Old Town moved one step closer to being its own self-contained community with the opening of Old Town Hardware at 809 South Washington Street, now the only hardware store in this part of the city.
The soft opening of the Ace Hardware-branded shop was April 29, followed by the grand opening weekend, May 16, 17 and 18, with freebies and specials all weekend long.
The location is their big selling point, said Sharon Yukic, a resident that lives 10 blocks from the store but is a big fan of walking, and hates the traffic on Richmond Highway when she has to go to Loews. If I can find it here, Ill buy it here, she said.
Thats been a common thread among customers, said owner Rich Heilman. Theres not a person that walks in here and doesnt say we need a hardware store, Heilman said.
Another told him with gas as expensive as it is, this is great, Heilman added.
About 20 years ago, there was a hardware store in the building that now houses Crate & Barrel up by the King Street Metro, so its been a missing link for the pedestrian minded Old Town resident.
I think youre going to make it, said Pat McMonigle, a new customer who was in during the grand opening buying a few odds and ends.
Heilman put in 21 years in the banking industry before he saw a story about another entrepreneur opening an ACE Hardware co-op store in D.C., which is what his store is. He mentioned it to his wife, Maribeth McCarthy, and she initially wrote it off as wishful thinking, but it came up again and she was supportive. It was a great time for Rich to get into this market, she said.
Although a new hardware store may take long hours and a 24/7 attitude, Maribeth plans on holding down the fort at home with their two sons, age six and nine.
Heilman is already bargaining with the children to put in a few hours in the store for a dollar an hour plus a pack of baseball cards.
The store sits in a strip mall of sorts right on Washington Street, and foot traffic is a big part of their clientele.
Inside, there are patio supplies, plants and painting materials on the first floor, and electrical, plumbing and auto on the second. There is little room for storage. They have seven full time employees, and seven part time. Robin Cocke is a part time cashier, and noticed the hot items on Grand Opening weekend. A lot of potting stuff and lightbulbs, she said. Theres a jar of dog biscuits on the counter as well, which is a common sight among businesses in Old Town. Were very pet friendly, we give out treats, she said.
Although the store is owned by Heilman, and he takes all the loses, it is part of a co-op arrangement where the store is under a district office in Richmond, and all the finances are split according to a corporate formula.
Navigating the small business process with city hall has been no problem for Heilman, except for the sign on the front. He has to adhere to historical district regulations and more rules for being a business on Washington Street.