In Myers Park, last days for a store like no other

When Myers Park Hardware closes, the sky over Charlotte will drain to a paler blue.

For in a city that's sprawling to the edges of nowhere, Myers Park True Value Hardware – on Providence Road at Queens – was my small-town downtown.

Its aisles, my streets; its old-fashioned, down-home service my way station.

Myers Park Hardware and its garden shop was the carrot after the stick of shopping next door at the Harris-Teeter Express.

To say nothing of the post office at the back of the store, with its high wooden desk, the bulletin board with its array of lost keys and sunglasses. Frankly, for me, a letter or package not posted at the hardware post office, simply wasn't posted at all.

“It may be a reasonable decision to close,” says Nancy Robinson, who with her husband, T.R., has been running the store for years. But emotionally, she says, “I'm a basket case.”

The Robinsons are co-owners with Nancy's brother Hugh Huntington, who lives north of Asheville. Nancy and Hugh are the children of Josephine Huntington, who owned the store until her death at age 88 in 2005.

Would the store be closing if Jo Huntington were still alive?

Uh-uh. For it was her world, says son Hugh.

The land on which the hardware store and adjoining shopping center sit has been in the family for generations. Jo Huntington's mother, Eulalia Huntley Hackney, owned all the pie-shaped parcel encompassed by what is now the right side of Huntley Place, Cherokee Road and Providence Road. Once a farm with a lone house, ownership dates at least to the 1890s.

Jo Huntington inherited the land, and in 1947, Huntington's husband, J.B., opened Myers Park Hardware. The store eventually expanded both to the left and, later, to the right, knocking down the Exxon station, once Queens Esso.

“We've joked that maybe someone would sponsor a statue of Mother in front of the hardware store,” says Hugh, referring to the bronze likeness of the legendary, rhyming Hugh McManaway across the street in the median along Queens Road.

For like McManaway, Jo Huntington was indeed a character.

“She had a memory like an elephant,” says Hugh. “She knew every customer, and she knew who their parents were, and who their grandparents were, and where they were living now.”

So involved was Jo Huntington in the lives of her customers, Hugh says she also knew “every ulcer and appendix” that walked through the door.

But her strength, he says, was her stubbornness.

The funeral – I mean sale – begins Wednesday at 8 a.m. Merchandise will start at20 percent off, and Hugh thinks the store will deplete its stock in 10-12 weeks. The post office will remain open at least until the store closes.

In a month of stock plunges, layoffs and bailouts, of train collisions and plane crashes, of presidential debates and uncertainty at every level, the closing of an old-fashioned hardware store in the heart of Myers Park is really only a dot in the grand scheme.

But where else in town can you walk out the door with a paint brush and a fern? With sand paper and a greeting card and a sack of star gazer lily bulbs?

Where else does an employee share with a customer her favorite perfume from Ireland or make certain the customer's granddaughter doesn't get a broken stick of candy?

Nowhere. Nowhere else on earth.