Monday, April 04, 2005

Hardware nirvana

Imagine an operation the size of Home Depot with the ambiance and expertise of the old-time local hardware store. That would be Ballard Hardware, housed in an old, multi-story brick building just off Leary Way in Ballard. While the store's name, painted atop the building in old-fashioned factory style, is visible at a distance, Ballard Hardware doesn't have much street presence. Its brick walls face Leary Way and Ballard Avenue, and its small storefront faces its parking lot (and Ballard Sheet Metal). If you visit Ballard much, chances are you've driven by and not noticed it.

I can spend hours in a hardware store, and have several favorites in Seattle, including the Greenwood Hardware and Glass (True Value) on Greenwood, the Stone Way Hardware (True Value) on Stone Way North, Tweedy and Popp Hardware (Ace) on N. 45th St. in Wallingford, and Maple Leaf Hardware (Ace) on Roosevelt. For lumber, I won't consider anything but Limback in Ballard.

Although I've known about Ballard Hardware for years, I've been timid about going there. This is serious hardware, and most of it is behind the counter--you need to ask one of the staff to fetch it from the multi-story warehouse. Which means I need the vocabulary to describe a particulary machine screw or a drill attachment I'm sure must exist, but which I've never seen.

Today I went there, in my hand a piece of plastic that needed to be re-attached to a suitcase with a couple of machine screws. The original screws were missing, and I had no idea what to ask for except "screws that fit this." I stepped into a high-ceiled main floor full of beautiful hardware (neon-colored extension cords!). Everyone in there was male, except for a cashier.

After skulking around the aisles and realizing that even the extra-long 1/8" drill bit I wanted was behind the counter, I went up to the front and waited for a hardware guru. Ballard Hardware does not have lines. You just stand there and exude awareness of your place in the order. When my turn came, I started with the screws, handing the plastic piece with the screw housings to to fellow behind the counter. He vanished, and returned shortly with two little bolt-ended screws attached to the piece. Then I asked for the drill bit. He told me to wait, and went out the front door, heading for their basement warehouse area. And he came back with the drill bit. I was delighted, and chatted a little with him as he wrote up my ($8) receipt to take over to the cashier. Turns out he's an alt-rock musician, and just produced an EP.

I was thrilled that I'd gone to one of the world's most serious hardware shrines, had been taken seriously, and had obtained some obscure hardware items that would have had them the shaking their heads at the smaller hardware stores (or, in the case of the big chains, scratching their heads and rolling their eyes). We are so fortunate to have Ballard Hardware right in the neighborhood!

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