From its creaky old floors to the rolling wooden ladder that reaches the highest shelves, nearly everything about Bedford Hardware is reminiscent of the old-fashioned hardware shops that were ubiquitous in small towns years ago.
The store has been an anchor for one of the main drags in Bedford and is one of its oldest buildings. Six generations of residents have come into the store to buy nails or shovels or other tools, and they were often on a first-name basis with employees. However, the business will come to an end next month after more than 118 years of operation.
The store closed April 18 and reopened last Wednesday for the beginning of its liquidation sale. Everything in the store will be marked down and sold off. Because of the large amount of inventory, this is expected to take a while. The store will finally close on May 23.
Owner Bill Mosely said he doesn’t want anyone to be sad about the business closing. He wants the next few weeks to be a celebration of the store’s rich history.
Mosley purchased the store in 2000 with his late wife, Elizabeth, and they restored the historic building. Their son, Jon, has been the manager since 2007. Mosley is the owner of Proprietors Group of Bedford, which manages several other regional properties, but Bedford Hardware has been a special place.
“Every day we talk to people who express their concern,” he said of the store closing. “There are signs up saying we are closing, but people are still coming to the door.”
Mosley bought the property from the Graves family, who were friends of his, because he said he liked the building. But the shop appealed to his more nostalgic senses as well. The top floor was covered with coal dust when he first bought it because that is how the building was heated. It may not have been the most up-to-date venue, but he wanted to see the hardware store stay in the community.
“Call it crazy romanticism,” he said.
Mosley has documents that show the store was open as early as 1897, a fact no one has disputed, he said. It operated as Burks-Ramsey Supply Co., which sold hardware and lots of farm and animal equipment. The name changed to Bedford Hardware in the 1940s.
Signs of the store’s 100-year history lurk all over the sprawling building. Invoices from the 1920s and ’30s are piled up in a corner of the third floor. Old tools, Winchester rifle parts and posters from decades ago are scattered about the place. In the basement, rusting parts from horse-drawn wagons sit next to air conditioning equipment and kitchen items.
An elevator, which was possibly constructed in the 1920s, is still used to move inventory from one floor to another. Each of the building’s three floors covers nearly 3,500 square feet, providing plenty of room for the Mosleys to store some of the building’s historic items that others may have seen as worthless.
The third floor also has an art galley featuring local artists. The paintings all will be returned to their owners before the store closes.
Mosley said business has not been doing well over the past few years, especially since a Lowe’s store opened up on Lynchburg Salem Turnpike in 2008.
“I try not to point my finger at them,” he said, but added that the sheer size of big box retailers is hard to compete with.
Mosley said his grieving process about closing the store is over, but it isn’t for customers.
“I hate to see a fellow independent close,” said Jim Messier, the owner of Arthur’s Jewelry, which operates down the street from Bedford Hardware. He has been coming to the store for years and said the personal service at a place like Bedford Hardware was unmatched.
“Today we end up in such a rush for what you’re going to the store for,” he said. “But when you go into the store where you know each other for decades, the first 10 minutes you’re going to talk about family.”
Saying goodbye to regular customers has been the hardest part for Mosley. He said being in the hardware business taught him a lot more about people than it did about hardware. His son, Jon, who is 33, has worked behind the counter for the past several years and said his interaction with customers is what he will miss the most, since he was the face so many of them came to recognize.
Mosley said he isn’t sure what he is going to do with the building just yet. He is entertaining ideas, he said, in hopes that he will come up with a new plan for the old building.