'Durham has changed': Public Hardware store saying goodbye after nearly 100 years downtown

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Friday, January 27, 2023
Public Hardware closing doors after nearly 100 years
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Saying they want to go out on their own terms, the family-run hardware store prepares to close up shop after 99 years of serving Durham.

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- For the Wall family, it's better late than never to go out on their own terms while downtown Durham transforms into a concrete jungle with townhomes, apartments and more homes sprawling across the city.

"I guess the whole perspective of Durham has changed," Public Hardware store manager Harvey Wall said. "There's not really much use of a hardware store. When you have toilet plungers being one of your best sellers ... and just the way everything else is going up, it's kind of hard for small businesses to actually kind of stay where they need to be and still be able to pay all the taxes."

As of October, more than 300,000 people live in the city, according to the City-County Planning Department.

"Oh my God, downtown's changed," Tony Tosh said. "I love the change, but cost of living is going up."

Tosh, who's a loyal customer of Public Hardware, said he'll miss the Wall family.

"32 years, I'm going to miss them," Tosh said. "The last time I bought a lot of construction stuff from them, I was doing the library and I came back to buy a lot of construction material from them. Even when I was doing the ... historic condo, I came here to buy stuff from them. They have good customer service."

Public Hardware closing doors after nearly 100 years

The Wall family have been the owners and operators of Public Hardware since 1924, helping customers find things such as plumbing parts and keeping nostalgic products you would've seen at the original store on 111 East Parrish St.

"You can actually see the difference on how it's darker, lighter," Wall said while feeling the grooves of the wood of the rolling library ladders used to find items. "We were up and down that stuff all the time."

Public Hardware may be ending its chapter in the Bull City after nearly 100 years, but not without remembering some highlights, such as appearing in the 1988 film "Bull Durham," starring Susan Sarandon, Tim Robbins and Kevin Costner.

"When he's taking a bat and he's swinging it, the Public Hardware sign is actually right there beside it," Wall said.

The store has also been a place for family traditions, like placing the family newborn on the same nail scale that has weighed all of the Wall family newborns.

"I've been weighed on it, my sons have been weighed on it, my daughter's been weighed on it," Wall said. "My nieces, my nephews ... there's probably been about 25 kids that's been weighed on it and three dogs."

Wall said the closure was a proactive measure, but what's lost when this old-school hardware store goes away is service, availability and "definitely knowledge," according to Wall.

"For everybody that works here, you're looking at probably close to 200 years' worth of combined knowledge on stuff," Wall said. "It's not just specific, maybe something with a lawn and garden or something with plumbing, we've been in this stuff our whole life."

Although Wall called the closure "bittersweet," it's not the end for the family. He hopes most of the inventory will be gone by February when they plan to hold another sale, and then said they'll look at their options and choose what's best for the family.

"We want to go out on our two feet," Wall said. "We want to go out how we want to, and that's really the only reason why we're doing it."