By Sue Botos
If the brick walls and dark-stained wooden floor of Lakewood Hardware could talk, they’d have almost a century’s worth of stories to tell. They might reveal if this was the home of JW Baker Ice Cream, and if the little holes in the floor by the checkout counter once anchored soda fountain stools. They might hint at who “Tony” was, and why he signed his name to the JW Baker sign in 1939. They may even let on where that Smurfette statue came from.
“People want to buy those signs all the time, and I always say no, they’re not for sale,” said owner Glenn Palmer of the advertisements for the long-gone Lakewood treat shop. Palmer, who has owned the store for five years, said he found the signs in the basement along with ceramic figures, including the lady Smurf, and craft and hair care items, all alluding to the building’s past.
Palmer and employee Darryl Archer were welcoming customers, who were also greeting each other on a recent mild spring morning. Archer, who had worked for Ingersoll Hardware, which closed its landmark Rocky River store in January, joked, “I helped open two Ingersoll stores (in Westlake and North Olmsted) and closed all three.”
A shortage of tint for mixing paint colors during Ingersoll’s closing sale led Archer to Lakewood Hardware and conversation with Palmer. “Glenn was good enough to help out,” said Archer.
“Our conversation just grew. He asked me what my plans were, and at that time it was just being employed,” quipped Archer, who had worked for Ingersoll’s for 28 years, and managed the Westlake store for five years.
“We kind of meshed pretty well with our ideas,” continued Archer, a Fairview Park resident, referring to the concept of the “old-time” hardware store, where just about any item can be found. Also, services such as window screen repair, pipe cutting and window shade repair are offered. Even “Random Stories” can be purchased for a dollar, according to the list behind the register. Archer said that Palmer keeps prices down by buying direct, and purchases as many American and locally made products as possible.
Asked about competition from the “big box” stores, Archer replied, “We’re not in direct competition with them, but we can definitely compete. We carry products that they don’t.”
This convenience is especially important for a community like Lakewood and neighboring Rocky River, where residents often renovate older homes and want replacement parts to be as original as possible. “When you’re replacing an old door, why get a solid steel door when your windows are from days gone by?” he commented. He added that contractors also make up a good portion of the business.
The steady flow of customers on this particular day kept Archer and Palmer busy, as they purchased everything from twine and grass clippers, to a box of canning jars. Customer Bob Sikes said he has been shopping at the store for years, and especially enjoys the customer service.
Palmer, a lifelong Lakewood resident, added that many of Archer’s former Ingersoll customers have found him at Lakewood Hardware. “So many people are so happy to see him,” said Palmer, relating the stories of several customer reunions.
“I do see a lot of friendly faces from (Ingersoll’s),” said Archer.
Palmer and Archer are confident about the store’s future, even though many of the smaller neighborhood hardware stores in the area have gone. Palmer said that customers will often bring in mementos from the old stores, such as yard sticks. Even the store’s phone numbers are a type of memorabilia. He said one line was the number of the former Winton Hardware, which was just down the street from his store, and the other rang the phone at Palmer’s Market, his father’s old butcher store.
But where was the ice cream store? Palmer showed an old photo picturing the sweet shop in the storefront next door, which is now also a part of the hardware store. But that doesn’t explain the holes in the floor, or the Smurfette. The old walls will just keep those secrets.