Jim Krill, owner of Sarasota Hardware & Paint Co., greets customers by their first names as they shuffle into his blast-from-the-past hardware store, which now sits nearly empty after extensive going-out-of-business sales.
“Thanks for coming in,” he says to one customer, who is rummaging through a bucket of nails. “Nice to see you. Not much left, is there?”
After three generations of family ownership and 78 years of providing hardware and construction supplies to contractors, casual hobbyists and everyone in between, the Main Street storefront and downtown fixture is closing up shop for good.
After the economic downturn in 2007, Krill says the slowing construction industry took a noticeable toll on his business, and, rather than sell the store, he decided to close it and rent out the building. For the third-generation owner of the family business, the choice not to sell was an easy one.
“We had something kind of unique,” he says. “There’s a big risk to have somebody take over and have your name on it.”
So, rather than take the risk, Krill decided to close the store and take the legacy with him.
“It’s a little spooky,” says Krill, surveying the shop’s barren walls.
Krill, who stepped in as owner in 1979, has spent the last 30 years furthering the legacy of the iconic store, which was established by his wife’s grandmother in 1934.
When Krill took over, he says the store basically shared customers with a neighboring hardware store, which was located behind them until it closed, and Sarasota Hardware has remained the only store of its kind since.
Over the years, the store earned its place as an icon in the community by maintaining its niche as a dying breed of mom-and-pop operations with an emphasis on customer service.
Regular customer Steve McAllister says the store’s customer service has been key to its longevity, and as more businesses like this disappear, he says Sarasota is losing some of its small-town charm.
“I think we’re losing a little bit of our Mayberry quality,” he says. “It’s a very quaint, small-town thing. Things change. We’ll see what comes next, but we just appreciate what we’ve got, while we have it.”
Another thing that’s kept customers loyal over the years is the store’s retro feel — its interior appears to have remained relatively untouched since Krill took over in the late 1970s. A vintage soda machine, an antique cash register and hand-written receipts all contribute to the store’s charm and nostalgic feel.
“It wasn’t something that we ever really thought about,” says Krill. “We didn’t really think about the fact that we were doing anything differently than anyone else. It was just the way it was when I started, and it worked, so we didn’t try to fix it. We looked at updating things a few times, but I always thought, ‘We’re not a boutique — we’re a hardware store.’”
After the store officially closes Nov. 16, Krill and his wife plan to retire to North Carolina, and he plans to spend more time with his grandson and daughter and even find some time to pursue some of his former hobbies, mainly horseback riding and camping.
“Retirement’s a little bit scary,” he says. “But, my wife did it a few years ago, and she survived, so I think I’ll be fine.”
As for the future of downtown businesses, Krill says the closure of his store, and other iconic businesses, reflects a general shift in the local business climate.
“Change is coming to Main Street, and change isn’t necessarily bad; it’s just different,” he says. “People want downtown to be more of a walking downtown, and that’s going to attract different kinds of businesses. Someone will come along and fill the shoes, but it’s not going to be the same.”
LTM Memories Party Store moving locations
As Wal-Mart Stores Inc. moves ahead with plans to open a supercenter in the Ringling Shopping Center, its remaining tenants will be displaced as the center is demolished. With its closing, Lifetime Memories Party Store (LTM) will move east to a new location at 5451 Fruitville Road., taking with it 22 years of memories.
Co-owner Tom Ritchie says he has mixed feelings about the store’s relocation. On one hand, he’s happy to have a new store, which many of his customers say is closer to them, but on the other hand, he says it will never be the same as the store in which he’s seen his customers’ children grow up and return with their own children.
“We’ve become kind of an institution in Sarasota,” says Ritchie. “We’ve always had a commitment to customer service, and we’ve had a longtime staff. You don’t see that kind of thing very often anymore.”
Ritchie says the store, once considered the largest party store in the country under one roof, carved its niche as the area’s best balloon-and-wedding party supplier. But, like many area businesses, the economy’s downturn had a negative impact on the store. According to Ritchie, when the economy is down, people are less likely to throw parties. And with the plaza dying and the store’s lease up, Ritchie says he knew it was time to close.
The store is set to close at the end of November. Ritchie says he’ll miss the relationships he’s formed with all his new and regular customers.
“Our customers have celebrated their lifetime memories with us,” says Ritchie. “And so have we. We’re going to leave behind a lot of good memories.”