Hardware comes up aces

Smith family continues tradition of Jarrettsville store

October 22, 2006|By Mary Ellen Graybill | Mary Ellen Graybill,Special to The Sun

For more than 30 years, the Smith family has operated a hardware store in Jarrettsville known as Smith Ace Hardware.

Once the site of a blacksmith shop owned and operated by Charles Amerien in the late 1800s, the business was sold to Alex Y. Watters, who built the building in use now in 1928. Watters was a blacksmith and wheelwright. By 1944, Watters' sons, Howard and Wilbur, expanded the merchandise to include hardware, farm equipment and livestock supplies.

The store carried on a successful business for more than 30 years while the Watters family worked there. An award from Sinclair Oil Co. for the family's years of service still hangs on the wall upstairs.

Today, the Smith brothers, Nelson and Lex, have different awards, such as one from the Lions Club for their service to the community. They carry on the tradition of individual attention to the dwindling number of farm accounts and also stock a wide range of retail items for their suburban customers.

"We're still here," said Lex Smith, who started working in the store at age 21. Back then, in 1973, it was a rural store where customers knew each other and the owners treated everyone like family.

Today, the old block building at Norrisville and Schuster roads sticks out like a sentinel in the surrounding cornfields, a symbol of a time gone by.

Inside, an original tin ceiling, worn wood floors and the oldest elevator in the county are still there, although the merchandise has changed with the times, and computers and cell phones are in use.

Upstairs in the attic, there are interesting things tucked back in the eaves - a rusty scooter, a spindle or two from a buggy, even old glass oil bottles with metal spouts on them. The up-to-code elevator is enclosed with chicken wire required by modern regulations.

Outside, on the window, a sign says, "Hydraulic assemblies made in minutes" and "Oregon chain saws."

In 1973, Sherry and F. Nelson "Buzz" Smith Jr., the parents of eight children, wanted to find something to pass on to their children.

"It was sort of flukey how it started," said Sherry (Dyer) Smith, 86, who still comes in most evenings to do paperwork upstairs. The mother of five daughters and three sons said her husband always thought ahead.

When two sons, F. Nelson and Alexius Dyer Smith, were just 25 and 21, their father, a successful businessman in the logging industry, began thinking about what he could pass on to his family. He heard there was a hardware store for sale in Jarrettsville. He had passed by the store many times - or so he thought. So, he headed over to Norrisville and Schuster roads and into what was then called Worthington Hardware, owned by Wilbur and Howard Watters.

Smith told the owners he was interested in buying the store. They seemed surprised, but the idea appealed to them. They set a price, and Smith said he'd take it.

Later, Smith learned that he had gone to the wrong store. The Watters had never put their store up for sale. Another store around the corner on Route 165, also owned by two brothers - the Grimmel Brothers Hardware Store, now closed, was the one that was up for sale. Both stores sold out in the same month and the same year, after many years in business, said Lex Smith. However, he said, "We're still here, while they are gone."

The change in ownership of two hardware stores in Jarrettsville in 1973 signaled a change in the town, as well as a change in the lifestyle of the Smith family. Their purchase was a bargain, and the Smiths were happy to start a family business, with Buzz Smith checking the till each week, and Sherry Smith coming to work every day. They were closed Sundays and only worked a half-day on Saturdays in those days.

Today, they are open every day until 8 p.m. except Christmas and New Year's Day.

Sherry Smith has set the tone for the work ethic in the store.

"She claimed she was retiring when we first put in a computer in 1983, and she didn't retire. She said she was putting her foot down and retiring Jan. 1 this year past, and she still hasn't done it," said Lex, whose children carry on the tradition of working in the store. They are Katherine Smith, Alexius "Lexi" Dyer Smith Jr. and Thomas Dyer Smith.

Nelson's son, Brian, works at the store full time after returning from college in South Carolina, and he plans to make a career of it.

The family plans to continue the business by passing it on to the grandchildren.

"Big families are good," said Sherry Smith. She and her husband both came from families with six children.

The Smiths bought the store when it was still in the business of selling tractors and manure spreaders.

"Actually, when we came here in 1973," said Lex, "we were still selling field mowers, chain harrows and things like that. In our early years, we had a garage next door to repair those tractors." He explained that one of his first duties was to help break farm tractors in half and put clutches in them.

Lex and Nelson's father, Buzz, was a silent partner, said Lex.

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