By Emily J Weitz
Pete and Mike D’Angelo may have grown up in Southampton, but when they finished high school, they got out of their small town. They may have run through the aisles of their dad’s Sag Harbor Hardware Shop when they were kids, but they were interested in following their own paths, and taking over the family business was never something they assumed. But once they got out into that big world and pursued their respective careers, each of them came to the same conclusion: they had it too good to let it go.
In 2006, the brothers separately decided to come back to Sag Harbor and take over True Value Hardware on Main Street. So the tradition continues: it was purchased by their grandfather in 1977, and their father ran the business for about 30 years.
“This was just too good an opportunity to pass up,” says Mike.
When you walk in the front door of the hardware store, you’ll usually make eye contact with either Mike or Pete. In the busy months, they’re both there six days a week, as are the other employees.
“April, May and June are overwhelmingly busy,” explains Pete. “You’re receiving orders, stacking boxes. Lots of homeowners looking to make improvements and people trying to rent out their houses last minute are coming in.”
“It’s so busy you can barely take a lunch break,” says Mike. “And it’s not like people are just asking where to find the light bulbs. Some are, but a lot of people need help.”
It’s this help that they lend, this individualized attention, that makes a small-town Main Street business different, the brothers say. You could go in there with a broken stroller, and they’ll spend 20 minutes fixing it for you, and then charge you 50 cents for the part.
“That happens all the time,” says Mike. “It’s not about the money you earn on that one interaction. It’s about the customer’s happiness. They’ll be back for more. People come in here knowing they can ask questions or be taught something and be helped.”
When asked whether that kind of one-on-one attention was part of the business plan, the young men shake their heads.
“We never sat down and planned to be helpful,” says Pete. “We just feel we should help people when we can.”
In the spring months they find they’re doing a lot of instruction, taking time to teach people about the DIY projects they’re working on.
By August, though, things in the hardware store start to settle down.
“August is one of my favorite months,” says Pete. “They weather is nice, and we’re busy but not overwhelmingly busy.”
Mike adds that the people coming in August are a whole different kind of customer.
“In the summer you get a lot of browsers,” he says. “Almost half the people walking in are just looking. That’s when you want to have recreational stuff like boat supplies, and fishing and crabbing gear.”
This is perhaps also one of the times it’s most effective to be on Main Street. While workers looking for materials for remodeling might be willing to go out of their way to get to the hardware store, the foot traffic of August requires a convenient location.
“The only negative to being on Main Street,” says Mike, “is parking. There’s nowhere for our customers to park in this village. A lot of day trippers come here just to come, and they don’t spend a nickel. It’s nice to see people in town, but when you’re relying on customers to be able to get into your store when they need it, they need to park. Still, the list of pros of being on Main Street is endless. You can’t get a better location.”
This time of year, the hardware store is a little quieter, just like everywhere else. But since they provide essentials, the demand is more related to the actual population of the town, rather than a decreasing need for products, the brothers say.
“People need winterproofing this time of year,” says Pete. “A lot of the houses around here are old and need extra insulation. In a snow storm, people will need rock salt and shovels, but you don’t sell that stuff until the second you need it.”
Their job is knowing when the customers will need it, and having it there. That’s all part of knowing the area and knowing who their clients are. And that, they say, is the most rewarding part about running this Main Street business.
“We just really appreciate our customers,” says Mike. “It’s been fun to get to know them in the last seven years.”
Adds Pete, “It’s because we know our customers that we really care.”