After 141 years, Connell Hardware hits closing time
Reynoldsburg will lose its oldest business — Connell Hardware — when the venerable store shuts down next month.
The decision to close was not easy, but it was time, said Charity Connell, whose family has owned the store at 7345 E. Main St. for 141 years.
The beginning of the end came when her father, Ralph Connell, died in 2007 at age 82 as he sat in his favorite chair beside the cast-iron, potbellied stove in the back of the store. He left ownership of the shop to his wife, Jean, and management of it to Charity Connell’s husband of 33 years, George “Cody” Lemaster.
The store was hit hard by the recession and the growing number of big-box stores, such as Home Depot, Lowe’s and Menard’s.
“Then Cody was diagnosed with lung cancer in February,” Connell said. He died in May. “So a decision needed to be made.”
Family transitions aside, the imminent closing of this neighborhood fixture is part of a larger trend of big-box hardware stores adding the kind of services that smaller stores, such as Connell Hardware, used to count on to compete, said Chris Boring, principal of Boulevard Strategies, a Columbus-based retail-consulting firm.
“Formerly, that’s where independents had an edge,” Boring said. “But that edge has worn off in recent years. If you’re going to succeed as a small, specialty hardware store, you have to find a niche category in which you can dominate. You can’t make it if you’re just a general hardware store.”
While Connell Hardware “had a couple of niches ... it’s kind of tough to make a business out of that,” he said. “And of course Connell can’t beat them on price.”
Sitting in well-worn captain’s chairs around the potbellied stove, Charity Connell and store manager Willard Carl reminisced with a steady stream of regulars about the business.
The stove was long a place where a group of older men would congregate to sit, play checkers and talk about politics and sports. “A lot of old ones who used to sit around the potbellied stove are gone,” Connell said. “Everybody’s dying off.”
Yesterday, the stove-sitting gang included Lee Dauer and his wife, Carol, who looked around at some of the old merchandise in wonder.
“Want a mole trap?” Mrs. Dauer said, chuckling, as she looked at the devices.
The couple has been coming to the store “as long as I can remember,” Connell said, smiling warmly as Mr. Dauer asked Carl to find a drill bit.
“So many times I wished I had sat down with a tape recorder, but I never did,” Connell said. “My dad knew so much about Reynoldsburg history. He was a pack rat. My dad had stuff that should go to the (Reynoldsburg) historical society — he had it all marked. And I’m picking out a few things I do want them to have.”
Next to a dusty roll-top desk was a battered safe the size of a small filing cabinet. On top of it sat a cash register from 1923 — “We use that NCR register every day,” Carl said. Nearby, hanging from the ceiling, was a stuffed and mounted yellow-fin tuna that Ralph Connell caught on a fishing trip to Hawaii decades ago.
This week, the store began a going-out-of-business sale, and plans call for an auction in September to dispose of some remaining stock as well as antique items, said auctioneer Michael Hoffman.
“There’s some really neat stuff there,” Hoffman said. “Everybody in Reynoldsburg at one time or another has gone there. Four generations of my own family, actually, have been going there. You can find stuff there that you can’t find anywhere else.”
After the merchandise has been sold off, the family will decide what to do with the building, Connell said, and take into consideration two tenants — a nonprofit group upstairs and an art studio on the first floor.
“We’re going to keep the building for right now,” she said. “I don’t know what we’ll do next. We’ll see what happens over the winter months.”
“It’s sad for Reynoldsburg,” Boring said. “It’s a landmark business and part of what makes Reynoldsburg Reynoldsburg. It’s sad to see that loss.”
Connell sat back in her chair and looked around. “It sure will feel odd not coming in here every day,” she said. “I grew up in the hardware business.” She stretched out her left hand and showed a small scar, a remembrance of a day as a little girl when a customer, “a tall man with a very deep voice,” frightened her and she backed into the corner of a glass case.
“I bled and bled and bled,” she said. “I know my mom was mad because my dad didn’t take me to the doctor — he wrapped my hand in a towel because it was my mom’s bowling night.”
She smiled. “Yeah, a lot of memories in here.”
©2013 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)
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