Best Hardware Store - 2009
New Market Hardware
OK, let's get it out of the way right off the bat: If you've only got the weekend to build a lanai, rewire the basement and insulate the attic, and you've only got time for one tools-and-materials-gathering trip, you're going to end up in the checkout line at the closest Lowe's Depot along with every other Visa-toting Bob Vila wannabe. Have someone blindfold you and take you into any of these home-improvement big boxes anywhere in Generica and you'll never have a clue that you're not just over in Maplehood. Try the same experiment with New Market Hardware in the Central West End and you'll be checking the curb out front for the DeLorean that must have brought you here. New Market is a 95-year-old family business — current owner Steve Schneider is the great-grandson of the founder — and some of the, well, "stuff" in the store might have been here just about that long. Instead of the forklift-stocked rack system of the big boxes, New Market keeps much of its inventory of thingamajigs and doodads in a floor-to-ceiling network of little wooden drawers, sort of like what libraries kept their Dewey decimal cards in before Grandpa got his dentures. The place is a warren of little rooms — a ramp separates the retail storefront from a more workshop-like section of the biz in back, an old hallway houses the key-making apparatus, an oscillating fan does its best "none shall pass" kahniggut impression in a doorway by the paint. They claim they could close the retail shop portion and still carry on just fine, thank you, because the core of their business is service, the good old-fashioned know-your-customers-by-name kind. It would be a shame if they did lock the front door, though, because walking into this joint is like taking a trip back to a time when the menfolk would sit around a potbellied stove sharing stories of how they lost the tip of the left thumb and such, before heading back to the job site with a bag of threepenny nails that were scooped from a wooden barrel.