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Mar 28, 2012 9:53 AMPublication: The Southampton Press

40 Years At The Helm Of Herricks Hardware

Mar 28, 2012 11:00 AM

When Noel Hare graduated from Harvard University in 1971, working in a hardware store was certainly not on the list of jobs he saw himself landing.

But, 41 years later—40 of which were spent working at Herrick Hardware in Southampton Village—Mr. Hare says he’s still not ready to walk away from the business that adopted him.

Following his graduation from Harvard and a year of wanderlust on the West Coast with his girlfriend, Deborah Herrick, the couple landed in Southampton Village, where her family had run a hardware store for more than a century.

“We came into Southampton and I thought to myself, ‘Wow, this could be a good life here,’” Mr. Hare, the son of a military family that moved often, recalled last week at the store he now co-owns and runs. “Her family had been here forever, and we thought it would be a great place to raise children. Her father was thinking about his exit strategy, and he asked me if I would like to try it out. That was in 1972—and I’ve been trying it out ever since.”

His girlfriend became his wife and, two decades later, his co-owner of the Main Street hardware store her great-grandfather started in 1865. The family claims the store is the oldest of its kind in the country to be owned and run by the same family throughout its history.

Main Street in Southampton has changed a lot in the last 40 years, Mr. Hare said. The stores peddling the daily needs of residents have left, replaced by an ever-changing rotation of boutiques. While more stores stay open year-round now than three decades ago, the part-time character of the village has nonetheless been accented by the arrival of second-home owners, many of whom are replacing departing year-round residents. But Herrick Hardware has persevered and expanded on the back of the friendly faces behind its doors each day.

“It’s really a customer service business,” Mr. Hare said. “If you’re good with people and listen to what they need—most people want some help—they will come back to you.”

To that end, Herrick’s, a tiny hardware store by the standards of a retail world that features Home Depot and Lowe’s, still employs 10 full-time, year-round employees. They’re paid well, they get benefits—and they stay. The store’s manager, Al Topping, has 10 years on Mr. Hare’s tenure; office manager Nancy Bormuth has been at the store for more than 20 years, as have salesmen Mark Halsey and Tim Campbell. Mr. Hare has fired only one person in the 20-plus years he’s been in charge. Most new hires come as references from another longtime employee, and hiring from within the Southampton community has ensured the stability of the staff.

The store has modernized and expanded, but only slightly, and has changed little in 40 years.

“The day my father-in-law retired, I switched wholesalers and bought a computer,” Mr. Hare recalled. “That was also when scanners and bar codes started—back in the old days, when we got shipments, it had to be counted when it came off the truck, matched to the invoice, and had price tags put on it. It would take a week, now it takes a few hours. But other than that, it hasn’t changed dramatically.”

Mr. Hare and his wife have two children; both live in other states and have expressed no interest in taking over the store. But a 30-year-old nephew who lives in California has said he is interested. His name is Sam Herrick—the same as the father-in-law Mr. Hare learned the business from.

“I’m 63 and I’m not quite ready,” Mr. Hare said of retirement, “but we claim to be the oldest family-owned hardware store in the country. It’s been in the Herrick family since the beginning, and it would be nice to continue that when the time comes.”

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Wonderful article. We love the store and always have the best service. I remember working there through my teens and early twenties when my father, Sam, expected us to treat the customers as if they were guests in our home. And of course the best roasted peanuts in town are at Herricks!
By Hil (3), Southampton on Mar 30, 12 7:08 AM
Noel is a great guy .I wish him well .
By afj (18), East Quogue on Mar 30, 12 8:55 PM