(Above: Manager Quentin Moore presiding over Berkeley Hardware's famous model train set.)
Whew! Berkeley Hardware isn't going anywhere, after all!
Actually, it is going somewhere; but only two blocks away.
I must admit I was feeling panicky when it was announced last year that the store's lease wouldn't be renewed, after 120 years in business. It seemed like the latest in a long casualty list of those mom & pop stores that used to make Berkeley so Berkeley, including Edy's, Wilkinson's, Radston's, Cody's, and the Blue & Gold Market.
But Berkeley Hardware was special, even among that august company. It's the oldest store in town, founded in 1895, when Grover Cleveland was president. But it really became a beloved institution in 1945, when Charles Judy - universally known as the most respected man in town – purchased it.
The stories abound about his honesty and generosity, all of them true. Like the time went to the bank to make a withdrawal, only to find the teller had given him $600 too much, which was a lot of money in those days.
He tried to give the money back, but the teller wouldn't hear of it. "We never make mistakes," he said smugly.
Mr. Judy shrugged, took the money home, and put it in his safe for safekeeping, certain that the man would eventually realize his mistake.
Sure enough, that night there was a knock on his door. It was the teller. "Mr. Judy, we did make a mistake after all," he sheepishly confessed.
Or the Christmas Eve when Mr. Judy got a frantic phone call from a man who had bought a model train for his child. A part was missing. It was well past midnight, but he got out of bed, met the man at the store, and gave him the part so his kid wouldn't be disappointed on Christmas morning.
"That's the kind of guy he was," says his daughter Virginia Carpenter, who now runs the store with her husband Bill. "We still try to do that today, if we can."
Berkeley Hardware will open by the end of the month in its new location at the corner of Addison and Milvia, and all the old gang, who are on a first-name basis with most of the customers, will still be there. Tracy will still be running the hobby department, Mike will still run the gardening department, Romeo will still run the tool department, Rio will still run the electrical department, and Alex will still be in charge of the plumbing department.
Best of all, store manager Quentin "Chuck" Moore, a man whose disposition is so sunny he makes Santa Claus look like the Grinch, and his assistant manager, Andy Taylor, will be there too.
"We're not going to change our helpful hardware folks," Bill promises.
It's a smaller space, so they'll have to reduce the back stock inventory somewhat.
"Those oddball items that people come in for once every four or five years won't be on the shelf," says Bill. "But we have the capacity to get them from our warehouse within a few days."
That's a minor inconvenience compared to the appalling prospect of Berkeley Hardware going away forever, which, thank goodness, it isn't.
Mr. Judy died in 1997, but his spirit lives on. And so does his store. May it live and prosper for another 120 years.