True Value to the Village
By Anita Messina
1960. Rudolph Schasel was mayor of a canal village with lingering prosperity developed during the energetic days of the great Erie Canal waterway. Here and there small bruises began, not terribly noticeable because, as Stella Pokrzywa said, the village was so lovely with its beautifully kept houses, groomed yards, and tree-lined streets. She remembers the Warren’s home on Main Street, and the Hoffman’s home. Mr. and Mrs. Hoffman owned the butcher shop next to the hardware store. Stella reminisced about the Gates who also lived on Main Street and Mabel Clark. She also recalls, not far from the tow path, Mary Ann Johnson’s pretty home that was painted aqua. And Stella knows “pretty.” She was a fashion designer in a Manhattan haute couture shop where she was hired as soon as she graduated from Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Every summer, she and her brother Walter, coordinated their summer vacations, leaving their bustling city life to spend quiet time with family at their mom’s home in Seneca Falls. Walter was also a designer – a tool designer. He worked in Chicago.
Main Street stores were beginning to show signs of decline. One such was Carr’s Hardware. Mr. Carr had died, and his son inherited the store. But his son, a Syracuse University graduate, had other opportunities in mind, and they had nothing to do with hardware. The store limped along for a while and then was put on the market. Stella and Walter’s Uncle John watched the fading store and imagined it could be a fine business asset to the village. He persuaded his citified niece and nephew to come and take a look at it.
It didn’t take Walter long to see the potential. Stella agreed. Besides it would be good to be back home near their “Ma,” widowed and single-handedly operating her busy grocery store in Seneca Falls.
In the early years of a new ownership the hardware store did well, basking, as it did, in the lingering prosperity, supported by venerable early families who continued to live in their stately Main Street homes. In 1989 Stella and Walter recruited their nephew, John, to tend the store. John had studied history and accounting at St. Bonaventure University so he was well prepared to manage a store in a historic village.
John said True Value used to be more of a general store. “We even carried toys, but young people moved away.” Then in the late ‘80s people were introduced to a new concept in retailing, the Big Box store. The first one was in Michigan. Shoppers liked the convenience and the lower prices. Big Box stores spread as rapidly as the common cold. “So now we have to compete with Home Depot and Lowe’s.” John is philosophical. “Things change. That’s the way it goes.” He still stocks a solid line of plumbing and electrical supplies, paints, cleaning supplies. Villagers shop there because it’s a quick local visit, it’s convenient, with no parking problems, and they know they can rely on honest service.
Meanwhile, True Value serves an important historical purpose as an anchor for the 1960 Masonic Building. The Masons’ meeting room was on the third floor. The second floor held a theater for stage shows and a dance floor for tripping the light fantastic, as people did back then. The upper floors are dark and dusty now, but lively echoes are still heard.
John said in the early years, his uncle, Walter, let the post office rent space in the front corner of the building. The post office paid $100 a month. A door on the south side of the building -- bricked in but still obviously a door at one tune -- is where the mail was carried in to be sorted for the carriers to deliver. Before the post office, John said, the corner section held Bob Blake’s drugstore.
The hardware store is now a landmark, custodian of Port Byron’s history and protector of the building where gavels once kept order on the first floor and heels clicked to the rhythm of the polka from Bohemia. Oh, the memories that old brick building could tell!