The hardware store in Belfast, Maine probably has not changed much in 50 years. It has that certain smell, and that old hardware store mix of useful and whimsical.
Cream for your calloused hands? Yup, they got it.
Kites? Orange, blue and green!
Coffee makers? Both percolators and drip!
A bright yellow plastic container especially for eggs so they don’t break in the icebox? Genius! (I grabbed it.)
This store was a perfect setting for a Norman Rockwell painting, right down to the skinny old lady behind the old-fashioned cash register, a second, pudgy old lady helping to bag (that I would bet my bottom dollar was her sister) and the heavy set old man on the wooden stool near the window watching the foot traffic on the street.
I have a particular affinity for these old hardware stores, which seem to be plentiful in small towns in Northern Maine. My maternal grandfather owned hardware stores like these, so perhaps that is why I love them. Or perhaps it is because they are so chock full of fun stuff and never do you run into large pieces of lumber or kitchen cabinet samples. For me, an old time hardware store is almost as good for browsing as a bookstore.
Mike and I wandered into this store on Main Street (of course) in Belfast needing a funky kind of plastic buckle. The buckles were nowhere in sight, but we were pretty sure they had what we needed. We went to the check out counter to inquire. One woman was being wrung up, another in line. Everyone seemed to be enthralled by the conversation between cashier and customer, including the old man on the stool.
“Haven’t seen you around in a while, everything ok?” the cashier asked the woman, by name.
“Yeah, my mom’s been sick, so I have been busy with her. She’s down in Rockland.”
“How old is she now?”
“She’s 91, god bless her.”
“Mine’s 93, god bless her.”
“God bless her.”
They continued the conversation about their aging mothers, which definitely slowed the ringing of the items, because at a certain age, you shouldn’t have to do too many things at once. But actually minutes were ticking away.
“Excuse me,” my husband said, hoping the old man on the stool would look up. He didn’t hear him. We waited another 30 seconds, and I could start to feel the tension rise.
“Excuse me,” my husband said again, a bit louder. The man was no doubt hard of hearing.
My husband gave me one of those WTF looks. Another 30 seconds went by without anyone looking up.
“What should we do? Should we just leave?” my husband asked me.
“No, we should just wait.” I told him. “We actually have no where we have to be.” And this was absolutely true.
The woman in line overheard us, obviously accustomed to city people with no patience, and offered, “why don’t you just go ahead of me.”
“Oh, no,” we told her. “We’re not ready to check out. We just have a question.”
And so, we waited and listened to the conversation too. It was another two or three minutes until we were able to inquire about the buckle, but then the man on the stool hefted himself up and led us to the buckle area and with patience and kindness showed us everything they had. The most expensive buckle was $1.25.
You don’t get an experience like that at Home Depot. I suppose it’s just another reason to love small town Maine.