The Old Hardware Store

Creative writing submission from the Rest Less community – submit your entry here.

Tucked away down a side alley in a sleepy rural town near where I lived in France, there was a small hardware emporium of the old-fashioned kind. Stock was displayed apparently randomly from floor to ceiling, with garden implements, tools, pots and pans and all manner of domestic paraphernalia jostling for space on the ancient wooden shelves. If you are British and of a certain age, you may know exactly what sort of retail store I mean. The shop has a French name of course, but the Brits who lived nearby affectionately called it “The Olde Shoppe”. I made my way there one day to buy a mousetrap.

The front door is half glazed and opens inwards to the melodic clang of a small bell fixed to the door frame. Presumably, its purpose is to summon an attendant from the depths of the stockroom, but one can never be sure, since the normal response time is anywhere between two and five minutes when the place is empty. That isn’t often the case, but it would be quite long enough to allow a dishonest person to make off with items of displayed stock without paying. However such an event would have been unthinkable in that part of France. The natives were naively, wonderfully, honest.

There are of course no security cameras, nor any labour-saving device of any kind that could be dated after the nineteen-fifties. The cash tray is a wooden drawer placed below the counter. My particular favourite is the price list; a distressed ring binder fixed to a slope on top of the counter. I’m guessing that there must be over a hundred separate pages, each within its own plastic sleeve.

Every single item has its price. And every item purchased is price-checked by Madame herself or by her husband, every time. It can be a time-consuming process, especially if one is in a queue of customers, patiently waiting to be served. In this shop, queuing is the norm whilst Monsieur or Madame discusses all manner of issues with the customer in front. The interaction between owner and customer is more highly valued it seems, than time.

But hey, relax. That’s France. Where else would I have been gifted the time and attention to debate the efficacy of the types of bait that could be used to load the mouse trap? And where else could I have learned that mouse traps should be baited with chocolate, not cheese?

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6 thoughts on “The Old Hardware Store

  1. Avatar
    Chris Calder on Reply

    Delighted that you are sharing this with the members. I do miss France a bit, but in Rest Less have found a lively community I can empathise with and I look forward to getting more involved.

  2. Avatar
    Alan Digweed on Reply

    There’s a similar shop in Bromyard herefordshire or at least there was a few years ago. You could buy individual bolts and screws but most importantly it had that lovely smell of paraffin and machine oil. I think the paraffin must have been spilt on the floor on many occasions but its a truly wonderful aroma. The owner was very knowledgeable about DIY and could always offer words of advice.

    It took me back to my childhood. We had a similar shop near the family home selling all sorts and Aladdin Pink Paraffin. There were rows and rows of drawers all labelled with the contents they held.

    It’s a shame that such places have gone, wiped out by the behemoth superstores

  3. Avatar
    Hilary on Reply

    What a lovely, atmospheric piece of writing. I could picture it so clearly, and loved the description of the price list. I wonder- if Ronnie Barker had been French, would he have been the Monsieur, running this emporium?

  4. Avatar
    Fay Francis on Reply

    I enjoyed reading this and could picture being in ‘old shoppe’ reminds me of old fashioned shops in and around the town I lived in back in the 70’s.

  5. Avatar
    Sharon B on Reply

    Our old hardware store in the village is now a barber’s shop. The one in the next village has just closed and yet we all used it.
    We have a 20 mile round trip now for such things…
    If we want to keep our shops – we have to use them..
    Lovely evocative piece.
    Thanks for the memories.
    Sx

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