Parks True Value: Help Desk

Shop Talk by Kitty Kaufman

For those of us who remember shopping when every merchant knew you, your mother and your grandmother it is reassuring that there are still places where they know how much it matters to remember the names of their customers. This is social media at its best.

It doesn't happen often, being greeted by name in a retail store. But it is one of the very first things you notice at Parks True Value Hardware. With serious attention to this kind of detail, owner Lex Stevensruns his store in a way that reminds you of the old days. He not only knows your name but he knows how to fix things. He is not just in the business of selling hardware; he is also in the business of knowing the right answer.

Although it isn't easy being a small retailer, the ones who succeed year after year offer something beyond a can of paint or snow shovel. "People come in with real problems. They have mice or their toilet is broken. Sometimes they're embarrassed because they don't know how to fix it. We offer real solutions. After all, no one's born knowing this stuff," Stevens said.

Stevens managed the store for eight years before buying it last June. His team includes managers Cary McMillan and Eric Chudnoff, who took this job back in the seventies. Together with a group of experienced full and part-timers, they help homeowners and contractors work through remodeling, organizing, painting and building projects.

Being a new owner has its rewards, Stevens says, as he gets ready for a new inventory system and bigger paint center. He's trending back to a more traditional setting with a focus on useful items: "We sell more tools here than any store I've ever worked in, more light bulbs than you could ever conceive and just about any replacement part your apartment might need."

They do have a huge selection of bulbs for spotlights, infrared and flood lamps. There's paint and paint remover, brush cleaner and shellac remover. There are brooms, tools, and glue for any project; housewares from baking pans to mops, plumbing supplies, electrical components, cleaners, rubber gloves, and 40 styles of vacuum cleaner bags. Soon they'll be setting out rakes, hoes, spades, clippers, pots, soil and fertilizer. If you don't like what's growing there are terminators for weeds, ants, mice, moths, termites and well, you fill in the rest.

Stevens says no two hardware stores are alike: "Things that fly off the shelf in Brookline or Dorchester, I couldn't sell here." He's right and from an informal personal survey, I find successful hardware stores have more in common than not. You may go in with a list but odds are you'll come out with more than a bag of supplies.

© March 23, 2005 for The City Shopper
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