If you are a fan of Country Music, no doubt you have heard the song Little Man by Alan Jackson. It tells a story that is painfully true of changes, especially those effecting small towns that have experienced the inclusion of one or more of the big box chain stores. In many American small town localities the little specialty stores that served the public for decades have shuttered their doors and are gone – unable to compete on a cost-per-item basis with the massive buying power of these huge retailers.
In my own home town of Mechanicsville, VA, I was distressed when our local hardware store closed within a year after the opening of our Home Depot. The little hardware store carried a variety of items that the big box stores don’t, and if the hardware store did not have something you needed – they would find it for you.
One of the more exciting things about our RV trips to Emerald Isle is the opportunity to visit Ace Sound Hardware. Honest – I’m not kidding! This hardware store to me is like a candy store is to a kid.
Sound Hardware was here when we started coming to Emerald Isle in 1985. It has continued to serve both the seasonal and full-time residents of this southern barrier island for over 4 decades. Inside you will find hardware items that can make a mechanical junkie or home repair guy’s heart beat increase to near cardio levels from just the excitement of looking at all of the items that you cannot find anywhere else.
About 3 years ago a big Lowe’s store opened on the other side of the John Langston Bridge in Cedar Point. According to one of the long time employees at Ace Sound Hardware, it hurt their business considerably. But, they are bouncing back as some old customers return and new ones find the customer service and selection of discrete hardware items readily available.
Hundreds of boxes fulled with every imaginable hardware fastener and item – right at your fingertips!
On this particular visit to the store I found myself filling multiple little plastic bags with things like stainless steel tooth washers, nylon nuts and bolts, lawn chair re-webbing kits, real corks, bronze motor shaft collars, T-nuts and copper rivets. All items that I could never expect to find in a big box store.
While this is exciting to me, it is also sad. These small “specialty” stores have decreased by the thousands in recent years – their wares now almost exclusively offered through Internet suppliers.
Change is inevitable. To quote yet another Country Music song, Time Marches On, recorded by Tracy Lawrence, The only thing that stays the same is that everything changes.
The campground at Emerald Isle and the surrounding community have changed considerably in the 25 years we have been migrating back here. But, so have we.
My first trip to Emerald Isle was in a 19’ foot Vega camper pulled by a hopped-up 1956 Studebaker pick-up truck. The nearest Laundromat was in Swansboro since the Island did not have sufficient sewage treatment facilities to support one. There was no Food Lion grocery store – once again we had to drive 12 miles into Swansboro to a Piggly-Wiggly for our bread and milk. Big rig sites with 50 amp hook-ups did not exist in the campground. Traffic on the island was relatively light and nearby Coast Guard Road was a lonely, deserted stretch of pavement going to the juncture of the Bogue Sound and the Atlantic Ocean.
Beach Hats, Sunglasses, Tiki Torches and even Ice Cream are stocked at Ace Sound Hardware.
Now, traffic on highway 58 down the middle of the barrier island is often bumper to bumper with nary a break to enter the procession from a side road without a traffic light. Coast Guard Road is heavily populated with driveways leading to condos and beach-front multiple family rental homes.
But the Holiday Trav-L-Park where we come is still here; owned by the same family for at least 36 years. Ronnie Watson, the principal owner, promises me he is going to keep it a campground and has resisted the offers by big investors to purchase the land and turn it into yet another mass of condominiums. When we arrive at the campground, Ronnie, Stacy, William and other members of the staff recognize us and welcome us back by name. It is like a homecoming.
It is hard for the little man to exist in today’s economy – but some do. My hat is off to Ace Sound Hardware and the Holiday Trav-L-Park on Emerald Isle for hanging in there as the Little Man.
This article is courtesy Woodall’s Camgpround, RV Destination & Family Camping Blog, written by Professor95.
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Don & Irene Ritchey
No different in Canada we have the most enjoyment when RVing in the little towns where much of life is as it was for decades although the small businesses are shrinking. Just returned form such a journey in some small towns in Alberta truly memorable trip
In Portland Oregon we have every variety of big box stores but only a few of the small hardware and garden stores are gone. In fact most are slowly absorbing the empty retail space around them for storage and retail shelf space. The change has been that all of them belong to a national coop for more efficient buying. When Home Despot started here they hired the experienced and out of work staff from the stores that pulled out, now they have the same problem as all small merchants, finding “people” staff that know the stock. Now that the big box operations are feeling the pinch repair hardware is a low profit item so the stores still in place are doing fine. The problems from this change are yet to surface, the smaller merchants do not have the bookeeping staff for 401K’s so many who are only creating SS funds are going to be pinched at retirement. This pinch will only make home repairs by the homeowner more needed which bodes well for the smaller merchant with customer service.
I was one of those little men, I found that the ones that comlained about the little guy going out were the ones supporting the big box stores. the ones that did not complain were still suporting us little guys. I thank you for the article, very true.
I’m glad to hear the “Little Man” is still out there . Recently I had occasion to drive through 5 towns to pick up something I found on Craigslist. Every one of the towns looked like the one before, Home Depots, Safeway, McDonalds, etc. etc. The homogenization of America through franchises are sucking the soul and personality out of our towns. I go out of my way and may spend more to find the Mom & Pop stores and restaurants and am rarely disappointed in the quality of product and service. Hang in there “Little Man” there’s lots of us looking for you.