After more than a quarter-century of operation, the Eastland True Value hardware store is shutting its doors, a victim of the recession and the era of one-stop, big-box shopping.
"A family owned mom-and-pop just can't survive in this day and age we're living in with the economy being the way it is and the mind-set of the big boxes," said owner David Wagoner.
The store — which probably will close by April 15 but no later than April 30, Wagoner says — has been a fixture in the Eastland Shopping Center on Winchester Road for 26 years. It was around for five more before that at a location on New Circle Road near Burger Shakes.
Wagoner described 2009 as "a real rough year," and what followed was "two of the worst months we've had in the years we've been here." He laid off three of his employees at the start of the year, dropping the workforce to seven, but then decided it was time to close.
"It's been a good run, but I'm retirement-age, and that's one of the other reasons," Wagoner said.
It's Wagoner and his employees whom his devoted customers will miss more than the nuts, bolts and other tools they buy.
"The neat thing about the hardware store is the people who run it," said longtime customer Flo Mayer. "To have David and his crew not there is going to be really a sadness for all of us who knew him and went in there for whatever we might need."
Wagoner and his team had experimented with new ideas to lure more customers, including launching a post office station inside the store in February 2008.
"It brought new customers and new awareness in, but when it came time to try to turn that around into hardware sales, it didn't happen as much as we strived," Wagoner said.
The postal counter has already closed, and the U.S. Postal Service is seeking another retail partner in the area, said Lexington Postmaster Michael A. Hernandez.
The store's closing also leaves a hole in Eastland Shopping Center, which was revitalized during the past decade as it attracted a variety of specialized tenants.
"It's a big disappointment to lose a tenant that has been with you so long," said Brian Wood of BC Wood Properties, which owns the center. "It's just tough for a hardware store, whether it's in Eastland Shopping Center or elsewhere, to compete because of purchasing power."
Said Wagoner: "What really started doing me in more than anything else was the big box. I was OK with Wal-Mart, but I noticed more of an impact a few years ago when Meijer came to town."
As a result, younger people stopped visiting, preferring the one-stop shopping experience of the large retailers, he said.
Add large hardware retailers such as The Home Depot and Lowe's, and it's meant more trouble for all smaller hardware retailers.
Chevy Chase Hardware, now on East High Street, called Richmond Road home for about 20 years. "When the Lowe's and Home Depot opened there, it just put us out," said co-owner Bill Edwards.
Now, he says, he has a home in a "very good spot down here in Chevy Chase, where there's no Lowe's or Home Depot on top of us," and while business was down "a little bit last year," the location is more protected.
"They do have an effect down here — not near as much — but it's a battle," he said.
At Ace Hardware at Tates Creek, where Lowe's and The Home Depot are at least a major roadway away, owner Ron Manno said he thinks customers should always check their local stores because bigger doesn't always mean cheaper.
"I think people would be surprised how often our prices are actually lower than Lowe's or Home Depot," he said. "Those stores put all their loss leaders up in the front and then overcharge for other items."
For example, he said customers have told him that bolts he sells for about 20 cents might cost more than 80 cents at a big-box retailer.
And "what we can offer that the big boxes can't is customer service," he said, adding that a strong customer base helped his sales rise slightly in 2009 compared to 2008.
Local hardware retailers also offer a better selection of certain products, said Jeff Armstrong, a longtime customer of Eastland True Value.
"I hate to see them go because Home Depot and Lowe's don't have near what you want when you're looking for something particular," he said.
But those big boxes soon might be the only nearby choice for Wagoner's devoted customers.
"I can't deny there will be other places to buy the merchandise that they had in the store, but you got so much service and information along with it," said Loys Mather, who's been shopping there since it opened. "It's not that other stores don't provide any, but you got quality advice and service from the Wagoners.
"It's another victim of the big box."