In the era of big boxes, a day for the little guy

Jan 25, 2012, 12:32 PM

Associated Press

CHAGRIN FALLS, Ohio (AP) – It began quietly, as an email to 40 friends.

But when a steady stream of customers began coming through the door before the family-owned Chagrin Hardware had even opened for the day on Saturday, it was clear that it had turned into much more than that.

The idea started with Jim Black, a resident of Chagrin Falls, a close-knit village in Cleveland’s eastern suburbs that is part artist colony and part bedroom community. Black posted the email to a group of his friends. “Let’s show our support for one of our local businesses,” he wrote. “I challenge everyone to spend AT LEAST $20 at the hardware on the 21st.”

Although his email referred to the idea of a “Cash Mob” or the notion to “Occupy CF Hardware,” he really had no political agenda. And it wasn’t meant as a protest against the big-box stores that have created an ever-tightening circle around the community.

It was just a way to thank Chagrin Hardware’s owners for a beloved shop that has been a fixture in the village since 1857.

“These are good people who needed our support,” Black said. “It’s just that simple.”

The store, overlooking meandering Riverside Park and the Chagrin River in the middle of town, has been run by the Shutts family for the last 72 years. It passed from uncle to father to older brothers Rob and Kenny and the three youngest, Steve, Susie and Jack, who run the store today.

Black’s note was forwarded and forwarded and forwarded again. Calls started coming in from folks out of state who wanted to make a purchase over the phone.

And when the day came, so did the shoppers _ one by one, with dogs on leashes and children in tow, hour after hour until the hardware was teeming with customers.

“This is small-town America,” said resident Martine Scheuermann, a bag of pet-safe ice melt in her arms and her Springer Spaniels tapping their toes on the worn wooden floor at her feet. “This is a special family business in a town where everybody knows you.”

The store has seen its share of tough times. Road construction on Main Street at the store’s front door some years back crippled business for a time. More recently, the weakened economy and the big boxes have stolen away customers.

On this day, though, those storylines were forgotten.

By 10 a.m. the place was jammed. By 1:30 p.m., the credit card machine was overloaded and had to be reset. “This is so cool,” said Steve Shutts, a mix of joy, wonder and happy exhaustion spread across his face. “I’ve seen people today I haven’t seen in years.”

The line at the checkout stretched in two directions as people with snow shovels and light bulbs and fireplace grates and vintage movie posters and horse shoe caulk _ yes, horse shoe caulk _ waited to pay.

Chad Schron, 38, came with his 8-year-old son Robert. “We didn’t have anything we had to get, but we found things we had to get,” he said. As he spoke, Robert clutched an Ohio State desk lamp and two flying monkey toys to his chest.

“When I was a kid, my Mom would send me down here with a note to let me buy BB’s,” Schron recalled. “Lots of kids did that back then. The notes still are in a drawer over there,” he said as he pointed past the register to a wall of wooden drawers containing everything from old springs to screws. In the drawer still labeled “BBs” were stacks of crumpled notes dating to the ’50s, from mothers just like Schron’s

When the final customer had finally left well after closing time with her fuzzy dice and floodlights, Schwind and Steve Shutts tallied the day’s receipts. Shutts shook his head at the wild and unexpected ride.

He wouldn’t say how much the store made that day, but was clearly pleased with the outcome.

“Thanks to Jimmy Black,” he said. “Thanks to everyone. Thanks to Chagrin Falls.

“What a place to live.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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In the era of big boxes, a day for the little guy