NEWTOWN BOROUGH >> One of Newtown’s oldest businesses will celebrate its 150th birthday with special events and activities on Market Day. And the public is invited to join in the fun.
The Newtown Hardware House has been in continuous operation since 1869, giving it the distinction of having the longest tenure of any business in Newtown.
“This is a huge milestone,” said borough resident Christine Edmonds who helps market and promote the store. “Most people know it almost closed five years ago, but Bill and Peg Newell bought it. They pulled it back, it’s doing well and we want to celebrate that and to remind the community that it’s really important to shop local.”
Between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturday, October 5 look for lemonade, popcorn and root beer stands on the sidewalk in front of the store at 106 South State Street. There also will be a special raffle for a handmade, custom corn hole set, games and entertainment taking place throughout the day.
“It’s important for people to come out, see their neighbors and remember that shopping local is important in more ways than one,” said Edmonds. “Otherwise you’re going to be at home buying something online from Amazon and all excited about the box arriving the next day instead of seeing your neighbors at the store and supporting local businesses and what they give back to the community.”
Calling the store “a cornerstone of our community,” Edmunds said it represents “everything that is magical about our town. It’s been there for 150 years. The doors are wood and are slightly bowed. There’s always a big smiling face behind the counter who wants to know if they can cut some glass for you or rewire your lamp. They have an answer to every question. But if we don’t go to the Hardware House, If we don’t buy things at the Hardware House, it will not be here.”
The Newtown Hardware House was built at 106-108 South State Street in 1869, the year Ulysses S. Grant was sworn in as the 18th President of the United States and the same year the HJ Heinz Company and Purdue University were founded and the "golden spike" was driven marking the completion of the First Transcontinental Railroadin Promontory, Utah.
Cyrus Hillborn and Harrison C. Worstall operated a hardware store at 106 South State and George E. Dolton ran a dry goods store at 108.
In one of the worst fires in Newtown history, 39 years after it was built fire destroyed the original Newtown Hardware House on March 4, 1899. It is thought that burglars caused the fire.
Today, when looking at the rear wall, lower left (Northern) portion of the structure, a distinct brick line exists that outlines surviving brickwork dating from before the fire in 1899.
The building was rebuilt to the exact specifications of the original building and was reopened by Christmas of the same year and remains in operation to this day.
Shortly after the turn of the century, in 1908 Dolton sold his side to George H. McMaster. And when McMaster died in 1927, both sides of the store were taken over by H.C. Worstall, and later bought out by John J. Burns. When Burns died in 1955, Robert M. Davis bought the business and operated it until 1985, the year it was taken over by C. David Callahan.
In 2012, facing dwindling sales and a difficult economic environment, Callahan launched a campaign to save the Hardware House from closing. Bumper stickers touting the words “Save the Hardware House” circulated throughout the community and publicized the plight of the store.
In April, a “cash mob” descended on the store, spurred by a Facebook message posted by customer Andy Smith, who encouraged people to show up, “en masse,” to give the business “a bit of an economic boost.”
And show up they did. “Mobbers” literally swamped the store as employees rang up sale after sale, from grass seed, tools and paint to light bulbs and nails during a busy morning at the store.
It wasn’t enough on its own to save the Newtown icon, but it sent a clear heartfelt message of support to Callahan and his staff who were touched by the community response.
Just hours before the store was to close, longtime customer William Newell of Newtown stepped in and saved the business from closure.
Since taking over, William and Peg Newell have diversified the store’s selection of merchandise while remaining true to its roots as a hardware store.
In 2015, a grateful community turned out to thank the Newell’s for saving the iconic business and to present them with painting of the store done by renowned Bucks County plein air oil painter Robert Beck.
“There was once a time when every town had a store like this,” said Bill Newell in 2015. “This one opened in 1869. Unfortunately it’s just becoming more and more of a rarity. Every year more and more of these stores die off. Fortunately we’re latching onto a new formula that is helping us be successful.”
Of course, it goes without saying that the community deserves the lion’s share of the credit for helping the store turn the corner, said Bill.
“We have a very small, but very loyal customer base. But it’s getting bigger,” he said. “And the new people coming into the store are learning that it’s a place they want to come back to. They’re always thrilled to get the level of service they get here, which is becoming more and more unusual out there. We do things that almost no one else will do anymore. We rescreen screens, we repair glass, we repair tools, we cut keys. You name it. The list goes on.
“We are totally dependent upon the local community and it’s been rewarding to see them come back and embrace the store,” adds Bill. “We want to say thank you to Greater Newtown and beyond for their support.”
At the Hardware House, business is still conducted the old-fashioned way with a friendly smile and greeting, said Edmonds, who the Newell’s call the store’s biggest cheerleader.
Newtown Hardware carries a broad selection of hand tools, paint and supplies, fasteners, plumbing and electrical supplies, seasonal lawn and garden products and unique housewares – all easy to find and arranged conveniently in a quaint retail setting. Need help? A knowledgeable sales person is only steps away, says Edmonds.
“No matter where you grew up, for those old enough to remember, the wooden floors and 19th century store fixtures evoke memories of family outings to the local hardware store,” she said.
Sadly, according to Edmonds, more than 98-percent of these iconic stores have disappeared from the American retail landscape. Only a very few survive today. Newtown Hardware is one of the survivors thanks to the Newell’s and the Greater Newtown Community.
Newtown Hardware House is located at 106 South State Street in Newtown. For information, visit the store's website at www.newtownhardware.comand like its Facebook page.