Nearly 20 years later, the Hulls are hanging up their hammers
The valley’s hardware market will be down one store come May 15.When Jim and Sharon Hull call it quits after 18 years, the valley’s homeowners and renters, especially those who are challenged by the average do-it-yourself project, will be down a lot more than that. Certainly good advice and friendly help are available at most of the remaining stores in the valley, but it’s unlikely the owner will be there to help find the tools or parts you need and then show you how to use them.Even as the shelves in their large store on Highway 133 in Carbondale empty out, Jim continues to spend the bulk of his time each day helping people figure things out. “When someone walks into the store, they usually have a problem and are looking for a solution,” he said. “I love helping people solve problems.”Since 1985, Jim and Sharon have operated their store under two corporate banners – True Value and Do It Best – at three different locations, all in Carbondale.They started as a True Value store in the location on Carbondale’s Main Street currently occupied by Ajax Bike & Sports. Most of their time in business was spent in the same building as City Market at the corner of Main Street and Highway 133. Their current operation, J&S Do It Best Hardware, is located about three blocks up Highway 133 from City Market.The Hulls’ decision to close cuts the number of standard retail hardware stores in the Roaring Fork Valley to four, with Ace stores in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale and a True Value store in Glenwood Springs. There are, however, a number of other locales to get hardware that don’t exactly fit the hardware-store mold, including BMC West’s lumberyards in Aspen and Glenwood, the Coop in Carbondale and the Miner’s Building in Aspen.Jim and Sharon both say the decision to close was difficult from an emotional standpoint, but not from a financial standpoint. Revenues were down about 25 percent last year. “You can’t lose that much revenue and stay in business,” Jim said. He thinks the drop is the result of a number of factors, including 9-11, the recession and ongoing doldrums in the economy, and the decision to switch corporate affiliation from True Value to Do It Best.”Once we went to Do It Best, it seems our identity went away,” Sharon said. “For whatever reason, people thought it was an independent hardware store – and people believe independent stores can’t compete.”Jim says the drop-off in customers was almost immediate.The majority of the store’s five employees will be out of jobs come mid-May, although a few plan to stick with the Hulls at the rental center, which will remain open in its current location immediately behind the hardware store. The J&S Rental Center offers everything from snowblowers to tile cutters to miter saws and cots and mattresses. It also has a small inventory of supplies and tools for sale. And Jim will still be around to show people how it all works.”I never held a job for more than five years – until I got into the hardware business,” Jim said.When Jim and Sharon married in the early 1980s in Denver, both for the second time, they started looking for a business they could operate together. Then one weekend Sharon took off for a trip to Redstone with a friend. Jim remembers her calling him to say, “I don’t know what we’ll do, but I found a place to do it.”The Hulls bought the Coast-to-Coast Hardware store in downtown Glenwood, which was going out of business, rented the 1,700-square-foot space on Main Street in Carbondale and went into business as a True Value store. They used the merchandise leftover from Glenwood to fill the shelves in their new Carbondale store.”We didn’t know anything,” Jim remembers. “Lucky for us, we were able to work and learn in that small space for a few months.” What they learned – ordering, shipping, merchandising, retail bookkeeping – kept them in business for the next 18 years. And given the fact that the parking lot in front of their store is full these days, it’s clear that they built up a loyal customer base over the years.”The hardest things is giving up my loyal, loyal customers,” Sharon said. “I won’t get to see them on a regular basis anymore.”
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