It’s not just a store where people go to pick up hardware supplies. Owners Pete and Julie will give you plenty of their time and free advice.
By Sean Fallon and Christopher Biddle
Moorestown, NJ – Drive across the railroad tracks on Mill Street, and you enter the realm of Pete and Julie Bender’s True Value Moorestown Hardware Store. The storefront is on your left, painted country-barn red.
The weathered second story facade still reads J.S. Collins & Sons Incorporated in faded black paint, revealing the store’s connection to its lumber yard past. Outside, a fluttering green-and-red flag encourages you to step inside to “Shop Local.”
Climb the concrete steps, push open the front door, and hear the sleigh bells jingle as it closes behind you. Instantly, you are transported, seemingly back in time, to your father’s or grandfather’s hardware store.
“Hey Pete,” a customer shouts as the sleigh bells announce his arrival. “I can’t grow grass in my backyard no matter what I do. Can you help me?” The customer walks past a gaggle of skateboarders who have taken a break to pick candy from the big selection surrounding the sales counter.
“Sure,” says Pete. “I’d be happy to help.”
Just Ask Pete
In an era of big-box hardware stores, devoid of personality or charm, Pete Bender and his wife Julie offer a welcome nostalgia at their hardware store in Moorestown, NJ.
But they offer a great deal more than that.
Their biggest asset isn’t the inventory of hammers, nails, drills and bits that populate the shelves. It’s their knack for cultivating personal relationships and their deep knowledge of the hardware business.
The Bender’s customers are like friends. Pete and Julie listen with keen interest to their stories about weddings, Bat Mitzvahs and the big tree that crushed a neighbor’s roof in a wind storm.
If customers have home-repair problems they can’t solve, they can always ask Pete. His knowledge of all things hardware is encyclopedic.
Walking into the Moorestown Hardware, you are transported to a bygone era. An old-fashioned popcorn machine sits next to a penny-farthing bicycle. A black-and-white television in a wooden console airs 1950’s episodes of the Munster’s and The Honeymooners. Big-band swing jazz from the 1940s fills the air.
On weekends, you can grab a free bag of freshly popped corn or buy an ice-cold Coke in a classic glass bottle.
The store’s best-selling commodity are big jars of Wickles, “wicked pickles” made from an old southern recipe which line the shelves underneath the cash register. Newspaper articles about the store appear underneath plexiglass on the wood sales counter. One shows Pete and Julie holding a giant American flag. Proper disposal of old flags is a unique service they offer.
The Moorestown Hardware property traces its roots to the Civil War era, when it was the John S. Collings & Sons Inc. supply yard for farmers and builders.
Before purchasing what was then called the McChesney’s Hardware Store in 2001, Pete was a traveling manager for Office Depot, whipping failing corporate retail stores into shape. His extensive management experience made him a great businessman, but managing big box stores did not satisfy him. He didn’t like the impersonal nature of corporate retail. What he really wanted was to manage his own store in his community.
Business is steady at the Mill Street store.
Watching people buzz in an out throughout the day, you soon realize that Pete sells more than just hardware—he also sells solutions.
Pete makes sure a young man gets the right custom-color paint for his first home that he is working on with his father. He directs a small-business owner to the right isle for a help-wanted sign, and gives him a tip about local kids looking for work. A group of contractors shoot the breeze with Pete after purchasing building material for their job. A woman from the local public school arrives to view some of her student’s art, which decorates the store’s picture windows.
One customer is interested in ordering a new Weber grill for his annual Memorial Day BBQ, but he’s warry about the investment. He isn’t sure if he can assemble it or transport it from the store. “That’s no problem,” says Pete. “We offer free delivery and assembly of our Webber grills, and we’ll hang in there with you throughout your ownership experience.”
It’s clear that Pete takes time with each customer to make sure their needs are being met and that they are getting the right product.
“I used to come here with my father, and today it’s still a fun part of my daily routine,” says Louis, a local of Moorestown since a child. “They have quality stuff and are hands-on, he gives you the information you need,” says Charles Wilson.
If you ask any of Pete’s customers why they love coming to Moorestown Hardware, they’ll tell you a similar story. “I love the floorboards, the atmosphere, everything about it,” says Eileen of Cherry Hill.
Pete’s dedication to his customers is genuine.
So, come in on a Saturday afternoon and Spend an hour in their store and It will soon be clear that Pete and Julie are peddling more than just hardware. Nails and screws are a small piece of what’s needed to build a community. Sometimes an ice-cold cola and bag of popcorn while chatting at the counter are a better foundation than a bag of cement and a cinderblock.
Christopher Biddle is President of Biddle Communications & Public Relations in Moorestown, NJ. Sean Fallon is an independent communications professional based out of Monmouth County.