Monday, April 30, 2007
I'm only in St. Louis for one weekend helping my daughter and son-in-law remodel their bathroom. St. Louis plumbing - at least, old St. Louis plumbing - is different from California plumbing. Fortunately, there's an old St. Louis hardware store.
There's nothing "new" about New Market Hardware, and that's exactly the charm. The store was bought as an ongoing enterprise by the current owner-family in 1914, so it's even older than that. They moved to the present location in 1932.
If you're ever in the mood to step back to 1932, just step into this store. For a quick tour, there's a good video here.
The owner says, "We are fast." Don't believe it. Maybe they're fast by the standards of 1932, but when I buy one item there in 2007, it involves following a salesman down a rabbit warren of narrow aisles lined floor to ceiling with stacks of old wooden drawers the size of library card-catalog drawers, searching among several before finding the odd-size fitting I need, then a good ten minutes writing out the receipt by hand, looking up the sales tax by hand from a sheet of paper.
But then, have you ever gone to Home Depot for one item and spent 45 minutes crossing the endless parking lot, walking the endless aisles, trying to get non-existent "help" from some clueless clerk, waiting in an endless checkout line? And Home Depot would never carry the obscure fitting I was seeking. They have it - in drawer #872 or whatever - at New Market Hardware. If I lived in St. Louis, I'd be there every weekend.
To be fair, my ten minute checkout might have been slowed by the fact that as the clerk is writing out my receipt, he sees that my address is in California. Immediately I'm surrounded by three or four clerks who all want to talk about governor "Ah-nold" as they call him. They think he's hilarious. They all take turns imitating "Ah-nold" saying "It's not about me." And that, too, is part of the charm of this place: personal service, which just might include ten minutes of Arnold Schwarzenegger imitations.
New Market Hardware is in the Central West End at the corner of Sarah and LaClede. The neighborhood itself is classic St. Louis brick.
Go there and get a key duplicated. Or buy a bit of plywood and watch them cut it on their one-hundred-year-old table saw. Yes, one hundred years old. It's an experience.