By: Robin Ford Wallace, Reporter
confirmed last week that his venerable family hardware store will relocate from
the Trenton town square to a site south of town cleared by the tornados of
2011. ETA is March or April, he said.
But now that
it’s official Case Hardware is leaving the square, there is some ambiguity
about how long it has been there.
in his history essay on the store’s website, www.caseacehardware.com, gives the
date as 1904. That’s when his great-grandfather incorporated the eponymous John
L. Case Company for the store he then operated on the square.
business was not a hardware but a general store, wrote Larry Case, with
merchandise suitable for the period and a sign out front describing it: Hats,
Caps, Boots, Shoes, Drygoods and Groceries.
documented history, and the Case family has faded photographs to prove it, as
well as old advertising that proclaims, “Since 1904.”
“But the locals
say it was here before that,” said Louise Case, Larry’s wife.
she said, the store is said to have stood where it stands since at least the
1880s. “One fellow in particular told us that his mom and dad were married at
the courthouse, they came across the street to the hardware store, and Mr.
Case, which was Larry’s great-great granddad, gave them a family Bible,” she
said. “He said they married in like 1868 or 1878.”
Be that as it
may, Larry Case is able to account for the 20th century under his own steam.
Among the five children raised by John. L. Case was James C. Case, Larry’s
grandfather and the next proprietor. In James C.’s tenure, the business evolved
into a grocery store with wooden floors that Larry Case remembers sweeping as
part of his boyhood duties.
after World War II, James C.’s son and Larry’s father, James M. Case, opened a
business upstairs from the main store with his cousin, John Tatum. Tatum &
Case Radio & Electric, wrote Larry Case, was a radio repair and general
house wiring business, which eventually grew into a general hardware and
building supply store. Times were hard, and the partners branched out into
building houses as well as wiring and plumbing them.
building had been added onto and altered over the years to accommodate its
changing functions, but in 1958 the slate was wiped clean when the old store
burned to the ground. The Cases rebuilt, and their new building did double duty
as a hardware store on one side and a grocery on the other. Louise Case
believes the grocery store was operated by a family called Johnson who leased
the space from the Cases.
James M. Case
took over when James L. died in 1962. After some years, he closed the grocery
part of the operation and expanded the hardware business to fill the entire
In addition to
selling hardware and building supplies during those years, wrote Larry Case:
“We repaired lawn and garden equipment, appliances and televisions and
installed the same.”
As part of his
education as heir apparent, Larry Case besides his on-the-job training attended
technical school for radio and television repair, went to GE’s “appliance
school” and also became a licensed electrician.
A hardware man
has to know basically everything, he explains on the website. “It even seems of late that we have become
dispensers of various forms of advice relating to life’s problems, politics,
community, children and even on occasion spiritual issues,” he writes.
the business for several years following his father’s death in 1985, Larry Case
took over officially in 1991 and now operates the store as an
independently-owned member of the national Ace Hardware cooperative, which it
joined in 1990.
Louise Case have expanded the business about as far as they can given the
physical limitations of the square, buying up the contiguous Dyer building next
door to the north. The Dyer building was around before the 1958 fire but was
not consumed in it, explained Louise Case. It had three separate storefronts,
including the old Bank of Dade premises. The Cases knocked down the interior
walls that separated the different businesses, but vaults on both ground and
basement levels are a constant reminder of the provenance of the space that now
houses Teflon tape and furnace filters.
It’s all a lot
of history to walk away from, but Larry Case says it’s a matter of simply
needing more room. The hardware store is flanked on one side by Jo Mama’s Wraps
– in a space occupied previously by Brock’s Restaurant and before that Wright’s
– and on the other side Lalito’s, Trenton’s Mexican restaurant. “When the
restaurants are open during mealtimes, all our parking’s gone,” he said.
there’s anything wrong with restaurants. They attract customers, says Case, and
that’s why he hopes he can find one willing to set up shop on the new premises.
“We want to put two or three or four other businesses on that lot with us, just
to draw traffic,” he said.
Case is unsure
whether he will sell part of the new property to other businesses, including
the desired restaurant, or just build premises and lease them. “That depends on
who we get or who we find, or if we can find somebody who wants that,” he said.
One way or the
other, there’s plenty of room for changing one’s mind at the new site on
Highway 11 South: It once accommodated the Village Green apartment
out, the Cases plan to put up an 8,000-square foot building, not that much
bigger than what they have now, though with higher ceilings with more usable
space. “Initially, it’ll be just a better design and better parking, and the
ability to expand into a much larger business,” said Larry Case.
plan is an elastic one, he said, and will allow the store to expand eventually
to 10-, 12- or even 15,000 square feet.
The new store
will have lumber out back and on the side a new feature – a garden center.
“We’ll have more there than we have here,” said Case.
As for the old
building on the square, said his wife, that won’t be going anywhere. The Cases
plan to restore the storefronts they knocked together to form four separate
premises, potentially five – remember, the main building used to house
side-by-side grocery and hardware stores. Each unit already has its own door
onto the square, and the Cases are confident enough of finding tenants that
they plan to invest in the renovations necessary to make each autonomous, with separate
heating and other utilities.
“We would love
to see just some small shops go in, just a kind of walking area where you can
go from shop to shop,” said Louise Case.
shops, there are three two-bedroom and one one-bedroom apartment above the
hardware store, she said, and no plans to change that.
It’s sad to
leave the old place, the Cases admit. “Our advertisement for years has been,
“On the Square in Trenton,” said Louise Case. She doesn’t know what the new
motto will be.
But they agreed
that more space is needed as a new generation takes over. They had been
uncertain whether any of their three sons, Daniel, Jonathan and James, would
want to make the store a career, and had briefly considered selling.
But now Daniel
Case has made his decision to become the fifth generation behind the counter,
and is basically managing the store with his parents’ help, they say. “That
changed everything completely,” said Louise Case.
added Larry Case, Daniel’s son Ethan, though he still has plenty of time to
change his mind – he’s 11 – has already declared his intention to become
“When he was 3
years old, if you asked him what he wanted to do when he grew up, he’d say, ‘I
want to run the store.’ He always said that,” said Gen-VI’s proud grandfather.
“He would wait on customers when he was little, or try.”