Hardwick and Sons | Stuffed with stuff, it nails a niche
Brothers William Dean and Dean James Hardwick have no intention of changing the homey style or garage-sale substance of Hardwick and Sons hardware store and swap shop in the University District. What was good enough for their grandfather, Charles Dean Hardwick — who founded the business in 1932 as a secondhand store selling his own office furniture after he lost his real-estate firm in the Depression — is good enough for us.
When Lloyd Anderson directs first-timers to Hardwick's over the phone, he tells them: "We're the only crappy-looking building on the block."
Hardwick's does look as if someone robbed a flea market and stashed all the loot in this squat, wooden holdout at 4214 Roosevelt Way N.E.
"We always know a virgin; as soon as they walk through the door, their head goes up," longtime employee Anderson says while playing his version of Dante's Virgil in this otherworldly clash of thrift store and hardware den.
Many, many things hang from the ceiling. Grandma's old lamps, chairs, bicycles, a bamboo cane, a 1940s baby stroller (not for sale), ladders, a kitchen sink — the dangling menagerie of bric-a-brac is kookily magnificent, and you can't help but gaze upward.
"It's a strange but wonderful place," Anderson says.
The narrow aisles in the store's three main rooms continue the theme — lava lamps, coffee mugs, cabinets, old radios and, because this is also one of the city's most eclectic hardware stores, hardware.
A street sign over one doorway reads: "Yellow Brick Rd." And the sense of being in an alternate realm, an anti-Lowe's, is inescapable.
Deliberately cluttered appearances aside, Hardwick's is like a Van Cleef & Arpels for fancy tools. Display cases are stuffed with expensive Japanese saws, hand-forged Gränsfors Bruks axes from Sweden and sensually shiny carbide burrs with bulging, cross-hatched tips. One whole aisle is dedicated to sandpapers, another to pipes.
Some items have been gathering dust for years, waiting for a customer who needs just that model of nylon male connector, whatever that is.
"There aren't that many places that have stuff," Anderson says, reflecting on the demise of other mom-and-pop stores like Hardwick's. "As we colorfully say, 'If you want some (expletive) out of Atlanta telling you what to buy, go to Home Depot.' "