Anchor lost

Hadeler Hardware in Pearl River is closing after 108 years, a loss more than just screws, shovels and gadgets.

By Arthur H. Gunther III

     The vitality of main streets, our nation’s downtowns, have largely disappeared, decades-long victims of shopping malls, suburban strips and large chains that have the money to invest in bigger but not necessarily better.
     So many main street stores are gone – the shoe repair fellow, the dress shop, the men’s haberdashery, the pharmacy and, good grief, the bakery. We’ve traded hands-on service from neighbors, often second or more generation, for self-service shopping, usually without a guide. We will wander with aim but not direction up and down chain pharmacy or super-supermarket aisles looking for a box of aspirin that Joe the druggist would have quickly handed over, usually with some cheerful banter and reference to, yes, the weather, but also to “How’s your Aunt Leah doing?” Even if he were irascible, it would be an experience to remember.
     Yet while so much of American commerce is now at the mall (which is probably owned by foreign investors, not your neighbors), somehow at least quite a few hardware stores have survived. Rockland has about 10 still serving.
     The village of my youth -- Spring Valley -- had four hardware stores along a short Main Street – K&A, Scharf’s, DeBaun’s and Call Me Dave. They all did business. They all seemed to have everything, including human help. You could park in front, hop in and ask for assistance, get the right part quickly and leave, having had contact with live people, not the chain-store speaker bellowing, “Assistance needed at the front registers.”
     Yes,  the human touch. Soon, though, one more hardware store will be left to history, a downtown anchor gone. In the hamlet of Pearl River, Hadeler’s Hardware, begun in December 1905, is closing, the old building sold. The store has been in the family since Paul Hadeler’s grandfather served what was then largely a farming community. His brother George III passed last summer, and now Paul and his wife Rita want to experience well-earned retirement. Paul has worked in the store for half a century.
     I still have a box of wood screws that his dad sold me decades ago. George Hadeler Jr. told me to mark the box so I would recall the date, promising me that the box of screws would probably outlast me. They will. Each time I take another aluminum fastener from that small red cardboard box, I recall the welcome charm of the old hardware store, the friendly Hadelers and the absolute trust I had that I would find exactly what I needed and some free advice on how to install it.
     Progress is vital to this nation. We must always seek a new frontier, for it is our nature, our chance at success and improvement envied by others. But in the fast march, we sometimes pave over our connections to community. It is only when they are gone that we feel the loss.
     Much happiness to the Hadelers, who served the Pearl River area beyond operating a hardware store -- in the old high school, in the churches, the ambulance corps, Scouting and library and just by being a good neighbor. No new hardware store is likely to come to Pearl River, and that is a loss. But an even greater chasm will be created by the passing of community touching.

     The writer is a retired newspaperman.

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art gunther III January 30, 2013 at 10:18 PM
Aiden -- a fine story. The Spring Valley hardware stores in my hometown village all took payment on the old-fashioned "lay-a-way" plan for bigger-ticket items. Once you had saved enough, the goods were delivered. Another community touch.
John January 30, 2013 at 10:52 PM
The good old days. Bet you guys miss the horse and buggy, too.
art gunther III January 30, 2013 at 11:10 PM
John -- That's a bromide comment. Of course, I would not not to live in the outhouse days of my grandfather, who had to get up at 4 on cold mornings to renew the one-register, hand-fed coal furnace at 14 Ternure Ave. in Spring Valley and then walk two miles to his 40-year job at the Briarcraft Smoking Pipe Co., where he earned $44 a week. I would not want to see my high school teacher bagging after hours at the Spring Valley A&P because his wages were so low. "Progress" is most welcome, but bulldozing ahead, cutting all the trees (metaphor here) isn't the way to move ahead. A common-sense approach is. That logic can be applied to most growth, especially in Rockland. Some better planned communities have made space for friendly, hometown hardware stores that you can actually walk to. And some -- not all -- big-box retailers do make sure their people are as competent and helpful as in small stores. I pine for old-time attributes like community service, not always delivered by the sweetest of people, but given in goodwill nonetheless.
John January 30, 2013 at 11:36 PM
I hear ya, Art. But these mom and pops cannot compete with the big stores. That's just the way it is. People look for the best prices, and that usually means the larger stores. I can't stand CVS and all the other big pharmacies, but they are everywhere now and driving all the good reliable small places out. This is progress, like it or not.
art gunther III January 30, 2013 at 11:47 PM
Right, John -- I hear you, too. I saw a vibrant downtown (Spring Valley) simply disappear when the Nanuet Mall arrived in 1969. But I have seen communities elsewhere locate investors, including big-boxers, and rebuild walkable downtowns, eliminating Main Street traffic by rerouting roads, planting trees, rebuiding stores, etc. I think suburban America is ready for that sort of "community" experience. How many highway shopping strips can one take? (Actually, the rebuilding of the Nanuet Mall is in the "downtown" theme.)


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