September 6, 2011
Cortland Hardware closing
High taxes, new Lowe’s too much for longtime Main St. biz
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Cortland Hardware owner Ginny Toomey helps a customer find the right type of bolt on Saturday. Toomey is shutting the store by year’s end.
Ginny Toomey says nobody knows where everything is among the aisles and shelves of Cortland Hardware Store, yet every customer gets guided to the right place as soon as Toomey hears what he or she needs.
More than that, the store’s owner understands how all of the hundreds of thousands of pieces and parts work, whether she is deciding what kind of screw a cabinet door needs or making a key.
Now it is all for sale, as Toomey prepares to close her store at 37 N. Main St. in Cortland and go out of business at year’s end.
She said Saturday that despite her love for customer service, of locating pieces and parts that no other store has and talking people through projects, she cannot make a living anymore. She says her taxes are too high, workers’ compensation and payroll are too much, there is no money in retail and she cannot compete with national chains such as the Lowe’s that will open soon in Cortlandville.
The Cortland Hardware building measures 50 feet by 150 feet. In one corner, walled off separately, is an antique shop. Next to that is the locksmith area where Toomey and locksmith Ellen Steele make keys. Next to that are short aisles and on the other side of the store, long aisles show a range of lamps, furniture, frames, signs, clothesline, tools and home decorations.
At the other end are the machine shop and shelves containing boxes of screws, nuts and bolts — hundreds of them in lengths up to 10 inches, and different diameters and threadings.
Toomey has owned the store since October 1987 but has worked there much of her 67 years. Her sister Mary Lou Snyder owned it from 1972 until 1987, and their father, Alfred Snyder, worked there in the 1940s and 1950s.
The original store was located at 13 N. Main St. It opened in February 1953 and moved to its current location in 1974. The original building was torn down.
Toomey and her sisters Sue Toolan and Mary Lou never saw themselves as being stuck in “women’s careers,” she said. She can use her machine shop to cut and crimp stove pipe — put the bend in it — and cut regular pipe, although she does not do that herself anymore. She can hear a description of any door needing a knob or hinge, anything needing a screw and guess which is best for it.
But she does not use a scanner to record sales, doing it by hand, and says some sales take 15 minutes for a $2 sale. She said this is a problem.
Lois Pfister, who said she has been a customer for 30 years, came in Saturday morning, looking for a screw for a kitchen cabinet. She huddled with Toomey to decide if it should be brass or steel, and they looked through a series of drawers at different lengths before choosing one.
“She has it up here,” said Mary Keegan, one of Toomey’s workers, tapping her finger against her forehead. “Cortland is going to suffer without her.”
Keegan has worked at the store for 12 years, Steele for 14. Toomey laid off Carl Kelley, a 14-year employee, on Friday.
Toomey told one man to see if Werninck and Sons Supply Co. on Miller Street could sell him a single stove knob, because she had only a set of knobs.
She said she often tells customers to look in other stores for parts, even competitors. She said she has heard Walmart staff tell customers to come to her store as well.
“I grew up in it,” Toomey said when asked why she loves the hardware business so much.
She said she learned at an early age how to take things apart and fix them.
“At age 10, I picked a lock and made a key for it,” she said.
Her daughters, Cheryl Cody and Terri Ackroyd, once took apart a bicycle to make a go-kart, when they were little girls.
Toomey is known for other things than her store.
She preaches the value of people hugging each other. “Let’s Hug” says her license plate.
She says a man once hugged her unexpectedly from behind while she was pumping gas, because he decided to do what her license plate said. She was startled but hugged him back.
Toomey once spent two years studying recreation at SUNY Cortland and did not finish her degree but worked as a camp counselor and Brownie and Girl Scout leader.
She hopes to sell the store building, which is assessed at $215,000. She plans to start a locksmith business in her house on Arthur Avenue after the store closes, if she can get a zoning variance from the city.
She said she has seven “towers” of key blanks, including many that are difficult to find.
Among the rows of supplies, Toomey has a picture of her mother, Doris, on a wooden plaque with her favorite saying: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, do without.”
“That’s what my mother always said and I believe in it,” she said.
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