The End of an Era, the Start of the Next

This week, my parents sold their mom-and-pop hardware store, Christiansen Hardware, after ~27 years. In 1994 they bought Brown’s Hardware from my mother’s Uncle Louis and Aunt Betty.

My father worked as a salesman for my great uncle’s wholesale distributor, Masback Hardware Company, which operated out of Manhattan, and later New Jersey. When Uncle Louis started the store in 1972 it resided in the building next to Christiansen Hardware’s current location, which is today is The Bowerbird. A previous hardware store was there before, W.L. Thrall and Son, who was a customer of my father’s wholesaler. My father helped my uncle reboot the business.

This business is actually how my parents met. My mother tagged along with her aunt and uncle when they were visiting New York City for an industry show that my father was also attending. At the time she was a buyer for Bonwit Teller in Manhattan. Little did she know she’d be meeting her future husband. Little did she suspect that many years later she would be running this business. Upon moving to Connecticut, she would help Mystic Aquarium set up one of the first gift shops in any aquarium, and then worked for The Limited Corp… until they purchased the store in ‘94–so she always had retail operations in her toolset.

I was almost 15 when my parents bought the store in October 1994. By this time, Brown’s Hardware had moved across Halls Road to the building next to the plaza where The Hideaway Restaurant resides. I worked there most days after school and most days in the summer. I saved money –yes, they paid me something, perhaps a little above minimum wage–and with that I remember buying a used Saab 900 Turbo (still my favorite car I’ve owned), bought my first pro-level drum set (which I still use 25 years later), and saved some cash for college, with which I would buy my first Apple Computer (a “Blue & White G3” if that means something to you). My friends had jobs at the hardware store, too, on and off.

After a year or two, my parents moved back to the other side of Halls Road, into the Old Lyme Marketplace, and next to what had become The Bowerbird. At one point, I think we all thought I would join my parents in the business, but after a few years of working there, it was clear that hardware wasn’t the right path for me. You see, I’d found this thing called the Internet, and once I’d decided not to pursue drumming for a living, I decided designing digital things was what I was best for. To this day, I’m barely handy around the house, so helping other people fix up their homes was probably never in the cards.

My parents are one of the few that kept an independent, literally-mom-and-pop hardware store running as the era of Big Box retail emerged in the late 90s, with the onslaught of Home Depot and Lowes who would move into communities and have price wars selling products at a loss, and below what my parents could even buy at wholesale, running smaller companies not backed by Wall Street investors out of business across the nation. My parents pared back the staff, and eventually ran the store by themselves, with the part-time help of their friend Laurie McGrath. Even through the pandemic, my parents never closed the store. They masked up and sanitized the store frequently. When vaccines were available, they were first in line. The store remained open 6 days a week.

Now a new family, the Talericos will be taking the reins after today. I hope they become part of the community the way I know my parents have enjoyed being in Old Lyme. It was a nice place to grow up. And you could always find out what was happening in town, Saturday mornings at the hardware store.

My kids enjoyed visiting the store. I think it’s a little weird for my kids, too, for their grandparents to finally be retiring. My dad will turn 80 in 2022. I think it’s well overdue that he’s not working 6 days a week! And my mother, who’s a few years younger, she deserves it perhaps even more, given how much time she’s spent with my dad 6 days a week!

Now my parents will turn their attention to the next act in their lives. While they planned their retirement savings, they haven’t actually planned what to do with it! We have joked that Amanda and I have planned more of our retirement (aka “the Maine project”) than my parents have for theirs. As someone who’s encouraged them to explore their options for at least 10 years, I feel like the dog who has caught the car he’s been chasing… I’m in a little bit of shock that the day has come. Now what?

If you’re in the area, my parents are continuing to run the store through the end of December. In the final week or two, the plan is for my parents to work along side the new owners to teach them how everything works today, before they take it in whatever direction they have in mind for the next generation of small town hardware store on Halls Road, in Old Lyme. If you’d like to, stop by and wish them well!