The nuts and bolts of a hometown business

Tim, otherwise known as “Tool-Man Taylor” on the old television show “Home Improvement” had a favorite store he and his friends frequently visited. “Harry’s Hardware” was the place where they not only purchased what they needed, but also exchanged both friendly and practical advice. “Happy Days,” another even older television store, featured with the Cunningham family and “Howard’s Hardware.” The stores on both shows were located right in town along with other “Main Street” family-run businesses.

Sadly, many local businesses have disappeared over the years as large retail “box” companies moved in with huge buildings and parking lots, leaving too many empty store fronts in the center of town. Fortunately, all is not lost; we can still find some of these “yesterdays” businesses.

It is a slice of Americana to walk into an older store with the old-fashioned store-front window, hardwood floors, and narrow aisles loaded with merchandise. There a person is greeted by one of just a few employees and quite possibly the owner. One such place is alive and well right in the heart of Fredonia – Fredonia Pro Hardware on 31 East Main Street.

You know you are welcome when you can enter a place through its back door. That is exactly what many customers do at Fredonia Pro Hardware.

It’s not just because of good parking; this entrance looks just as good as the front does with flowers and an open door. Bob Scudder, the owner, is often right there ready to say hello and see what you need.

In business since 1986, he is not the first owner.

Research by local resident Doug Shepard in 1995 shed some light on the site’s history. In 1898, Benjamin Reuther had a printing business there, and soon after established the first local telephone company with his wife Mary as the chief operator. By 1906 the building was sold to A. E. Spencer who sold bicycles, sewing machines, and sporting goods. A Fredonia Censor article dated December 18, 1912 Bob Scudder had states that Spencer expanded the space and also sold Victrolas, Edison talking machines, as well as records. He also sold “vast quantities of gasoline from their tank in the street.”

By 1935, a local directory listed the site as a hardware store, and by 1940 it was owned by Hugh M. Dietzen as “Fredonia Hardware Co.” In 1951, Bob Lesch took over as manager, and in 1959 he purchased the building. Including the upstairs apartment renters through the years, 31 East Main Street has a long and interesting history reaching far back into Fredonia’s early days.

Good old customer service is what people get when they shop at small locally owned businesses. Bob, at Fredonia Pro Hardware is one example of this and forms what he calls a community of independent business people alongside other businesses in the village.

Conducting an interview with Scudder had some challenges as far as time, for he of course served his customers first.

One customer told me, “I come to Bob for everything. I go nowhere else.”

Another placed a special order for an item not in stock; all competitively priced with the larger store options in town. Regular customers seem to know this is the place where they can also get advice on how to solve their home improvement problems, including how to do something with your power tool from home, at least that is what it looked like to me when Scudder appeared to be explaining something to a man in the back part of the store. It was only because I know the customer from way back that I teased and chided him about the “chit-chat” and to move along so I could ask Bob questions; more evidence that a small town store is where people are not just customers, but friends as well.

Small businesses can have a wide inventory. Your local hardware store easily has over 12,000 items including typical fasteners, nuts and bolts, tools and supplies for plumbing, electrical, lawn and garden. Of course, there is also paint and related items as well as other things that you may have never expected.

Shopping at a small local business allows a customer to purchase what is needed and experience personal service. In addition it supports entrepreneurs from your own town. Your loyalty helps keeps businesses alive, helps the tax base to ease the burden of many, and keeps our “Main Street” vibrant as part of the old-time “Americana” we all crave.

Scudder commented that through the years SUNY Fredonia college students have come to his store and experienced what he calls “the moment.” They walk in, pause, and feel a sense of comfort as they recall a similar store from their own small town, at least the ones lucky enough to have had one in these last several years. The city folks learn for the first time what the draw is, much like those as portrayed on the older television shows.

Bob Scudder is not originally from Fredonia. He said that if you had told him back in 1986 how good living in Fredonia was going to be, he wouldn’t have believed it. Yet, it has been. He has loved owning a business here and experiencing all the community has to offer. In addition to “Bob” at Fredonia Pro Hardware, there are other hometown storekeepers including “Bobby” at Service Hardware on Route 5 and “Doug” at Weiss on Main Street in Dunkirk. They are just the few remaining of what was once many more of our old hometown businesses.

Make it a good week and buy local.

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