I submitted this essay as a letter to the editor back in June. It did not make print. I have kept it in draft waiting for a time (and space with all those Inspirations on Romans) to post it. Labor Day seems fitting. In fairness to Home Depot, toward whom I make some critical comments, they are following the same business model that other big box store have been using for the past couple of decades. I do shop there occasionally. During more recent excursions, I have noticed that the sales associates have been more visible and friendly. I suspect that with the construction bubble bursting, they were part of the splatter. Now, they realize that they need their customers back and are making some attempt at this. A risk in a dog-eat-dog commerce mode is that someday you too shall be eaten. Dear Editor,
I made my last run to Eastern Building Supply a couple of days ago. A few days before that, I went by to start stocking up on lumber for my next project. On that day, I learned that the Moorefield store would be closing soon, and their inventory would be consolidated in the Romney location. The construction business has been slow for a couple of years, so I was not surprised. I was disheartened to see not only a business end, but also the employees let go. I have been coming to Eastern Building Supply for the 18 years that I have been working on our home in Hardy County.
This is not the first time that a lumber-hardware store, which I frequented, closed shop. When we lived in Alexandria and were “weekenders” here, I would load up my truck on Friday afternoons at Hechinger Hardware on Duke Street. This warehouse style store was poorly lit, but was full of retired construction workers who could look at any broken part I brought in, tell me what is was and how to fix it. Then Home Depot opened 2 stores within a few miles.
These big-box stores dazzled with lights and cheerful sales people who appeared to be stationed along every aisle. Their enthusiasm fueled the DYI industry, until Hechinger sold out their inventory, including a blue hat, which my wife cringes at every time I put it on to work around the place. Home Depot seemed like a great advancement in their business plan, until a few years later when the owners sold the corporation, the sales associates became hard to find, and I realized that there was little knowledge behind the greetings, when I asked where I could find some widget. I found a lot more warped than straight lumber too. That was about the time I started hearing “Home Despot” jokes.
After we moved to Hardy County, I became a more regular customer at Eastern. After a while, the guys in the yard recognized my truck when I drove in and would ask, “What’s your wife got you building today?” When I brought in something broken, they would tell me what to do with it. As the economy reduced their business, I thought up more projects to work on, hoping to keep a little cash flowing for them. I guess I did not have enough woodsheds to build, and now I will have to head up the road to complete this summer’s deck-rail replacement project.
I will now drive through town to 84 Lumber, or stop at the Tractor Supply Store, Hardman’s Hardware, or Southern States for most of what I am looking for. I could go to the Eastern location in Romney or Central Tie and Lumber in Petersburg, but that would double my travel distance from Baker. Companies come and go. What I will miss is the relationships, which I had established at Eastern. Dave has written in his Unbased Opinions about our faltering economy. Until we focus creating a value economy, we will bump along, losing companies along the way. We need to value quality over quantity (inexpensive stuff). We need to value accumulated knowledge of staff over the latest marketing techniques. We need to value the relationships of employees and customers over quick sales. Otherwise, our global economy will be full of despots and dictators.