CENTRAL FALLS — During about a 10-minute span, a maintenance worker came up to Paul Landry with a broken section of pipe and inquired about a certain bushing, a young mother pushing a stroller collected paint color samples for her baby's room, and two carpenters debated the best product to use on a ceiling repair. It was a small slice of a typical day at J.A. Landry Hardware on Broad Street.
Yet, after 110 years, the mainstay for factory mechanics, laborers and do-it-your-selfers alike is closing its doors, primarily due to the local economy.
Landry, whose grandfather, Joseph Albert Landry, founded the store, said he feels bad about the decision, but business has been dwindling over the past decade or so. “It's the basic economy,” he said. “In past recessions, we could usually carry through the difficult times, but with the big boys in Washington, it puts a crunch on everybody.” He added that the hefty property tax increases imposed by the city on business owners for the past couple of years contributed to the financial strain.
Landry said that for many years, Landry's business thrived on the many mills that operated in the local area. “Murdock Webbing, Health-tex...we had 10 to 15 mills we were dealing with on a constant basis,” he said. From fasteners and piping to paint and cleaning supplies, the factories would order in bulk. Plus, there was always a machine breaking down, a part wearing out, or something that needed fixing. “If we didn’t have it in stock, we would either make it to fit or order it for them,” he said.
Landry’s sister, Connie Landry McCann, who has also worked in the family business for over five decades, spoke of the bustling days when nuts and bolts in various sizes would be delivered by the truckload, and extra space was acquired just to hold the assortment of piping. “We would get an order for 144 brooms, things like that, from the mills,” she said.
It was different era for the homeowner as well. When something broke, people usually tried to fix it, and most products were made with replaceable parts. Nowadays, “more products are designed to be throwaway,” Landry lamented. He noted, however, that even the big home improvement store chains seem to be hurting, a combination of the poor economy and less people building and fixing things.
What Landry’s had, in addition to a large inventory of tools and parts, was its friendly customer service. “If someone couldn't find something here, we showed them where they could get it,” Landry said.
Landry said he began helping out in the store when he was 13, and, with the exception of three years in the U.S. Army, has worked there for 51 years. About 40 years ago, he took over running the business from his father, Albert, who had worked alongside his own father and brother, Edgar, for decades.
“I will miss the public. The people who came in here, the customers...they’re great, said Landry. “We became a big family People would come in and we’d start talking and then the kidding would go around. It would make for a pleasant day of working,” said Landry.
McCann, who has logged 56 years at the store, agreed. “It's always been close-knit. They call my brother ‘Uncle Paul’ Customers have been coming in and saying, ‘Where are we going to go now?’ Sometimes, it was just to talk,” she said. “I'll miss that.”
“Our life is in this place,” McCann added. She began helping out in the store at the age of 15 and later became the bookkeeper. At various times, she worked with her grandfather, uncle, father, siblings, and later, her own six children. “It’s been really nice working with all our family,” she said. One son intends to remain until the store’s official closing at the end of December and will be looking for another job after that.
“Our father gave his life to this place,” McCann added, noting that Albert Landry had worked until the age of 78 and died two years later in 2000. She also noted how her grandfather had lived right around the corner, on Sacred Heart Avenue, at a boarding house, which is where he met and fell in love with her grandmother. He started the original hardware store in space that had been a bicycle repair shop.
Landry added that in the peak business years, the family took over two adjoining storefronts to add room, one a barber shop, and the other, Bailey's Spa, a popular neighborhood soda fountain and lunch counter. He also recalled how his grandfather had sold gasoline from big glass dispensers outside, and how he had made deliveries by horse and buggy.
For now, both Landry and McCann say they are going to try and embrace retirement, and leaving the hardware store behind will allow them to enjoy more time with their respective spouses and family members.
Landry also does plumbing, electrical work and carpentry work, and will continue to manage several family-owned properties.
The store will remain open until Dec. 30. In addition to getting the word out to their old-time customers, Landry and McCann are also looking to sell off the store’s inventory, which includes over 10,000 nuts, bolts and fasteners, among other hardware and tool items.
“My father promised his father that he would keep the store open as long as he lived, and he did, even though the business was starting to slow,” said McCann. “But he also told us that he would not put that same request on us. He said ‘Close it, before you drive the name down.’ ”