By Kate and Stephen
I like the man-smell of a hardware store:
odors of old leather,
fresh cut lumber, oiled machines,
limey smell of plaster and new paint.
I like the men who come to hardware stores,
men with calloused hands
in dirty jeans and sweaty shirts,
men who work.
I remember times we came together
for shingles and to re-roof the shed,
cement for the outdoor barbecue,
bricks for the patio.
Now I come alone and pause a moment
just inside the door.
Almost I see you there
beyond the ray of dust motes in the aisle.
So strong the sense of deja vu
I have to catch my breath
As if these old familiar smells
could bring you back from death.
The above poem hangs on a sheet of paper on the back wall of Moody’s Hardware Store on South Decatur. There’s no name for the poem. No title. It’s perfect in the way it conjures the past. It’s written on a typewriter. It’s totally gendered, written in a time when few women would go into hardware stores — before Lowe’s would focus group ways to make home repair projects appealing to ladies, while contractors bond over grumbling how they prefer the bright orange logo and store layout of Home Depot.
Those stores are modern monstrosities. The owner of Home Depot owns the Atlanta Falcons, for goodness sakes. Hardware is big business and those chains are prototypical big box stores, the hallmarks of suburban sprawl, air-conditioned behemoths where purchasing power on something as obscure as cypress mulch has the power to destroy entire ecosystems.
Which brings us back to Montgomery and Moody’s Hardware. It was there before the big chains. It has been there since 1949, and walking inside the Paterson Court store you can just imagine the post-war boom, the optimism of that time of Montgomery history. Sure, there are risks with idealizing any period in history, but the fact that Moody’s has stood through all of the struggle and strife of Montgomery since the ’50s, through all of the boom and bust economic cycles, through the civil rights movement, white flight and the emergence of Wal-Mart and other soulless monocultural chain stores — it’s enough to give you pause.
But going into either Moody’s location isn’t like going into a museum, whereby if you’ve only been to big box chain hardware stores, you might just shrug your shoulders and say, “Huh, it used to be different,” like some high school kid typing on a typewriter for the first time. No, it’s not a curiosity. It’s actually a really good store. They both are.
The first thing that strikes you is that there are only a few of each item on the shelf. There are not 300 hammers. There might be 20. There is not a wall-sized display of charcoal, complete with grill set up and accessories. There are two bags of charcoal. There might be more in the back, but there are two on the shelf. And if you’re thoughtful, you have a sudden appreciation for the calculations that must go into maximizing that limited shelf space, especially when you don’t have nationwide market research telling you what to put where.
Yet, we went into each branch of Moody’s looking for a specific thing. Not only did we find what we wanted and buy it (a lawn sprinkler in one and a pipe snake in the other), we had friendly sales people asking us if we needed anything. They were more than happy to talk about hooks and hangers or what kind of grass will grow best in a shade-covered lawn. We weren’t fighting off some lady shrieking about what colors of petunias she wants or competing for elbow space with some contractor who wants 500 feet of flexed U-valves. It’s pretty much you and a couple of other like-minded folks who want to help you get the tool or supplies to do the job.
And they have services too. They’ll cut keys for you or mix paint, sharpen scissors or knives, rewire lamps, test batteries, replace window screens, replace the electrical cord on your iron or cut copper tubing. At the Decatur Street location they’ll cut and thread galvanized pipe. We have no idea what that means, but it’s likely to be a useful service.
Maybe while you wait for your iron to be re-corded at the McGehee Road location you can browse the gifts in the store’s “Snooty Miss Moody” collection. We bought a baker’s rack here when we first moved to Montgomery – right out from under its display of candles and pottery items – and the employees were happy to help us move the candles and load the rack into our car. One of the nice things about the McGehee Road location is that, because it’s bigger than the Decatur store, it’s got a good number of weird items in stock – a ceramic frog dressed like Santa, weird baby shoes, dented plastic containers full of cheery egg cups. Many of these are both dusty and heavily discounted.
They also have a ton of grills and grill accessories, including the strange but popular Big Green Egg line of grill products.
In an era where the locally owned hardware store is fast becoming extinct, Midtown is lucky to have both Moody’s locations. The circumstances that take you out to Big Orange or Big Blue out on the Boulevard should be few and far between. It’s worth looking at Moody’s before you leave Midtown.
Kate and Stephen are Midtown residents with a dog, a cat, a garden, an old house and a sense of adventure. They write about life in Midtown here and about life in Montgomery at their blog Lost in Montgomery.