north about twice a month and I always find something I “need” there.

  • Pete Church says:

    I bought my first hammer and nail sets there 36 years ago. On a rainy afternoon my 11-year-old daughter and I might be found just exploring and explaining. It’s such a great place to help connect a kid to what it takes to make… well, just about anything.

    We’ve spent a lot of time and not just a few dollars there over the years and we’ll both be sad to see them go.

    36 years and it smells the same as the first time I walked in.

  • John Myers says:

    I’ll miss Hardwick’s, but not as much as I still miss Doc Freeman’s or the Wooden Boat Shop. The world turns, things change, you either adapt or die. Aside from the rising property taxes they face an uncertain future where DIY is no longer the norm, and the internet will take an increasing share of their business. The family will sell that property for a small fortune, certainly enough to buy property and relocate to someplace like Georgetown if they chose, but it sounds like they plan to take their millions and retire. Can’t blame them for that.

    • Christopher Cunningham says:

      Doc Freeman’s was where I shopped when I was making a modest living building and repairing small boats. The store had everything marine and the prices were unbeatable. In the early 1980s I worked at the Wooden Boat Shop in Seattle’s University District with the original owners, Joe Bucek and Land Washburn. I learned a lot and met many of the region’s boatbuilders there. The legendary boatbuilder Frank Prothero visited the store occasionally. He was a giant of a man with massive beat-up hands; he wore baggy clothes that looked like they’d seen more than a little pine tar. He was building a schooner, GLORY OF THE SEAS, in a floating boatshop not far away on the opposite end of Lake Union. I was told that he started the project with the lofting—no model, no drawings, no offsets—he had all that in his head and just went straight to work with a batten. On one visit he was browsing around the store while Joe was helping another customer find a fix for a leak between his boat’s keel and a garboard. Joe was well aware that Frank was within earshot and when he had come to the end of his recommendation for fixing the leak, he looked to Frank and said “Does that sound about right, Frank?” I don’t recall that Frank even looked up, but he snorted and muttered, matter-of-factually, “I don’t give a good goddam what he does with his garboard.” I remember thinking someday I want to be like Frank. Frank died in 1996 at the age of 91. GLORY OF THE SEAS was never finished but is afloat on Lake Union. I often paddle or row to see her, admire Frank’s workmanship, and remember a larger-than-life man and a time gone by.

  • This is one of the reasons we fight to protect Proposition 13 [a measure to cap and reduce property taxes—Ed.] here in California.

  • Rusty Knorr says:

    Even though I might find items cheaper online (but probably not), and even if Seattle’s traffic and parking make it hard to shop there, I always go to Hardwick’s first. ALWAYS. I’m going to try to hold on to the dying experience of buying what you need from a human being with a smile, and a soul. Amazon, Costco, big box, China, you can all go to hell for all I care. Convenience and the lowest price are just not what life is about. Those that have forgotten that have lost something profound. Like we will be if we lose Hardwick’s. Sad times.

  • Ed Neal says:

    About all I can do from such a distance is raise a glass in a great toast to Hardwick’s.

  • Barry Taylor says:

    Around the world, greedy councils and “Big Box” stores are forcing the closure of these hubs of the community. Where once kids would wonder in awe at the possibilities of what they could do, now they wander aimlessly around malls. DIY is getting harder due to the effort of finding “the exact thing,” if you actually know what you are looking for that is.
    Very sad to see the demise of such a business.

  • C.S. Richardson says:

    When in Cocoa, Florida, visit S.F. Travis Hardware, established in 1885. Probably some original inventory in there somewhere.

  • Steve Brown says:

    Hardwick’s is like a chapel for wood and metal workers, and a nostalgic browse for anybody with a wooden soul. They stock anything you’d pray for, in the hardware line, that is. I started going there in the early ’70s, when they were able to take in far more used tools and equipment than in more recent decades. The Japanese stones, saws, chisels and whatnot were always priced less than other sources, and boat hardware, brass fittings, and so on, were there to be discovered. I went there at once after I buried a 9/16″ socket in the stern of a dugout canoe, found the random socket drawers, and began searching. I went through at least four good-sized drawers until I found the one 9/16 they had at the time (the most popular size in America, evidently) in almost new condition for 50 cents. Anacortes’ Marine Supply & Hardware was the same way, and though a shadow of its former self, still smells like tarred cordage. Back when founder Mike Demapolis was still there, he led me back through several rickety wooden storehouses behind the storefront to a W.W. I portable Army horseshoer’s coal forge, for what I remember was $25. I’ve dreaded the day these places might leave us ever since, they are such gems, and now the time is upon us. There’s no replacing them with what’s out there now, as everyone else has pointed out. Farewell, old friend.

  • I lived in Seattle in the early ’90s as a 20-year-old apprentice carpenter. I went to Hardwick’s many times and loved that place. One time I remember trying to find a “beater chisel” and having fellow patrons chastise me for referring to a cutting tool in such a way. That may have been one of the best woodworking tips I’ve ever had!!

  • Walt Ansel says:

    When I was a kid, Schneider’s or Gruskin’s hardware in New London Connecticut had Collins lipped adze heads in a wooden crate. They had real neat black-and-white paper labels: Collins Axe Co, Legitimus, Collinsville, CT (as I remember). Supposedly they were W.W. I stock from the local wooden ship-building boom. Price: $25.00. Only bought one, durn it!
    Walt Ansel, Mystic CT

  • Brian O'Connor says:

    I was pleasantly surprised at your mention of Newmarket, New Hampshire!
    Thanks for your lovely piece on dwindling form of hardware store. Milligan & Currier Hardware in Manchester, New Hampshire, was much the same way. In 1952 I made my first trip there with my dad, who knew such treasure houses existed! I returned a couple of years ago and found the place still open and helpful, though the magic was now a bit dusty and lonesome. I think we lose a lot when our searches—whether for tools, books, adventures—are constrained by packaging and devoid of conversation with knowledgable guides.

  • Des Trollip says:

    I was interested in Hardwick’s as I lived in the village of Hardwick near Cambridge, UK, for a while. In Cambridge, just off Newmarket Road, we have a 3rd-generation family-run hardware store called Mackay’s which stocks just about anything and has a particularly well stocked fixings and fastenings section. Here you can still purchase individual screws from BSW, BA, to American standard and stainless to brass from a friend behind the counter. Staff are knowledgable and helpful to boot, often helping me with an obscure thread as I present them with a sample and say, “I’d like one of these please” or I ask, “How would you suggest I go about this?” I am concerned, that with the number of smaller store closures in Cambridge, that Mackay’s might close some time, what would we do then?

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