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Three Small St. Louis Hardware Stores On Keeping Up (And Keeping Open)

There's been a buzz in the St. Louis hardware store community that one of their own could be closing.

Hanneke Hardware & Industrial Supply Co., a longtime business in The Hill neighborhood, is considering closing its retail business. Opened in 1927 by Carl Hanneke Sr., the store has exchanged hands in recent years and was bought by Christine Kantis and Michael Grewe in 2011. Right now the owners are considering their options. An assistant told St. Louis Public Radio they'll know more next week.

One thing is for certain, there are not many remaining independent hardware stores in St. Louis; those places where you could get a key cut or find the thingamajig you need for a special project. So, St. Louis Public Radio's Maria Altman visited three longtime, family-owned hardware stores to get their thoughts on the staying power of the area's hardware stores.

Marx Hardware & Paint Co.

Steve Marx, along with his brother Andy, runs Marx Hardware & Paint Co. in the Old North neighborhood.
Credit Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio
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Steve Marx, along with his brother Andy, runs Marx Hardware & Paint Co. in the Old North neighborhood.

  • Established: 1875 by Frederick Marx
  • Location: 2501 N. 14th St., Old North neighborhood
  • Current owners: Brothers Steve and Andy Marx, great-great-grandsons of founder
  • Clientele: Mostly residential customers

There’s no arguing this hardware store is the oldest in the city.
"I would say probably the oldest family-operated retail business in the city of St. Louis," said Steve Marx.

Walking into Marx Hardware & Paint Co. feels a bit like taking a trip into the past with its hardwood floors, hand-painted signs and a wood-burning stove that keeps the place warm. The brothers have kept a lot of things from bygone days, including an old plaque for the St. Louis Hardware Retailers Association, a group that no longer exists.

"Hardware stores were like bakeries, barbershops — every few blocks there was one and a tavern in every corner and everybody made a living in this town," Marx said. "It’s so difficult to see the change."

Marx is not optimistic about handing the store down to the next generation. He said a smaller population in the Old North neighborhood and the "acres of nothing," including empty lots across from the store, mean Marx Hardware will likely close when he and his brother retire.

Rathbone Hardware

Vera Heberer and her son, Donald, run Rathbone Hardware, a business her grandfather established in 1904.
Credit Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio
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Vera Heberer and her son, Donald, run Rathbone Hardware, a business her grandfather established in 1904.

  • Established: 1904 by John Rathbone
  • Location: 7625 S. Broadway, Carondolet neighborhood
  • Current owner: Vera Heberer, granddaughter of founder
  • Clientele: 75 percent industrial, 25 percent residential

Vera Heberer clearly enjoys the hardware business, which is lucky since she was born into it.
"To be honest, my mother brought me into the business in a wash basket. That’s how young I was," she said with a laugh.

The business was passed from Heberer's grandfather to her dad, then to her husband, Donald Ray. When her husband died, Heberer took over the reins and now works alongside her son, Donald.

Her favorite part of the work is dealing with customers.

"If they come in with a problem they don’t know what they need. But they’ll move their hands around and say funny things, and we’ll know what they need," she said.

Heberer and her son have seen the neighborhood in far south St. Louis change over the years. There are more renters today and fewer people walking into the store off the street. Still, big box stores haven’t affected Rathbone Hardware too much, Heberer said.

"We have the product at a reasonable price and we’re friendly, and things like that mean a lot to the person who comes in," she said.

New Market Hardware

Steve Schneider is the fourth-generation owner of New Market Hardware, which has been in the Central West End since 1914.
Credit Maria Altman | St. Louis Public Radio
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Steve Schneider is the fourth-generation owner of New Market Hardware, which has been in the Central West End since 1914.

  • Established: 1914, Doogan brothers, 1924 bought by Oscar Brand
  • Location: 4064 Laclede Ave., Central West End neighborhood
  • Current Owner: Steve Schneider, great-grandnephew of Brand
  • Clientele: 85 percent commercial, 15 percent residential

New Market Hardware took its name from a produce stall that once stood across the street. The market was "new" because it opened after Soulard Market. Steve Schneider and his family have seen the neighborhood change a lot over the years.
"Like many St. Louis areas, it had a period of decline. But in the past five to 10 years there’s been a rapid resurgence," Schneider said.

The walk-in business has picked up a lot as a result.

"Some days we may cut 200 keys. It’s pretty crazy," said Manager Todd Lucks, who’s worked at the store for 13 years.

Lucks is working to modernize New Market Hardware without killing its charm. Gone are the days of things hanging from the ceiling. The Civil War-era table saw has been sold. But, he said, the store has an a big array of products tucked away.

"It’s pretty amazing what we have," Lucks said. "And [the stuff] we may not have, we can get."

Follow Maria on Twitter: @radioaltman

Maria is the newscast, business and education editor for St. Louis Public Radio.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.