Now that spring is upon us, business is picking up at the local hardware store. The do-it-yourself folks are anxious to begin projects inside and out, especially after our cold winter.
Grand Island has a pretty good hardware store, one with hints of what a hardware store used to be. You can still buy loose screws and nails by the pound, wire and chain by the foot, bulk grass seed or a lawn mower. You can get a key made and have your screens and storm windows fixed.
The part I like best is the fact that the building once housed a skating rink and a dance hall. One long-gone island farmer and his wife used to win all the dance contests there, stashing winnings in the family player piano.
But Grand Island did not always have a hardware store. In the spring of 1948, Bob Smith and Ed Dunshie, tired of going off-island for supplies, decided the island needed its own hardware store.
On March 15, they opened one, in what once was an old granary. I used to see that building on Webb Road; you could spot it from Baseline. When I first saw it, it was empty and weathered with but a trace of white paint, its only color the red-shingled roof.
Set high on cement blocks, it was 24 feet wide and maybe 80 feet long. (The dimensions reminded me of my father's house -- Pop kept adding on at the end of it.) A tin cut-out for a stove pipe and an old hookup for electricity decorated the rear wall. On one side was a sliding door. A set of wooden steps had a missing tread.
There was a false front above the first floor, much like the ones you see in Western movies. The entry was sheltered by a shallow marquee. Vines were growing out of one corner and there were weeds all around. Several trees were altering the roof line. The building was well boarded-up. I was sure it harbored memories from the past.
Someone remembered the building when it was the granary next to Schutt's store, near the main intersection of Grand Island today. Bob Kaiser told me, "Bob Schutt and I were teenagers when we worked there, carting grain from farms on Whitehaven Road. There was a hopper inside the sliding door and a conveyor belt system. Much of the grain was sold to the Shredded Wheat plant in Niagara Falls."
Smith and Dunshie opened their hardware store in the front section of the old granary, eventually taking over the whole building. A former tax collector, Lois Kaiser, will never forget being sent there by her husband, who was building some kitchen cupboards.
"Ask Ed if we can use his board stretcher, just for today," said Bob.
Dunshie kept a straight face when he told Lois, "Gee, we just lent it out, but you can have it tomorrow." The boys thought it was a huge joke, so Lois was cautious when her husband sent her the next time for wiggle nails, refusing to go until they proved that such an item actually existed.
In 1952, Dunshie and Smith acquired property on Grand Island Boulevard, giving up the old granary. Eventually Elmer Webb bought the building and moved it to its last location, using it for storage. Not too long ago, the building was demolished and the site cleared. There weren't any board stretchers inside, but I'll bet if you scratch around in the dust, you just might find a few wiggle nails rusting there.
Ruth Stahl, who lives on Grand Island, remembers the community's first hardware store, which opened in 1948.