Randy Nally locked the front door to the Oakdale Ace Hardware on a Saturday afternoon this month, capping the store’s 60-year history in the Smyrna community.
It was a tender moment for Nally, his sister, Rosemary Hardage, and a handful of employees who were also good friends. They stood quietly on the wooden porch and watched as he turned the key.
“Our daddy, Jack Nally, started this store 60 years ago,” Nally said. “Oakdale was a thriving community back then. We had a grocery, store, a taxi, four service stations, a drug store and pizza joints. It was a small community and we all pretty much knew each other.”
That was years before construction of Interstate 285 began changing life in Smyrna, he said.
NUTS AND BOLTSNally was 8 when his parents opened the store along with two uncles. He remembers sweeping floors with his cousins and taking trash to a bin behind the store.
“I did all my playing out back behind the store back then. Daddy had me helping customers as soon as I was able. I had to learn where everything was – all those bins of nuts and bolts and plumbing parts. It was a good, honest business to grow up in,” he said.
Nally’s sister, whom he affectionately calls “Rosie,” was a sophomore in high school when the business opened, but didn’t work in the family business until her children were enrolled in the Fitzhugh Lee grammar school across the street from the store.
“I started part-time, helping mother with the books, and I worked on the floor some. We had uncles and aunts and cousins working there too, and as the family grew, we purchased other hardware businesses in Marietta and Smyrna,” she said.
Nally said the hardware store was the center of this community, “along with the elementary school where everyone voted, the fire station and the library. If you wanted to know anything political or what was going on in the county, you came here, especially in those days.”
Mother did the books, and it was very old school,” he continued. “Daddy loved people and helping people when they came in with their household problems. He loved helping them piece together everything, sometimes laying out parts on the floor to show them how they went together. We were always closed on Sunday, but there were many times a customer would call him at home with a problem, and Daddy would meet them down at the store.”
Hardage said her parents ran the store well into their 80s.
“Daddy would sit out on the porch swing until he was 90. He was our greeter. Daddy just loved being out there talking to people,” she said.
Both Jack and Mary Nally died in 1995, leaving the store to Randy and Rosemary.
‘THERE WILL ALWAYS BE A NEED’In the age of big-box stores like Lowe’s and The Home Depot, there will always be a need for smaller hardware stores like Nally’s business, according to the founder of one of those chains, Nally said.
“What’s missing in the big stores is the personal touch. We heard it every day,” Nally said. He recalled a convention of Ace Hardware store owners several years ago: “Bernie Marcus, who started the Home Depot chain, was the guest speaker. He said, ‘I know y’all are wondering why I’m here, but I want to tell you one thing: What Home Depot does, y’all can’t do. But what y’all do, Home Depot can’t do. It’s that personal touch, that one-on-one with the customer. ... There will always be a need for both places — the big-box stores and the community hardware.’
“I totally believe that is the biggest difference,” Nally said. “As long as you take care of your customer, they’ll come back.”
Hardage said she usually answered the phone.
“We got a lot of little old ladies calling and asking for something, and before I knew it, they had given me their whole life stories. They were lonesome and they want to talk. So, I listened. That’s building community, and using wrenches and bolts and wingnuts to do it,” she said, smiling.
Nally said the family is proud of the “hundreds of young men who started their first jobs here. They learned valuable people skills, and nearly all of them went on to great careers, with respectfulness to others.”
Jim Harper, 66, grew up in the area, and remembers selling ads to the hardware store in 1971 for his school newspaper.
“Jack Nally brought a strong sense of American values he learned during the Depression years. He made a point of hiring people who were down on their luck and needed a job,” Harper said. “This store held the community together for all these years,” he said.
“It’s the last surviving remnant of what we all knew as the Oakdale village, and it was almost like a Norman Rockwell scene back then,” Harper added.
Randy Nally usually opened his store at 7 a.m. and tried to close by 6 p.m.
“But there were many times I stayed late to help a customer solve a problem. That’s what I’m going to miss the most —the people. But I’m going to try this retirement thing,” he said.
The store is closing because of all the development that’s going on in the area. A medical office will be built where hardware store is now. The school closed several years ago.
“The neighborhood isn’t what it was years ago,” Nally said. “The field where everybody played baseball is gone. The school, and the area are filling with expensive townhomes. A multi-story medical office will eventually be built on this land,” he said.
“Closing our store was bittersweet, but it’s the natural progression of things. Oakdale is now all grown up.”