Went to the hardware store this morning to buy some lawn bags and ask about having the blades sharpened on my lawn trimmer. This is the hardware store here in town, which is a hardware store, not a Lowes, not a Home Depot, not even a Tru-Value. I had to step over the owner’s dog to get to the counter. She raised her head and shoulders and slapped the floor a few times with her tail to say hello then lay back down.
“She’s a real watchdog,” the owner said. “She trips people come in here to rob us. That’s her talent. Also she trips customers. She hasn’t learned to tell the difference.”
Magenta is nineteen months old. She’s a chocolate lab, named by one of the clerks in the store after the paint color her coat turns in certain lights. The owner says he’s owned labs all his life and Magenta, young as she is, is already the best natured and best behaved of any lab he’s ever known. If you’re a fan of labs, you know that’s high praise. It’s not like saying she’s well-behaved for a terrier.
I learned from the owner that he sends out tools that need sharpening. The guy who does it for him is good and charges a reasonable price and won’t touch anything that would be cheaper to replace than to have sharpened. The guy’s a farmer and he’s “kind of tied up” at his farm this week, so he wouldn’t be able to get working on the trimmer until the weekend. I asked the owner would it be all right if I brought it back Friday then so I could use it today, the blades aren’t that dull they won’t do the job at all. The owner said sure, the guy’s flexible. When he has something for the farmer, he gives him a call and the farmer swings by.
I also learned that the owner has gotten out of the rental business. My trimmer is a stand-up, hand-operated contraption, one of my favorite yard-working tools, but the blonde hates it. She wants to buy a motorized one. I refuse. I tell her I hate the noise. She points they make electric ones. They just make a different kind of annoying noise, I say. They whine. Really, though, it’s that I can’t see spending a hundred and fifty bucks on a tool we’ll use maybe every other week for three or four months out of the year. Now if she wanted a table saw…
So I asked about renting, just out of curiosity. I’m also thinking of renting a power washer. But the owner says he’s tired of listening to rental customers complain about tools and equipment that don’t work. Actually, he says, it’s almost always the case it’s not the tool, it’s the operators. They don’t know what they’re doing. I believe him. It’s been my experience that a person’s anger at a balky tool, machine, electronic device, or gizmo of any kind is directly proportional to their incompetence. The owner said he can’t put up with it anymore, angry customers storming in---tripping over Magenta on the way in---slamming something down on the counter, and demanding their money back. He used to make the mistake of checking the allegedly broken tool and demonstrating that it works and how to use it properly. That never went over well. He’s decided it’s better all around, for his peace of mind and his business, if he just doesn’t bother with rentals anymore.
So I learned a few things. I learned a little about chocolate labs, one in particular. I learned how farmers pick up some money on the side sharpening lawn trimmers and lawn mower and saw blades. I learned about the perils of the tool rental business. That’s a lot to learn in one morning. I paid for the lawn bags, remembered to pick up some ant traps while I was there, and left.
If when Saturday rolls around I tell you that today’s visit to the hardware store was the highpoint of my week, it won’t because I’m being sarcastic or because the week was all downhill from here. It’s because local hardware stores are among the last great places in America.
Local hardware stores, diners, and public libraries.