It’s a day gone by, a trusted time before Walmart, Best Buy and their brethren big box stores began squeezing out “the little guy.” I’m talking about a time before banks, real estate offices, chic-chic restaurants and nail salons descended seemingly en masse, dotting the store fronts along Main Street. It was a time before stores went in and out of business before they paid their second month’s rent. If you needed groceries in that day long passed, or a prescription filled, or paint for that special weekend project, Andover had just the right store.
You’d find yourself downtown on Main Street in a mom & pop establishment, a family affair that had likely been there for decades. You’d been there a thousand times before. The folks who worked there knew you - and you knew them. Heck, their family and yours likely knew one another for generations.
For those of you who have walked down Main Street for more years than you care to count, you know exactly what I mean. Close your eyes and the names of the stores come flooding back – Sutherland’s, Woolworth’s, Reinhold’s, and Elander & Swanton. Ford’s Coffee Shop welcomed you and your neighbors with hot coffee and warm conversation for 40 years and just across Main Street on Essex the Colonial Theater stood on what today is the parking lot behind Memorial Hall library.
Right here in town you could even look for a good used car on Park Street where Clark Motor Company (Chrysler-Plymouth) and J. W. Robinson’s (Dodge) held court – and there was a Ford dealer down in Shawsheen, too. These businesses, and so many others like them, were a large part of the enduring charm and character of Andover. They made our town special and unique from all others.
In our mobile age when jumping in the car and driving miles to a Home Depot seems routine, can you imagine our downtown once having no less than three hardware stores to choose from on Main Street?
Founded in Lawrence in 1945, Scanlon Hardware opened in downtown Andover in the early 1970s. Along with Hill’s Hardware, which stood in the space once occupied by Daher’s Shoes (more recently J. L. Coombs) and Cole‘s Paint & Hardware, Scanlon’s helped meet the hardware needs of Andover’s growing population.
In 1967, Cole’s opened “Andover’s newest store,” which was seven times larger than its original Andover location. Boasting an expanded hardware stock, a new gift shop and a larger toy selection, Cole’s almost literally had something for everyone. And much like their competitors, Cole’s built its success on customer service. Good service really mattered.
In a 1980 Andover Townsman article, it was said of owner Milton Cole that “if you needed a whatziz or a thingamabob more than likely Milt had it.” If he didn’t, he’d get it. If he couldn’t, you probably didn’t need it in the first place. It was the personal touch, like Mr. Cole’s, that kept customers coming back again and again and again - for decades, for generations.
The importance of helping customers was a not lost on Scanlon’s Hardware. They were so successful, in fact, that in 1984 Scanlon bought out Cole’s Paint & Hardware business and its two-story Barnard Building. The investment included renovating much of the building and restoring the front exterior to what it looked like when originally constructed in 1910. It was a big, much-talked-about event for the town.
The space that the old Cole store occupied was also expanded providing customers with a wider inventory. The acquisition of Cole’s also left Andover with but one remaining hardware store for the next six years. In September 1990, after 45 years in the hardware business, citing problems in both the retail and real estate markets, Scanlon Hardware closed its doors for the final time. Today that space is occupied by the Andover Gift Store, Bruegger’s and Starbucks among others.
The departure of Scanlon’s left a profound void in downtown. No longer could one walk up Main Street seeking that personal touch of Milt Cole or Bill Scanlon. For the first time in nearly a century, there were no hardware stores in downtown Andover. Instead, it’s now a car ride to Ace Hardware in North Andover or to the Home Depot in Methuen – and an experience that feels a lot less neighborly to many of us.
The face of Andover has changed in other ways, too. Read next week and learn about the many family-owned drug stores that have graced Main Street down through the years. More than just a place to fill a prescription or purchase sundries, like the hardware stores, they were an essential part of life in Andover.