Monday, February 23, 2015

Garber’s Hardware Store – West Village

I wrote this a few years ago and found it again this afternoon.  It's about one of my favorite places in the West Village in NYC.

Yesterday a young woman with a video camera was following Mr. Garber around the store while he waited on a customer.  I know this because he had come from behind the broad counter where he is usually found and passed by me as he escorted the tall dark-haired girl to the rear of the store where he kept the plaster of Paris in the extra-large bags she would need for her project. 

I observed this while another man was helping me find a particular wood screw I needed for my current project.  HHe was squatting near the bottom of a wall of shelves that reached almost to the ceiling of this building that has been inhabited by this business since 1804. 

He’s a cheerful man with a soft Caribbean accent and bottle-bottomed glasses that seem to explode his eyes out to greet me.  I don’t think he can see much that isn’t within a few inches of his face, even with the heavy lenses, but he seems to know where everything is in this store that sprawls through three large rooms of a building that was standing when Thomas Jefferson was elected President. 

What will he do when the store closes it doors on West 12th street for the last time next week and moves to a new location a few blocks away?  How will he find the last original professional-grade Waring blender, that is tucked away in the corner of the housewares section, behind the newer Oster models, in the deep back of the shelf, when it is stocked and stored by the professional team of movers that will be brought in to handle the relocation of the thousands of items that fill this remarkable place? 

I expect that the two brothers who operate the business will devise a role for him to play in the move that will insure his familiarity with the stock.  And I expect that he will stay on at Garber’s for as long as he wants to keep coming to work – because it is that kind of place – a family-run store that has served the same community for 200 years.  It is a business with a face and a personality and it radiates a difficult to define sense of security.  Even if you are not an incurable putterer like me, you know that you can always find it at Garber’s – whatever “it” is. 

Last Christmas I decided to make cookies for all the people on my gift list and one of the recipes called for chopped nuts.  I could have purchased the nuts already chopped but I like to chop and peel and grate and squeeze all of my ingredients by hand.  So I went in search of a chopper like the one I remembered from my mother’s kitchen, a simple glass jar with a spring and a blade and a screw-on cap.  There are two serious kitchen stores and four grocery stores within walking distance of my apartment, but I went to Garber’s first. 
It took a while but I found it; a slightly dusty but very close match to the chopper I had grown up using to make walnut brownies with Mom.  And that is what Garber’s is to me, and I expect to a few thousand West Village residents and to a few thousand others who have moved on from here but who had a project at one time that called for visit to the store that has it all, to find that special something they needed to make it all work. 

I had asked Mr. Garber a few weeks back if someone was going to document the final days of the store on West 12th Street and he told me he thought someone was going to do it.  I’m glad people are paying attention to this event, as a chapter in this Village’s history comes to a close.  I would love to see a time-lapse film of all the people who have come in and out of the store during the last two centuries.  I would like to see how they reacted when to the news that we were going to war with England - again, or how they spoke of the Hindenburg disaster across the river in New Jersey, or how they must have rejoiced at the end of World War II. 

I went into the store a few days after 9/11.  I didn’t really need anything, but I bought a few extra batteries and I took a look around the store to see if people were stocking up on anything in particular.  Mr. Garber was busy behind the counter filling orders and looking out into the store now and then.  It was business as usual at Garber’s, one thing we could count on.



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