'Where everybody knows your name'

Ashland Hardware may have been sold, but the new owners say it will remain the much-beloved gathering spot it's been for 32 years — and a place where you can find anything and get an answer to any question about how to fix or improve your house.

"When you need something, this is the place you stop first," says Ashland Springs Hotel maintenance chief Jim Klug.

"Roofing, windows, landscape, electric, plumbing, no matter what it is, they'll work with you on your project."

The spacious hardware center on A Street in Ashland's Historic Railroad District started as a modest store at Pioneer Street and Lithia Way and has weathered the arrival of Home Depot in Phoenix and the Great Recession.

"We've always had knowledgeable sales staff," retiring owner Paul Comstock says. "You have to like to fix things to work here. We always promoted customer service, so we have fun while we work."

Will anything change? That's the big question longtime customers are posing to the new owners, local residents Phil and Marianne Emard.

Phil Emard, a former Boeing engineer who took over the shop in December, says he "fell in love" with Ashland Hardware in large part because of savvy staff such as Cathy Trower and Mike Brown. He says "absolutely" the product mix and hands-on staff will continue.

"It'll continue to be like (the television series) 'Cheers,' where everybody knows your name," Emard says.

"I love it, everything about it, including getting a hot dog out front. It's too bad they don't sell jewelry," says Bea Gilliam, owner of Ashland Mountain Supply. "It's what you want in a small community — people who know you and keep a charge account for you. They've never been unable to answer any question I asked."

Customers of many decades remark that, in addition to the expertise and vast inventory of obscure nuts, bolts, flanges and doohickeys, Ashland Hardware offers free popcorn, fresh from a popping machine, and lets customers bring in their dogs.

Visiting the hardware in search of a light bulb for his toaster oven, Fred Caruso says, "They give you lots of raw materials that any craftsperson or artist can use, with specialization in many areas, such as plumbing and electric."

In the store to replace a broken 12-inch flexible water line (it was in stock), Gregg Gassman, a Southern Oregon University professor says, "If you need it, it's here. If not, they can get it. It's also the place people meet and talk, a social fixture, where you can discuss your garden and pets or anything."

Nancy Wilson, an employee at the nearby Ashland Food Cooperative, says it's the first place everyone goes when something needs fixing.

"I love it, been coming here 20 years and they let my dog come in, too."

Just back from a tour of military duty in Iraq, lifelong Ashland resident Raymond Hanson reported the rare experience of seeking something he couldn't find — a light bulb that changed colors — but they've always had anything else he wanted.

"I get to eat popcorn, bring my dog and they walk me through any project and if I get stuck, they walk me through it again," he says.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.

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