More than 40 years ago, Gary Ellis went to work as a salesman at Crestview Plumbing and Hardware at 297 Main St.
CRESTVIEW — More than 40 years ago, Gary Ellis went to work as a salesman at Crestview Plumbing and Hardware at 297 Main St.
Main Street was a very different place back then. According to the Crestview Main Street Association, at its peak the thoroughfare was home to three movie theaters, two hotels, a newspaper, a bank, a grocery store and several mom and pop businesses. Today, the old hardware store is one of only a few of those early businesses that remain.
“Back then, this was the place to be,” said Ellis, who purchased the store from the Steele family 16 years ago. “That was before businesses started moving off Main Street and over to State Road 85.”
As one business after another has opened and closed on Main Street, the hardware store has plugged along, weathering even major changes like the opening of big box stores like Walmart and Lowe’s.
“That was scary at first when Lowe’s opened up,” Ellis said. “But it’s turned out to be a blessing to us. The folks there are always referring people to our store when they’re looking for something Lowe’s doesn’t carry.”
Although it has kept up with the times by carrying modern tools and gadgets, in many ways the store hasn’t changed much since it opened in its present location in 1947. (The store first opened down the street in 1932.)
Ellis and his daughter, Brandy, still use their old-fashioned sales ticket machine to write out receipts, and antique scales hang beside huge metal bins filled with nails, screws, nuts and bolts.
“We sell them by the pound, just like in the old days,” Ellis said.
An old bulletin board with yellowed newspaper clippings and other items held on by thumb tacks hangs above the checkout area. Two old-school mechanical tag-making machines are used to stamp names and other information onto brass tags, and Ellis still operates the same key-making machine that was in place when he arrived four decades ago.
He seems to subscribe to the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy.
“We’ve stayed in business all these years by giving people what they want,” Ellis said. “I’ve been around long enough to know most of the builders and trades people in the community, and I know what they use and what they need.”
In fact, Ellis has a spot in the store where he displays the names of local contractors who have proven themselves to be honest and reliable.
“People are always looking for good people to work for them,” he said. “This is sort of like my own personal Angie’s List.”
While Ellis has served three and sometimes even four generations of families in the Crestview area, the community’s growth has brought many new customers to the store.
“It used to be that I knew eight out of 10 people who walked through the door,” he said. “That’s not the case anymore. But I do still see people I’ve served for years coming in with their grandkids. That’s nice to see.”
The old white building on the corner of Main and East Oakdale Avenue looks much the same on the outside as it did in 1947, Ellis said. Inside, things aren’t much different, either.
While country music plays over the radio, customers can browse the crowded shelves and indulge in a bit of nostalgia for the time when most businesses were independently owned and family operated. Unlike most hardware stores these days, Crestview Plumbing and Hardware is not part of a franchise or a cooperative, Ellis said.
Decades of customer traffic have worn off the tile in some parts of the store's floor, exposing the concrete foundation beneath. Miscellaneous plumbing parts and other hardware still are stored in small cubby holes inside tall rows of shelving in the back room storage area.
“In the old days, we used to get our merchandise delivered by rail,” Ellis said. “We’d pick it up over by the depot down the street.”
These days, trucks deliver the store’s inventory, but customers can still hear the whistle of cargo trains as they pass over Main Street. Passers-by taking a walk down the street can peer into the store’s plate glass front windows and find a wide array of items on display, including two staples of childhood: a Daisy BB gun and a Zebco fishing pole set.
While he has spent four decades of his life at Crestview Plumbing and Hardware, Ellis said he can’t imagine retiring or closing his store anytime soon.
“I wouldn’t want to do anything else,” he said. “I remember as a kid coming to a hardware store with my dad and seeing all the shiny things on display. I still enjoy that feeling.”