Founder of Jamestown Hardware decides to retire after two decades
After more than 20 years at Jamestown Hardware, the store’s founder, Steve Sherman, is ready to retire. The business will remain in family hands, however. Sherman sold it to his son Scott a few years ago, although he still owns the building that houses it.
“This used to be Hammond Hardware, since the early 1900s,” Sherman said. “In 1990 it started to go downhill. The guy who owned it wanted to sell it, but it was in such bad shape that he couldn’t. He ended up selling us the building.”
“I had two brothers-in-law who wanted to buy it,” Sherman added. “They needed some help financially so they asked me if I would go in with them. Out of the three of us, I was the one who liked it the most, so I ended up buying them out.”
Sherman, who ran a truck repair business for 25 years prior to buying the building and opening his business, had little knowledge of the hardware business. That didn’t seem to matter at all. “I enjoyed working with people and for some reason I just loved this,” he said.
Sherman, who lives in Wakefi eld, sees the fact that he has never lived in Jamestown as an advantage for his business. “I’ve never lived on the island,” he said. “It’s been positive that I didn’t because holding a small customer base, I can’t really stock a big inventory. We do the best we can, and every- day I can stop and pick something up on the way in. It’s been a real plus for our customers.”
Jamestown Hardware has been affiliated with the True Value co-op since 1993, and Sherman believes that that relationship has helped to keep his business prosperous in diffi cult economic times. “They buy on a national level, so their prices are pretty decent. That allows us to buy at good pricing,” he said. “We can’t compete with the big box stores because they sell so many items below their cost just to bring customers in. We never get into that. We just price everything fairly and it seems to work.”
Sherman is proud of his local customer base and credits his “customer first” philosophy for the store’s success. “Most of the island shops here,” he said. “When I took over the business in 1995 I decided that the customer was always going to be first whether I was making money or not. So I went out of my way to make them happy. If that didn’t work I was going to go out of business. It ended up working pretty well for us.”
Jamestown Hardware also does a brisk business with the island’s contractors. “Most of the contractors who work in town realize that we’re not out to scalp them, and that our prices are decent,” Sherman said. “It’s convenient for them too. They get a lot of their lumber and stuff off-island but we carry some lumber products. So if they’re short one piece of plywood it’s a lot cheaper for them to come here and not have to run across the bridge.”
Jamestown Hardware opened just prior to the advent of the big box store era, but Sherman has seen little impact from the giants on his business. “There is always going to be a certain amount of people who think that Home Depot is the best place to go. Those people will always go to Warwick, if that’s where the closest Home Depot is,” he said. “When Home Depot opened up on both sides of the bridge, close by, those same people just didn’t have as far to go.”
“We have a very loyal customer base, he added. “They come in regularly and we know most them. They’re people who live in town. We deliver for free on the island, so if somebody needs something delivered, we deliver it.”
It isn’t only homeowners and contractors who shop at Jamestown Hardware. “Every time a restaurant changes hands, they want to change the motif,” Sherman said. “Some of them redo the whole building. That’s always good for us.”
Although he has chosen to retire, Sherman has no concerns about the future of Jamestown Hardware. “I’ll be 70 years old this year. There are three generations here right now. I feel like they’re in a good position to take over. My son owns the business now anyway. I sold it to him four years ago. I still own the building. He still pays me rent. I’ll be around to help him out if he needs help.”
Sherman has no specific plans for his retirement years. “If you saw me play golf, you’d know why I don’t play,” he laughed. “I’ve got a lot to do around the house. We’ll do a little traveling. I’m sure my wife has a long list. For the first 15 years I said don’t ever ask me what time I’m coming home. I’ll be home when I’m finished. Now it’s her turn.”
Before he leaves, Sherman has a message for his customers. “I want to thank all the people in Jamestown,” he said. “They’ve been great to us. We feel that we’ve earned their trust and they’ve reciprocated. It’s a very nice place to do business.”