I will bet that most seniors, at least the men, can remember going into their local hardware store as a kid and being amazed at how the “clutter” was really organized to the point that the hardware merchant knew exactly where the “widget” your father was looking for could be found. “Why, it’s behind that thig-a-ma-jig over there, three layers down.” At least, that is my recollection as a kid when I accompanied my father into our town hardware store. I also recall that the store owner knew my fathers name, a testimony to the frequency with which he shopped there. Yes, my father was considered a Mr. Fix-it. Our small store was actually two floors, where both floors were at street level. (Think about that one!) Different parallel streets – hill – get it?
Those were the days before peg-boards and more contemporary merchandising. As I recall, it was all tables, bins and shelves. Unless you knew where the general category – like plumbing stuff – was located, you would not find what you needed without store help.
Hardware stores today have evolved into general merchandise stores, carrying everything from snack foods, kitchen ware and, yes – hardware. And our stores are now much, much larger in order to accommodate not only the variety of merchandise but the many options of a given article to choose from. Take screws for instance; do you want slotted, philips, square, or star drive? Different uses, different lengths and different thread sizes add to the choices. The hardware business today is so much more complex than yesteryear. Ask anyone at our local Delta Hardware store!
It’s like buying breakfast cereal. When I was a kid, the choices were Wheaties, Corn Flakes, Bran Flakes, Shredded Wheat (the large biscuits), and a few others. Now, you have to choose your cereal with or without fruit, sugar, raisins, flake size, and perhaps a dozen other combinations. Somewhere in the box, there is actually the cereal. What a nightmare for the cereal manufacturers, as well as the cereal buyers!
In 1893, W. Ray Simpson was a hardware merchant, whose store on Delta’sMain Streetwas across the street from the bank robbed by the McCarty gang. He was in the right place at the right time when those two gun shots rang out indicating trouble in the bank. His store sold guns and ammunition, items most hardware stores do not carry these days. But Ray Simpson’s story did not end there.
In 1899, W. Ray Simpson, with his two daughters, his pregnant wife, and aging father, moved toBattle Creek,Michigan.Battle Creekwas home to the Sanitarium Health Food Company, run by the Kellog Brothers. A man named C.W. Post also worked there. The move toBattle Creekwas quite intentional, as the Sanitarium just mentioned was considered the finest Seventh Day Adventist hospital in the country, and devout Adventist Mary Simpson was expecting a difficult delivery. Ray Simpson was hired as the Manager of the health food facility, where the Kellogs were developing breakfast cereals like corn flakes and bran flakes. Now do you see the connection between this hardware merchant and breakfast cereal?
The Kellog and Post breakfast cereal companies have flourished ever since. The Sanitarium Health Food Company atBattle Creek, which then covered an entire city block, burned to the ground in 1902. Simpson’s wife and father had died in 1900, within a week of each other. After the fire in 1902, Simpson moved with his family (now three girls) toCalifornia, where he continued to accomplish great things. I’ll tell the rest of story another day.
Director, Delta County Historical Society and Museum