MONTAGUE, P.E.I. - Hardware stores are typically known for carrying building supplies, such as hammers and nails.
And dew worms?
“Before the fishing season starts, people want to make sure we have a good supply of dew worms,” Mark Beck, co-owner of Montague’s Stewart and Beck Home Hardware, said with
a laugh. “It is bizarre.”
Mark and his sister Melody Beck are third generation owners of the business, now in its 86th year. Their father George, who became the second-generation owner in 1964, continues to work part-time and enjoys engaging staff and customers.
“He’s never going to retire,” said Melody.
The business started in 1932 with Cecil Beck and Ethan Stewart (Mark and Melody’s grandfather and great-uncle) as a general store on 586 Main St. – the same location as today’s Home Hardware.
In 1940, a fire destroyed the property, and a new general store was built on the same spot.
The labels on the cans were burned off, and since money was tight in those days, the owner’s families ate the canned goods. But they didn’t know what they were having until the cans were opened.
“Supper was a surprise,” said Mark. “It could be soup. It could be peaches,” added Melody.
The business switched to a Home Hardware in the early 1970s.
Mark and Melody have a laminated poster in their office announcing the 1972 Home Hardware grand opening and three-day specials, including corn brooms for 99 cents, bathroom tissue (pack of four) for 48 cents and light bulbs for 18 cents each.
The business still has the feel of a general store, carrying items one wouldn’t normally expect to find in a hardware store – toys, curtains, linens and locally made blankets (from MacAusland Woolen Mills in Bloomfield), bug spray, CDs and books from local musicians and authors, fishing licences and, of course, dew worms.
“We’re part of the community, and that’s important. It’s always fun to find new things to sell,” explained Mark.
The original store was about 4,000 square feet. In 1980, it expanded with an additional 10,000 square feet. The additional space allowed the business to expand its hardware items as well as expand the groceries it offered. They sold groceries until 1984. The grocery side of the business included home deliveries twice a day.
“Growing up, we were a grocery store as well. So, half of the store was hardware and half was groceries. And, we had a meat department,” explained Mark.
In 2002, their uncle, Barry Beck, moved the furniture department out of the main store and started Beck’s Home Furniture, Gifts and Interiors down the hill on Water Street.
Mark and Melody grew up working in the family business, went off-Island for school and work, and became co-owners of the company in 2010.
They’re not typical owners. Customers are just as likely to find them mixing paint or moving a truck as in the office.
They’re also mindful of their role in the community. They’re involved with donations and community events with door prizes. They also participate in about six parades a year with a 1952 Dodge Stewart and Beck Home Hardware truck to commemorate their grandfather’s first company vehicle.
“We help the community. We help the staff. We help the customers,” said Mark.
Also, the stores aren’t open on Sundays. Mark explained it isn’t an anti-Sunday shopping stance. Instead, it’s just something they want to do for their employees.
Even so, the owners are available on a Sunday for an emergency, such as a customer’s need for a sump pump.
“I don’t come in for a roll of masking tape,” said Mark.
These are interesting times for the Main Street store.
It sits on land the town wants to use for its redevelopment plans. If the plans go ahead as expected, Mark and Melody are willing to sell the property so condominiums could be built on the spot.
If that happens, they would expand their second location – Stewart and Beck’s Home Building Centre next to the lumber yard on Main Street in Brudenell – and reopen the store.
“It would be good progress for the town,” said Mark. “There would be some things that would be hard to see get knocked down, no question.”
Melody added that moving the store would be an opportunity to grow the business. Even so, if the Main Street store is sold and torn down, it would be “bittersweet,” she said.
While Mark and Melody are third-generation owners, it looks like there is a fourth generation that could take over.
“He’s two and he has a uniform,” Mark said with a big laugh, referring to Melody’s son, Ian Chisholm. Ian can sometimes be found in the store in a high chair, colouring and interacting with customers.
“Who knows what Ian will choose to do,” Melody said. “But he has the outfit, and he likes coming to work.”