When I was a kid, I always wished I could be a lifeguard in the summer. I loved the idea of being outdoors and achieving that perfect summer glow to show off when school started again – plus, it seemed like a “cool” job to have.
On the contrary, I grew up working at my family’s hardware store, Page Hardware, located on a quintessential New England town green in Guilford, Connecticut. The hardware store resides in three buildings, the first of which was built in 1857 and initially housed the town post office, a general store, an ice cream parlor, a meat market and a restaurant. In 1896, a gentleman named E.H. Butler purchased the building and moved his hardware business into the storefront. Mr. Butler ran the hardware store until 1939 when my grandfather, Harry L. Page Jr., purchased the building and business. Since then, the store has been owned and operated by the Page family (my uncle, father and cousin being respective owners in succession) and while I didn’t always necessarily understand or appreciate the tiny role I was playing in my family’s legacy when I was a kid, I get it now.
Sadly, these days it feels as though we are living in a world brimming with more and more big chain stores, Walmarts and Home Depots galore, along with an increasing number of online giants where the e-commerce really does take away from the brick and mortar experience. All the while, the mom and pop shops are seemingly few and far between, a dwindling reminder of the days when times were different, life was enjoyed at a slower pace, phone calls were made instead of texts, and letters were hand-written instead of emails. But as bleak as these days may seem sometimes, I feel a glimmer of hope knowing that stores like Page Hardware still exist, and that small New England communities still support these family businesses despite the newly-constructed and online discount competition.
Page’s holds a special place in my sentimental heart, and I’m not just saying that because I happen to be part of the family. Tradition is a big thing at Page’s; since 1939 they’ve started the day just like the last, arriving around 6:30 in the morning to meet and discuss the day’s tasks, then taking the stock out, one shovel (or rake), gas grill, and sled (depending on the season) at a time. At some point someone will make a breakfast run for bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches on hard rolls from the Guilford Food Center just across the green, just as the early morning construction and lumber workers start strolling in to pick up materials for their day’s work.
Roger Tucker is a staple in the store – he’s been working there for 60 years and knows just about every person in town. They know him, too, and look to him for the “do you know what this thing is” and “ how do I fix this” questions on a daily basis. My father, Stephen Page, who recently received the “Golden Hammer” for 50 years of service in the hardware industry, has been telling us for years he’s going to “retire”, but he still goes in every day. Ray Murphy has been working the cash register since before I can even remember, before I even entered this world. My grandmother, Hazel Page, brought in a homemade cake every single Friday until just a bit before she passed away. These cakes were even more reason to look forward to Fridays, and some of the best you’d ever taste. Even the customers knew what Fridays meant, and they all somehow ended up in the office just in case a cake might have arrived.
My cousin, Andrew Page (current owner) runs a tight ship and never let us get away with slacking off or being lazy on the job – trust me, we tried every trick in the book with him. He and my father made me proud to represent the family business when I worked there, and even more proud and protective of it after I left. You see, the real difference between family-owned stores like Page’s and the big chains comes down to more than just the creaky wood floors, the galvanized nail bins and huge wooden Santa’s Mailbox that gets placed out on the front sidewalk every holiday season.
The real difference is the people who make up the fabric of Page’s legacy – the hardened New Englanders who know how to survive the next snowstorm and trust from experience that spring will return each season, just like fall comes back every year to offer a reprieve from summer’s heat. These hearts and souls still believe in the mom and pop shops, and continue to treat customers the way they deserve to be treated. This consistent customer service sets the small businesses apart for sure.
Having just celebrated their 75th year in business, Page’s continues to evolve and grow with the trends but still remains the same place you’d remember if you visited thirty years ago or last week. While I never did get to lifeguard in my younger days, I wouldn’t have traded my experience at the family store for the world. Not only do I know the difference between Phillips and regular screwdrivers, but I can build a Weber grill in less than thirty minutes, too. That’s a real life skill, people! Besides, who said you can’t get a tan while you wash the outdoor hardware store windows in the summer? That beats the lifeguard gig any day.
Learn more about Page Hardware at www.pagehardware.com