DEAR TIM: I have a need for both cabinet hardware and door hardware. I visited my local home hardware store and didn't have too much luck. The hardware store had all sorts of traditional nuts, bolts, nails, paint, rope and some of the things I was looking for, but not the variety I desired. I know this sounds crazy, but are there two different types of hardware stores? While we are on the subject, how do you feel about traditional hardware stores as opposed to the giant big-box home-center stores? Where do you shop for the things you need? Annette M., Hawthorne, FL
DEAR ANNETTE: You are not the first, nor will you be the last, person to get confused about the term hardware store. Many years ago, I was also perplexed about why two entirely different businesses had the same name. But once I got deep into the building business, I quickly figured out that there were two totally different types of hardware stores.
The hardware store you visited is more popular and known to many. They typically stock thousands of items that a homeowner needs. Some of these stores are wonderful places to shop, because you can get into and out of them quickly with the exact screw, nail, plumbing fitting, electrical switch, window weatherstripping, etc. that you need. There is rarely a long line of people waiting to check out, although lately the small hardware store I patronize is getting busier by the day as people grow frustrated with the local home centers.
The hardware store you were looking for exists in many cities and larger towns. These hardware stores specialize in cabinet hardware, door hardware, door hinges, cabinet knobs, drawer pulls and some have a full line of specialty plumbing fixtures. Many of these items are referred to as hardware by architects, designers, builders and carpenters. I buy my cabinet and door hardware from a magnificent store near my home that has thousands of unique door knobs, hinges, cabinet knobs and every type of hook, latch or accent hardware you might ever install on the inside or outside of a home.
If you do not have a specialty hardware store near you that has the cabinet hardware and door hardware you want, I suggest you get on the Internet. There are many businesses there that also sell a vast amount of high-quality hardware for very fair prices. The merchandise can be shipped to your doorstep, which may help save you valuable travel time.
Unfortunately, changes in the business world are making it harder for parents to imprint in their child's memories the coziness and quaintness of a traditional corner hardware store. I have distinct memories of both sights and smells of a hardware store, and fortunately for me, I still have several of these magical stores within miles of my own home. I will go out of my way to buy from them, so as to help them stay in business.
The giant home center chains have forced some of the weaker, poorly-managed, traditional hardware stores to close, and others to become affiliated with large national chains that give them the purchasing and branding power of the giant home centers. Competition can be a good thing, but sadly some small businesses have suffered.
But I do also buy products, from time to time, at the big-box home-center stores. The smaller hardware store I visit is not open as many hours as the giant national home centers. If I didn't plan right or have an emergency, I will go to a home center to get what I need. But I must tell you that I do not look forward to going, nor do I relish the thought of dodging fork-lift trucks while I walk deep into a giant store to find one small item that is awash in a sea of products. My frustration is often compounded when I have to wait five or 10 minutes in the checkout line.
Be aware that many older door hardware items are still available. For example, if you want an interior door lock set that is operated with a skeleton key, you can readily buy them. They are exquisite pieces of door hardware. Beefy traditional square-tipped door hinges can also be purchased that will dress up the doors in your home.
Some of the specialty hardware stores carry one-of-a-kind hand-painted knobs for that special cabinet you are going to buy. Each knob matches the others, but there are subtle differences since each one is created by a human instead of a mindless machine.
Artisans also work with metal to make fabulous door and cabinet knobs, back plates and pulls. If you want a truly distinctive look for the cabinets, doors and windows in your home, invest the time to find a specialty hardware supplier in your town. If they can't be found locally, I guarantee you will find them online.