CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio - When Ken and Jean Shutts bought the little hardware store in the heart of Chagrin Falls, Ohio, in 1963, the store had already had the hearts of the community. The store first opened its doors several years before the American Civil War.
One-hundred-fifty-six years later, its front door still creaks open and customers scurry over its old wooden floor to buy the products of the21st Century.
The Shutts had bought the store from an uncle who had owned it since 1920. Generations later, the Shutts offspring are still in the hardware business. Brothers Jack and Steve Shutts and sister, Suzy Johnson, own the operation, having elected to keep it going even against the competition from the big box hardware stores.
They can find even the smallest batch of finishing nails in the store when a customer asks for that product. They will sift through old drawers that still function well. Along the way, any customer tagging along in the narrow aisles will pass tributes to a long-gone time.
There are tools and hardware products no longer in use, but the Shutts keep them as exhibits, honoring the tradition which has been handed down to them.
"I think it's much more comfortable than then newer stores that don't have as much character," said Suzy Johnson as she scribbled some words in a notebook next to the cash register.
There is a computer in the store, but it is deep in the back of the hardware company on N. Main Street. There, Rob Schwind, who has been employed by Chagrin Hardware for 25 years, looks up the availability of a product a customer needed. Schwind seems a throwback himself. His long beard reaches to the top of his bib overalls, which has become somewhat of a calling card for him.
Schwind love the store.
"I know my father and my grandfather both shopped here," said Schwind, leaning against a wall of shelves made many decades ago out of boxes from which shotguns shells were sold. "In fact, my first toy came from here," he said, his voice filled with nostalgia.
Nostalgia is widespread in the hardware store. The father of the trio who inherited the business had been a crewman on an American World War II bomber. A photograph of Ken Shutts standing under the wing of his bomber is prominent in the store he bought 18 years after the end of the war.
As tribute to other veterans of the U.S. military, Ken and Jean Shutts exhibited military memorabilia in the store. Their descendants have kept the tradition.
"Last year we had 74 local families that brought in photographs and memorabilia all the way back to World War I," said Jack Shutts. During Memorial Day, the exhibits are prominently displayed in the hardware store windows.
In the 1920s and 30s, Chagrin Hardware even sold cars. There was room only for one car sandwiched in among the tools and other products. When someone bought the vehicle, owners drove in another and stopped it, blocking part of the aisle. Cars are no longer on the list of sales items, but there are photographs in a book depicting the years Chagrin Hardware was in the car business.
Steve Shutts showed a drawer filled with the scribbles of boys who needed written permission from their parents to purchase BBs for their BB-guns. The writings kept were all forgeries as boys tried to sidestep parental permission.
Steve Shuts read one of the notes written on elementary school notebook paper: "Dear hardware people, Bill has my permission to buy BBs," laughed Shutts. And it's signed 'Bill's mom.'"
The store survives against the flood of business that has gone to nationally-known hardware store chains. Several months ago, people in Chagrin Falls organized a cash mob and surprised the owners by descending on the store to spend money. Video from that day showed aisles filled with customers, each with money or credit cards in hand.
"We had 500 cash customers that day and we had over a thousand people in the store," said Steve. "Our youth minister summed it up best for us," he recounted. "She came at the end of the day and said, 'how's it feel to be loved?'"
It is the little hardware store next door to the falls for which Chagrin Falls gets its name. Its wooden door creaks as it is opened and people come in to buy their hardware needs, which run from tools to the latest advanced light bulbs. Customers could drive a few miles to a big hardware store chain, but they elect to remain in Chagrin Falls.
They know they will find owners and employees who know the business and usually know them. Most of the customers are referred to by name by any of the workers who serve them.
"I love it here," said Cathy Digel, a customer from Chagrin Falls. "It's like home away from home."
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