If you’ve ever had a looming do-it-yourself project, or simply needed to buy a box of batteries, a can of paint or a pack of light bulbs, it’s a near guarantee your local hardware store has come through in the clutch.
In the United States, big box hardware mega-retailers like Lowe’s and The Home Depot have an unrelenting stranglehold on the home improvement market, yet here on the East End, most hardware stores are fairly self-contained, with most in operation for 30 years or more and serving as — no pun intended — handy community fixtures firmly rooted on the South Fork’s beloved main streets. The singular quality and convenience of both product availability and hard-to-beat, knowledgeable in-person customer service make these locally run joints king. Sometimes you just can’t wait on Amazon — and isn’t it nice to have a friendly face-to-face conversation?
Most, if not all, of these South Fork hardware stores have been family-run for generations with sons and daughters seamlessly picking up where their parents and grandparents left off. They make it look easy, deftly navigating stores that are stocked to the brim from floor to ceiling and guiding you to within inches of what you’re looking for. Relationships are formed, the trust is palpable. They really are here to help.
A family affair
Established in 1865, Herrick Hardware (41 Main St., Southampton, 631-283-0026) is one of the oldest family-owned hardware stores in the nation. Owned and operated by a member of the Herrick clan since 1869 — when Henry Foster Herrick originally purchased the building — the venerable business is a Southampton Village institution. From its post-Civil War beginnings, the locale became an agrarian mecca, providing residents with essential farming supplies and dry goods. Tightly holding a permanent, integral place within the heart of the community ever since, the hardware folks at Herrick consistently adapt the already ample inventory to better serve year-round residents, as well as second-home owners, vacationers and everyone in between.
“We’ve obviously shifted from farming to be a hardware and home improvement store,” says Herrick’s manager Stefan Grigoras. “Everything from eco-friendly cleaning supplies to outdoor furniture, to light bulbs. We really have anything you could possibly think of.” Herrick’s is open every day, year-round and Grigoras and his staff of about 10 (more in the summer months) have become well-versed in the at-home needs of their customers, always ahead of the curve in anticipating what will be in demand.
Among the Herrick team’s specialties, most notably, is their expertise in servicing outdoor charcoal or gas grills. “We want to give our customers the best option and the best experience possible,” Grigoras says of his team’s special skill set. “But at the same time, we want to be honest about whether or not they need to buy a new one.”
According to Grigoras, Herrick’s year-round clientele hails from as far east as Montauk to well across the Shinnecock Canal into East Quogue, noting a surge of second-home owners requiring their services in recent years. “We really try to be here for everyone,” he says. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from.”
Worth the trip
Founded in the early 1980s, the aptly named multi-level Emporium Hardware (72 Main St., Sag Harbor, 631-725-0103) attracts folks from across the East End to shop at the plentifully packed store.
After a fire claimed the original building in 1994, the Emporium came back to be bigger and better than ever. Today, co-owners and brothers Mike and Pete D’Angelo helm one of the biggest hardware store operations around, offering everything from holiday decorations and vacuum repair to specialty hardware for turn-of-century wooden shutters and fishing gear. Navigating this monster of a store is no small feat, and the staff does it effortlessly, immediately putting even the most nervous do-it-yourselfers at ease.
Upon stepping through the front doors, customers are greeted by a full line of Carhartt clothing and accessories to the left, while shelves stuffed with small kitchen appliances and housewares line the space on the right. Just ahead are two sets of stairs, one leading down to the outdoor section, chockablock with birdfeeders, bags of topsoil and garden hoses, and the other leading up to their paint station.
“I usually go here because I know the stores near me won’t have what I need,” says East Hampton Village resident Kait Kelly. “It’s a little bit of a trek, but I make out better in the long run. It’d be pretty rough for me if they weren’t here.”
For David Gurney and Meredith Page, third-generation owners of Shelter Island Hardware (4 Grand Ave., Shelter Island Heights, 631-749-0097), hardware business on the Rock is in their blood. Perched at the corner of Grand and Auburn avenues is the same three-story late 1920s building originally purchased by their grandparents in the 1950s. With the building’s first floor operating as a hardware store ever since, Gurney and Page, a brother and sister duo, took the business over from their parents about 15 years ago, carrying on their family’s trade tradition.
Gurney began working there when he was 13, and to this day continues to offer high quality goods and services, like Benjamin Moore paint, glass cutting, plumbing and electrical supplies and key fob programming. “We’re here to make it easier,” Gurney says. “You really kind of have to be handy to work in a hardware store.”
Outside, a neat row of blue and red wheel barrels is juxtaposed with a short line of classic black Weber charcoal grills. Inside the tightly packed store are multiple racks containing countless flower and vegetable seed packets, shoulder-high displays of multi-colored Yeti coolers and water bottles, rainbow-striped nylon beach chairs, different sized windchimes, bundles of tiki torches and boxed portable fire pits. Ever the utilitarian business owners, Gurney and Page offer deliveries across the island and are one of the few spots offering a propane tank exchange program.
“We try to keep the island going,” he says.
They got what you need, and then some
When asked about his favorite local hardware haunt, 45-year Hampton Bays resident Dennis Maguire’s unhesitant, deadpan reply was: “Shinnecock Hardware (91 W. Montauk Hwy., Hampton Bays, 631-728-4602). Tom Maloney, great guy.” Maloney has owned his brick-and-mortar store for decades, continuing to serve residents west of the Shinnecock Canal, an objective at which he’s well succeeded. Along with the expertise of manager Dana O’Sullivan and a small, tightly knit and super professional staff, this no-frills home-improvement retailer provides the essentials for residents and visitors alike.
The staff is on a first-name basis with tens of dozens of faithful customers, providing a level of comfort and trust that cannot be found at neighboring commercial competitors. Services include knife sharpening and screen repair, and the products range from every sort of gardening seed, soil and supply to Oakley sunglasses and air mattresses.
Everything at the End
Open since 1973, Montauk’s mighty Becker Home Center (775 Montauk Hwy., Montauk, 631-668-2368) is the only game in town. “The key is to always be thinking two months ahead,” says owner Rich Becker of keeping his store practical and well supplied. And he does: If Home Goods, Lowe’s and an old-school drugstore store had a really cute, really smart baby, it would be Becker.
He and his brother took over the business from their parents in the mid-1980s, and Becker, a former tile contractor, took on solo ownership about eight years ago, moving the business to its present location in about 1984. Of course, they’ve got you covered for those homeowner essentials, offering nearly every nut and bolt you could imagine, window screen repair, power tools, snow shovels and cleaning supplies in abundance.
Becker prides himself on building strong relationships with local plumbers, electricians and contractors over the years, noting “we have it all,” when it comes to the non-stop, year-round needs of the myriad tradespeople who patronize his store. “I don’t want to pat myself on the back or anything, but the town would be in pretty tough shape if I closed,” he says.
More recently, the 50-year-old Montauk locale has grown to offer so much more, truly encapsulating the one-stop-shopping experience that’s hard to find throughout the hamlet. According to Becker, their inventory has grown to include everything from party decorations, linens and paper goods to candles, lotions and handmade soaps. Less than four years ago, just before the pandemic hit, Becker expanded his business into a space next door that used to house a commercial printing shop.
“That’s when I reorganized and was really able to include more things like the pool supplies, patio stuff, picnic tables. We even have Vera Bradley handbags, but that’s because of my wife,” he laughs