Changing times forces Hampton Hardware owner to close shop
Customers keep coming, but the shelves grow emptier as the end draws near for Hampton Hardware.
The cramped maze of a store beloved by contractors to craftsmen will close this month after decades of supplying untold “hard to get items” — as boasted in red letters above the front door — to generations of shoppers.
“When you go to Home Depot or Lowe's, and they don't have what we want, they say, ‘Go to Hampton Hardware.'” said Bill Hoffman, 73, of Clinton, Butler County, a longtime customer who makes and sells artful, wooden birdhouses.
But Home Depot and Lowe's partly explain why Hampton Hardware owner Jack Richardson is exiting the nuts and bolts business.
“I couldn't afford it anymore,” said Richardson, 72, of Shaler. “We were busy, but it was all small sales. I was losing money ... All my big sales went when the big box stores came.
“My son has been with me 30 years,” Richardson said. “I thought I would give it (Hampton Hardware) to him, but it would bring him down.”
Richardson plans to close Hampton Hardware on April 30.
“I'm going to miss the people,” he said. “I enjoyed selling something, even if it was little, and they couldn't find in anywhere.”
Richardson announced his plans to go out of business at a March luncheon meeting of Hampton Rotary.
“You're going to be missed,” big, bearded Charlie Crowe of Harrison Township told Richardson last week with a bear hug.
“He's just a super-duper guy,” said Crowe, lamenting the widespread loss of mom-and-pop-style stores to big box stores such as Wal-Mart.
Richardson acquired Hampton Hardware in 1974 from his late father-in-law — Charles Schmitt — who bought the business in 1952 with his wife, the late Josephine Schmitt.
“My dad got sick and couldn't run it anymore and Jack took it over,” said Carol Richardson, the Schmitts' only child. “Jack had been working there part-time.”
Jack and Carol Richardson will celebrate their 49th wedding anniversary in November.
“I married into this,” said Richardson, a U.S. Army veteran. “I hated retail, but they made me an offer I couldn't refuse. It turned out OK. I have no complaints. ”
Never mind that Richardson absorbed a lot of unpaid bills for customers who died or went bankrupt.
“I ate more than $100,000 in bad debts since 1970,” said Richardson.
Richardson is a 1958 graduate of Aspinwall High School and son of the late Harry and Rose Richardson.
“I was going to be an electrician,” he said. “That was my dream.”
Longtime Hampton Hardware customers loved the store's longevity and the personal attention paid to all shoppers, especially people unsure of what tool, screw or other item they needed to perform any given repair.
“They've always been there, and they always had the odd stuff you're looking for,” said Shannon Winters, office manager at Anderson Towing, another Hampton business on Route 8.
Until closing day, Hampton Hardware is offering 50-percent off the total price of $25 or more in merchandise.
Kris Kelly, 41, of Hampton stopped by the store last week to pick up plumbing supplies for future, possible repairs.
“If you need something, they'll dig it out. They always know where everything is,” Kelly said. “They always have the thing that the big hardware stores don't carry.”
Merle Mahan, 77, of Richland has been a customer for more than 40 years. Mahan sows the grass and makes footers for the tombstones at Hampton Cemetery. Through the years, he bought all of his grass seed and Sakrete at Hampton Hardware.
“If they didn't have something, they would get it,” Mahan said.
Richardson plans to vacation in Florida after he closes Hampton Hardware. He also looks forward to sharing meals at regular hours with his wife.
But son Eric Richardson, 45, a Robert Morris University graduate, now needs a new job after 30 years of working with his dad.
In the meantime, Eric Richardson plans to sell furniture fixtures and other Hampton Hardware merchandise on eBay.
Richardson has a buyer for his Hampton Hardware building, but didn't provide details because the deal hasn't closed. He said the new owner may demolish the store to make room for a restaurant.
Deborah Deasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-772-6369 or firstname.lastname@example.org.