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Discovering Americana on the road

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Discovering Americana on the road

Small hardware stores such as this one in Plymouth, PA., are slowly disappearing from Main Street in America.

Photo by Dave Campbell/

POSTED May 14, 2010 2:29 a.m.
In the world of mega stores and big-box behemoths, small businesses are falling by the wayside. One of the hardest hit by the convenience of the giant retailer is the small hardware store.

When I travel east in the summer, inevitably I have some house repairs to perform on my aunts’ houses, both of which are over 100 years old. But those repairs are not accomplished with aid of Lowes, Home Depot and the like. Instead, my store of choice is Plymouth Hardware, nestled in the middle of a block in Plymouth, PA.

To walk into that store is like walking into a Twilight Zone episode. The smell of the corrugated wood floors transports you to a time in the very distant past, and the counter is not just a place to check out - it is a place to check in and absorb what’s left of a way of life that is nearly gone.

Paul Congdon runs Plymouth Hardware, as he has for more than 30 years. Seeming much younger than his 60 plus years, Congdon was more than willing to reflect on how life used to be.

“There was a time when there were more than 20 hardware stores along this (10-mile) stretch of road,” Congdon said. “Now there is just mine. You didn’t get rich in this business, but you were able to raise a family and send the kids to college. That middle class is disappearing today and when the middle class is gone, we will be in trouble.”

When asked how he competes with the likes of Home Depot, Congdon said: “I can beat their prices. I sell nails by the bucket that they sell by the box, mine cost less and when you are done, you have a bucket.

“I can’t count the number of times people have come into my store complaining they got the wrong part from Home Depot. Sometimes I sell them the right part or let them know how to make their’s work.”

While you might be able to buy hardware from Congdon, one thing you can’t put a price on is the rhetoric that is tossed around between him and his customers. I had the pleasure of stumbling across such an exchange, and it is too bad that such exchanges appear to be ending.

Congdon may be forced out of business when his block is demolished for new development. If that happens, new will definitely not be for the better.

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