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Cavanaugh's Ace Hardware closing

| Saturday, April 19, 2003

When Katie and Larry Cavanaugh opened their hardware store in 1973, they had no idea it would be a Charleroi mainstay.

"We said we'll only be in business for 10 years and quit," Katie Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh's Ace Hardware store lasted three times that long, offering tools, parts and advice to residents with do-it-yourself needs.

Bright pink and green signs litter the store now, announcing the price slash- ing that often goes hand in hand with going-out-of-business sales.

The couple hired a professional liquidator to help move out the existing merchandise and the new spring shipment.

After 30 years, Cavanaugh's will close its doors to the community and patrons who helped sustain it for three decades.

"We sure appreciate the people keeping us here for so long," Larry Cavanaugh said. "They're mad at me. They say 'Where are we going to go now?'"

The Cavanaughs said while they will miss the people, they won't miss the work. And while retirement is inevitable, they admit that the Lowe's and Home Depots of the world played an integral role in their decision to call it quits - especially since one such superstore opened in Rostraver Township.

"Our average sale has been going down and down and down," he said. "Our business was cut in half - they didn't come back. You could see this steady decline."

These days, people no longer come to Cavanaugh's to buy larger-scale items such as lawnmowers or faucets - the bulk of their sales are derived from nuts and bolts, as well as miscellaneous plumbing and electrical parts.

Larry Cavanaugh said his store can still be counted on for those hard to find items, and for top-shelf service. He said he seemed to intuitively know what a customer needed.

"When I was really active in the store I would delight in seeing a lady walk through the door with something in her hand and I'd say, 'Come with me.'"

Katie Cavanaugh said she's helped droves of confused and befuddled customers, many of them female.

"We just help them do things. A lot of women will come in and say their husbands sent them - and they thanked me for helping them."

Over the years, the store has amassed myriad longtime patrons.

"We have some old time customers who have stuck with us for a long time," Larry Cavanaugh said. "I want to thank them for keeping us in business all these years."

The couple has seen and helped entire generations of families, Katie Cavanaugh said.

Her husband agreed.

"We remember mothers carrying them (babies) in their arms - 16 years later they're here working for us," he said.

Those are the people truly disheartened by the store's departure.

"They're very disappointed. I keep telling them you have to retire sometime," said Peggy Baker, the Cavanaugh's daughter, who has worked at the store since she was a senior in high school.

She agreed that friendly service goes a long way.

"If they don't know how to do a project, we show them," he said.

The store is now in the first phase of liquidation - with items discounted between 10 and 20 percent. A contest for frequent buyers will be ongoing until the store closes its doors forever.

That day may be a few months in the future - until all the merchandise is sold.

Donn Henderson, Charleroi's main street manager, said the store's closing will be sorely felt.

"Small hardware stores are sort of a dying breed," he said. "You can look at it as an opportunity or a loss, especially when they've been as good to the community as they have."

With a prime location on First Avenue, Henderson said he doesn't expect the store to stay empty for long. In fact, inquiries into the building have already been made.

"It will be a void until it is filled, but it is a part of the changing face of downtown," he said.

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