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Cheers to New Bedford’s Hardware Stores

Many of us in New Bedford bemoan the lack of commercial investment in our neighborhoods. Too many hole-in-the-wall restaurants, markets and taverns are gone and each new closing – like Carmine’s Bakery on Rivet Street not so long ago – feels like an acute loss.

As with many things, we’re most likely remembering a somewhat exaggerated past. The teeming establishments outside of downtown and Acushnet Avenue were probably enjoyed by our parents’ generation and we just heard the stories.

However, some of us likely do remember our neighborhood drugstores, like Family, Lariviere’s, Reca or Nelson, and they are indeed missed. Each helped define their particular neighborhood and were lively centers of commerce and gossip. You could often get a meal or at least an ice cream at their soda fountains, too.

The chain pharmacies like CVS, Rite-Aid, etc. are a poor substitute. They squat on entire city blocks in buildings that are architectural abominations in slavish obedience to their parking lots – Storm Troopers of the global supply chain as commanded by Big Pharma.

Okay, I’m getting carried away. But when I get too worked up, I remind myself that it’s better to dwell on what we have today in our neighborhoods that make them special rather than get lost in the past. And that always leads me to…

New Bedford’s Hardware Stores.

These pugnacious rebels have somehow found a way to carry on the tradition of the neighborhood pharmacy in many places throughout the city in the face of Home Depot and Lowe’s.

Small businesses like Rivet Street Hardware, Almeida’s True Value Hardware, Bourassa’s Hardware, County Street Hardware, and Beacon Paint and Hardware constitute old-fashioned place-making. They help define their city blocks and brand their neighborhoods. In a geographic place all its own sits Fairhaven True Value Hardware on Pope’s Island. And, in a space of historic imagination, you’ll find Kirby Paints off Shawmut Avenue. Taken together, all these establishments and others serve as a bridge between urban past and present.

Yet, they also serve an important function into the future – including the vaunted creative economy of now and tomorrow.

Form follows function = art

Many artists and creative types are big fans and faithful customers of New Bedford’s neighborhood hardware stores. An often overlooked facet of creating art is the need to hang art in sometimes creative ways. And there’s nothing more fun than searching these shops for some fancy hardware that lends something different to your work.

Also, when creating with found materials or constructing installations, you need to find items of use that you may not necessarily find at big box stores. That special hook, custom rope, or metal sheathing that lends itself well to your vision.

Wandering the aisles of New Bedford’s hardware stores stirs your imagination. You find things Home Depot or Lowe’s don’t carry that can fire up your creativity in unexpected ways. Any designer will tell you that form follows functions – and there’s no better place to see that maxim in action than on a shelf at a good hardware store.

Just the right fit

Of course, the bread and butter of New Bedford’s hardware stores are customers who engage in home repair and renovation. They’re in no short supply in a city full of older and historic housing. These buildings often have special needs which are best – or sometimes only – served by Bourassa or Rivet Street Hardware Stores.

Like when searching for door knobs, hinges or latches that fit older doors. Or venting you need for your gas heating stove. And custom screens for your windows. Plumbing fixtures are an especially vexing problem if you have claw foot bathtubs and cast-iron sinks, and Manny at Rivet Street Hardware has rode to the rescue more than once with good advice and the correct faucet.

New Bedford’s hardware stores are the 21st century equivalent of last century’s corner drug stores. They may lack lunch counters, but some of them do carry plants for your garden that grow into tomatoes and basil and cucumbers and more. Call it a take-out lunch.

But really, beyond filling the obvious needs and complementing the creative economy, the hardware stores throughout New Bedford represent the city well as locally owned and staffed small businesses with a human heart and face. And you find them from the south end to the north end, from County Street to Acushnet Avenue and neighborhoods in between, today not yesterday.

Take a look.

Steven Froias