SOUTH CHATHAM — Crossing the threshold of Baker’s Hardware on Main Street in South Chatham is akin to stepping into a bygone era. A little bell above the front door and a warm nod from the store’s owner, Bob Baker, greet you.
“We have a little bit of everything,” chuckles Baker, who enjoys stocking the store with childhood classics like Balsa wood glider planes. Batteries and light bulbs, paint brushes and tea kettles, flashlights and tennis balls, vegetable seeds and beach toys, and even Vermont weather sticks fill the shelves that line the store’s wood floors. Among the summer cottage owners, hobbyists, carpenters, fishermen, and old timers who come through its doorway, Baker’s Hardware always has been known for carrying hard-to-find items. “We’re really part hardware store and part general store,” says Baker.
The hardware store—which occupies part of the house built in1840 by Baker’s great, great grandfather Levi Eldredge—also is brimming with nostalgia and history. Founded in 1950 by Baker’s late father, Cyrus Baker—who was born in 1912 in the house across the street from the store—Baker’s Hardware offers a glimpse of a simpler time. In the store’s far corner, an antique brass scale measures everything from birdseed to nails just as it has for more than 50 years. In keeping with family tradition, Baker does not own a cash register. He prefers instead to do the calculations with pencil and paper, and the occasional assistance of a calculator. The store’s ledger is a spiral bound notebook in which Baker notes the customer, date, and merchandise purchased.
“It really is a step back in time,” says store patron Bruce Finley of Connecticut and East Harwich. “Today, you don’t see many neighborhood hardware stores anymore. There’s something comforting about coming in here—the simplicity and the genuine care about customers.”
The late Cyrus Baker was legendary for his customer service. He was known to accommodate customers by opening a package and selling part of its contents if that’s what the customer needed.
“Upholding that commitment to customers is, I think, part of what keeps people coming back after all these years,” says Baker, who co-owned Baker Brothers Landscaping for 44 years before retiring to manage the family store, which has received awards for its customers service.
“With so much changing these days, people like to have a place with a sense of permanence,” says Baker. It’s not uncommon for visitors to stop by the hardware store with tales of yesteryear. Baker recalls how last week a gentleman came into the store with his grandson and shared how he could vividly remember when he himself first came into the store 50 years earlier holding the hand of his own grandfather.
For Baker, the joy he has owning Baker’s Hardware isn’t necessarily found in profit margins, but rather in being part of these types of family rituals that make up the fabric of South Chatham. Says Baker, “Being part of a local tradition—that’s something special.”