University City

Hardware shop shifted by light rail

For 50 years, Faulk Brothers Hardware on North Tryon Street has served as University City’s old-fashioned hardware store.

It’s the kind of place to find anything, from parts for repairing a wobbling ceiling fan to tomato seeds for your garden, and everything in between.

Regulars and strangers alike always received a warm welcome. After a few visits, people started greeting you by name.

Like any good hardware store, Faulk Brothers dispensed good advice.

When I was looking for window fittings for our house in Autumnwood a few years ago, the Faulk Brothers clerk motioned me to follow him through a long and winding labyrinth of plumbing supplies, garden tools and bins of assorted nuts and bolts.

“Yes, sir,” he told me. “I remember when your development was built back in the ’80s, and I think we have just what you need right back here.”

Sure enough, he did.

On Nov. 11, when Faulk Brothers closed its 5744 N. Tryon St. location, it appeared that light rail construction had claimed another victim. But this family business refused to be derailed.

Instead, the owner moved to a new location at 6001 Orr Road, near its intersection with Old Concord Road, only a half-mile from the old store.

“We feel like this is what we have to do,” said Faulk Brothers owner Gerald Simpson. (His mother, he said, was a Faulk.)

“We knew as soon as we heard about the light rail that we would have to move to a new location,” he said. “We wanted to stay in the area, and we needed a place with good access and the right zoning that was big enough.”

Over the past few weeks, Faulk Brothers has transformed its new home, a neglected industrial building that formerly housed a flea market, right beside the railroad tracks.

With freshly painted walls and shiny new linoleum floors, the new store has a bright, up-to-date feel. Lawn-care equipment already is on display, and a large area in the back is set up as a shop for maintaining small engines and landscaping tools.

The store also has a good selection of sturdy Carhartt clothing. You can find signs of the old, traditional hardware store, too, including a wall devoted to nothing but bins filled with nuts, bolts and other hardware.

“We are still going to offer many of the same things as in the past,” Simpson said.

Faulk Brothers will keep making keys and will continue carry cankerworm banding supplies, window glass and screens, plumbing supplies, gardening tools and pest control products.

Renee Drummond and Andy Walker, both veteran Faulk Brothers employees, said lawn and turf supplies will become more important, as will sales and service for small engines and landscaping equipment.

The store will now carry Exmark “zero turn” riding mowers.

Faulk Brothers has also added an online presence, www.faulkbrothershardware.com, where customers can order directly from suppliers, Simpson said.

Drummond called the move and changes “bittersweet,” since Faulk Brothers will have to drop some of its traditional offerings.

For instance, gardeners will no longer be able to buy vegetable seeds at Faulk Brothers, or bulk seed for field crops such as sweet corn, watermelons and Crowder peas.

“We can still do some special orders, and people can use the website,” Simpson said. “But we can’t be everything to everybody anymore.”

Simpson said the Blue Line Extension light rail project was not the only reason the company decided to move and make changes, however. “It was several things happening, all at the same time,” he said.

The design of the light rail project posed major problems, Simpson said. Under the current design, the project makes parking and vehicle access difficult, if not impossible, at the old site.

He also expressed concerns about Tryon street’s appearance. “There will be no parking in front of the old store, no room to maneuver. How am I going to get pickups hauling trailers or box trucks in and out?” Simpson said. “And have you seen Tryon Street? It will look like Independence Boulevard. But this is North Tryon, so there will be graffiti, too.”

Differences in buyer behavior have also affected his business, Simpson said. He speaks from an unusual perspective, as a hardware store owner who has watched his University City customers’ “do-it-yourself” buying habits transform over two or three decades.

“Over the past 20 to 25 years, there has been a change in the way people behave. A lot of people don’t fix things anymore; they just throw them away and buy a new one at Ikea or some other big-box store.”

Simpson also said University City’s original urban plan was never followed. It was first envisioned as a vibrant, people-centered community in the 1960s through the 1980s, by J.M. Clay, Alfred Stuart, Doug Orr and others.

Reality turned out differently, thanks in part to insider politics. University City instead became a collection of strip malls, and Walmart left its “empty sarcophagus” behind when it moved down Tryon Street to build an even bigger store.

“It’s never been what the dream was,” Simpson said.

The latest subplot in University City’s saga involves Charlotte ex-Mayor Patrick Cannon, who was accused of accepting bribes in exchange for helping Twin Peeks strip club – on North Tryon near Faulk Brothers – minimize disruption from light rail construction.

Faulk Brothers took a different approach. According to an email news release from the company, after decades as a good corporate citizen, Faulk Brothers simply decided to move farther from the rail line.

To succeed in the new location, Simpson said, Faulk Brothers needs loyal customers. On Nov. 24, the first day of business at the new location, customers already were showing up in a steady stream as staff continued to organize.

Alan Carpenter, employed with Faulk Brothers for 32 years, calmly focused on organizing bolts, screws and other items in the wall of bins.

“There’s a lot to do; we’ve still got a lot of stuff in boxes yet,” he said.

Longtime customer Hugh Presswood has been coming to Faulk Brothers for 20 years. A landscaper who specializes in installing turf, patios and retaining walls, he first went to the old store location Nov. 24.

Presswood said he was surprised to find only a cleanup crew and quite a bit of merchandise still at the old location. Spotting a few bags of a fertilizer he was looking for, he simply loaded them onto his truck, then drove over to the new location to pay.

“Faulk Brothers is convenient,” Presswood said, “and Gerald always has given me good personal service.”

With a little luck and enough loyal customers like Presswood, Faulk Brothers might just make it for another 50 years.

  Comments