Healdsburg’s old Garrett’s Hardware on the Plaza was like no other.
The interior, bright and cheery just inside the front windows, turned into a dark, cave-like tunnel as a customer wondered deeper into the store while scanning high shelves stacked with ancient merchandise and accumulated dust. Giving credence to this were the tall ceilings with inefficient lighting and floor space jammed with barrels, buckets and farm tools. If an outdated plumbing part or special tool was needed, Garrett’s would surely have it. When a young employee couldn’t find whatever it was, an old sage hopped upon the ladder which was attached to the shelf and took an unscheduled ride, searching the shelves while rolling toward the desired object. Quickly finding the prize, he would climb down the shaky wooden ladder, holding the old part up like a trophy, dislodged dust following behind.
This procedure happened daily, as the men in town knew that Garrett’s would have just what was needed to complete any farm or household repair. And the nails… Large barrels contained various size nails – 8-penny nails, 16-penny nails and small finish nails – even the smaller ones, called brads. Garrett’s had them all just waiting, handy and plentiful, to be purchased by the pound.
This was an old-fashioned hardware store, a man’s store, with copious amounts of dusty, dirty, suspicious little nuts, bolts and washers – gigantic to minuscule. And what other store had rope coiled in deep holes built inside the floorboards? The different sizes and types of rope, sold by the foot, were pulled out of the floor like the uncoiling of a snake, then measured and cut – small flakes of rope fragments mixing with stray sawdust. Next to the counter were stairs that went into the basement where even more ancient merchandise was stored. Only employees were allowed in this dark, dreary place, as even the steps were unsafe.
Groaning with age, the uneven wooden floors creaked and squeaked with every footstep, some of those feet sticking to the goo build-up on the wood. Oil-soaked sawdust in large bags was used to clean this old floor. Sawdust was sprinkled over it and swept up along with the dust particles. Then the dirty sawdust was tossed into the trash bin. This ancient oil smell contributed to the creation of this mail bastion of pride. Men could spend hours searching though the wooden bins for odd and ends without thought of any female interference.
Tools lined the walls – hatchets, hammers, saws – and farmers working in the fields could come to town anytime to get an odd section of pipe for a plumbing repair or a piece of chain for the barn. Garrett’s was a meeting place for the farmers, and men would stand around the counter and gab about the weather, always a concern for those who worked out-of-doors. Once the conversation turned to that year’s prune crop, hurried customers took their leisure. There was always laughter when a man asked his wife, “Want to make a quick trip to Garrett’s?”
Women occasionally wandered into the store looking for gardening tools, canning supplies and small kitchen items – nothing fancy. Strolling around the over-stocked store, female customers agreed that there was a certain charm and old-fashioned small-town friendliness here. Resisting the urge to swipe at shelf dust, many had fun just walking up and down the aisles, trying to imagine a use for some of the more unusual items.
The thought of old Garrett’s, once a town treasure, still makes me laugh. Years ago, upon entering my teenage son’s bedroom, my brother-in-law George remarked, “Talk about ten pounds of shit in a five-pound bag!”
An old saying, but accurate. And that was Garrett’s.