November 13, 2003

Small town in the big city

All right, 'big city' is kind of a misnomer. I live in the burbs, one of those areas that started as a small town and grew up and filled in to become part of the endless sprawl around metro areas. Even so, if you look carefully you can still find the small town it used to be. I was reminded of that tuesday.

We live in a townhouse that's almost 40 years old, so when something breaks we have two options. Option one is replacing the item, which means heading out to HardwareChain to buy a new one. Option two is repairing the item, in which case I head to our local old-timey hardware store. I could spend hours there, browsing and talking to the employees, many of whom have been there for years. They stock all the specific parts for the houses that were built in our area, so if I need a left-threaded twaddle-stomper they probably have it, whereas at the HardwareChain they'd look confused and call the manager, who would tell me that everyone uses right-threaded twaddle-stompers now and I need to buy a whole new thing. Yeah, it costs more at the old-timey place, but I consider it money well spent.

Thanks to the magic of digital cameras, I didn't have to dismantle the entire bathroom fixture and take it with me. I went in and met Roy (who probably did the original plumbing at Montecello), and we started looking for the needed replacement parts. We found them, I paid and headed home.

Wrong parts. Looked the same as the picture, but the internals were completely different once disassembled. So I headed back to the hardware store, this time with the original in hand.

My blood went cold when Roy looked at the part and said "I've never seen anything like this before." In my mind I'm hearing cha-chings and wondering how much a complete replacement is going to cost. Then Roy tells me to call Carter's Plumbing and see if they sell this brand of stuff, if so they're worth checking with first.

He also told me to take the incorrect part to the register and just tell them that 'Roy said to accept it' and they did - refunding my money with no problems on a package already opened, just because Roy said so.

Back home again, I looked up Carter's and gave them a call. First things first, yes they do carry that brand, and second, "where are you located?" I knew the general vicinity, and it was one of those streets that progress bypasses, close to everything, but unnoticed smack in between major roads and shopping centers.

I found the place with no problem and walked in. Obviously a family business, because the girl behind the register would've been in high school on non-holiday tuesdays. When I mentioned what I was looking for she went back and got her mom.

Mom looked at the part and immediately knew who made it, what it was for and how it worked. She also knew that Roy had mis-identified the manufacturer and showed me why, comparing it to a similar item. Lo and behold - they had two hanging on the wall. Maybe the last two on earth, because the company went out of business some time ago. I bought 'em both. She even showed me how to fix them, laughing that she shouldn't do that because it was probably costing her a service call.

We talked for about a half-hour about this and that. They've been at that same address for 34 years. She knew Roy, they'd worked together for a long time. And next year when I do a complete remodel on the bathroom, I'll probably call Carter's for at least part of the work, just because they were kind enough to treat me like an individual and a friend and not just another customer.

Posted by Ted at November 13, 2003 06:43 AM
Category: Boring Stories


it has become obvious to me that you are in / near virginia. i lived in va for many years (chville and richmond) where are ya friend?



Posted by: coyote at November 13, 2003 09:45 AM

I live in Woodbridge, south of Alexandria and north of Fredricksburg, along I-95.

Posted by: Ted at November 13, 2003 11:18 AM
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