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Local hardware stores still navigating rough waters

Chip Ellis
Andrew Pile (left) helps Bruce Fowler select the proper parts for the Buck stove he is installing in a house he is building in Jackson County.
Last month, national home improvement chains Lowe's and Home Depot both reported huge increases in earnings for this year's second quarter (April to June), benefiting from the ongoing resurgence of the country's housing market.Locally, hardware and home improvement stores say their earnings are more of a mixed bag.Andrew Pile, vice president of Pile Hardware on Charleston's West Side, said his family's store has seen an increase in sales from last year."This year we've seen an increase in business but I think on our end primarily it's because of the summer we've had," Pile said. "Our business is very weather-dependent."The store sells everything from roofing material to basic hardware like bolts, nails and other tools -- but its biggest-selling item is lawn equipment."With a summer like this with plenty of rain and plenty of sunshine, it keeps people outside and it keeps people working," Pile said. "It's kind of hard to measure though, because we don't have any kind of litmus test for why someone is coming in here to buy something," Pile said. "If they're repairing, upgrading or re-modeling, we don't ask, so we don't really know."Still, he's optimistic about the future. "I've been seeing the reports of real estate increasing in some areas by 15 percent or more, I'm definitely hopeful it helps business," Pile said. Family-owned Zegeer Hardware on Charleston's East End, has seen an upswing in business. Owner Richard Zegeer said year-over-year sales have increased, although he didn't want to discuss specifics.At the Best Hardware store in Marmet, owner Harley Harrah said "people are remodeling on a smaller scale."His sales in power equipment, like chain saws, power drills and table saws, are still strong."I think generally, people are just sharper customers now. That's the biggest thing," he said.
In Putnam County, the Buffalo Shopping Center has been in Susan Howard's family for more than 100 years. Right now, business is not so good, she said."I compared the figures from last year to this year and it's substantially less (in overall revenue)," Howard said.Howard, who has a background in sales and marketing, said she's trying everything she can to keep the business afloat. At the first of the year the store added a thrift shop where customers could find quality, inexpensive items. They tried a "blowout" sale with everything in the store marked 50 percent off to stimulate sales.
"We made more money in that month than every other month combined," Howard said of the sale. She added the store could not keep prices that low to attract customers or they'd lose everything."Honestly, I've raked my brain so much I don't know what to do," she said. "I feel like right now, if I let it (the store) fail, it's failing on my watch."She attributes the decline in business to a slow recovery economy and larger box stores such as Walmart and Home Depot moving into the area.However, she hopes the Toyota expansion in Buffalo will bring in contractors looking for supplies."It might be new business but it doesn't last," she added.Bryan Wilson, manager at Bob's Hurricane Hardware, said business has been stagnant for the last four or five years.
"We're bring in some new materials and rentals, so hopefully that will help business," Wilson said.Both stores hope that by adding new products, they will eventually attract new customers.Reach Caitlin Cook at or 304-348-5113.
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