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Take a tour of Fernandez Hardware, a 'storehouse of treasures' in Northfield, Vermont

A black and white sign on a brick building reads "FERNANDEZ Hardware Sporting Goods"
Anna Van Dine
/
Vermont Public
Fernandez Hardware in Northfield is full of everything you might dream to find at a hardware store. A longtime customer describes it as "labyrinthine" and "stuffed to the gills."

Have you ever been so convinced something was extraordinary that you called up a reporter to tell them about it? Johnny Summers did. The 77-year-old left a voicemail suggesting I might find “an interesting article or a piece of reportage at Fernandez Hardware store in Northfield.”

He said Fernandez Hardware is one of a kind, maze-like and stuffed to the gills, full of everything you might dream to find at a hardware store. So of course I had to go see it for myself. Which is how I ended up in the passenger seat of a 1990 Volvo, heading to Fernandez Hardware in Northfield.

“It’s an amazing place, and I thought it might be of interest to people to know about it. The last of its kind perhaps, or the only one of its kind perhaps,” said Johnny, over the thump of the old engine. “Will this be your first visit, Anna?”

“Yes,” I told him.

“Well, I hope you’re a hardware freak like some of us," Johnny said. "And we’ll see!”

Johnny pulled into Depot Square in Northfield. In the far back corner, by the train tracks, there’s a brick building. It’s got a sign that says FERNANDEZ Hardware, Sporting Goods — but it’s almost unnecessary. The inventory speaks for itself. The big storefront windows are packed, displaying everything from a chainsaw to a basketball hoop. On the sidewalk out front, there are bags of salt, pool noodles, scrap wood, extension ladders.

“Inside and out,” Johnny said. “But inside is the Aladdin's cave. The storehouse of treasures.”

dave-fernandez-vandine-20220713.jpg
Anna Van Dine
/
Vermont Public
Dave Fernandez and his brother, Ray, run the second-generation family business.

Johnny stepped out of the car, and led the way inside. There we met Dave Fernandez. He and his brother, Ray, have been running the place since 1990. They took it over from their parents, who started it in 1955.

“Yup, this is it!” said Dave, laughing at the look on my face.

“Just as we’re standing here,” Johnny said, “you can be glancing up above our heads, just looking up there, there’s a flashlight — old style, a slingshot, a smoke alarm, a telescopic fork — that's a great thing at a barbecue. And we haven’t even moved! We must take a tour.”

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Johnny paraded through the aisles of organized chaos, marveling at the inventory.

"Every item a man could desire or a hardware person could desire or a lady could desire," he said. "Here we have some old tools and I’m going to look — there’s a tool I’ve been looking at in this store for at least 20 years, it hasn’t sold. There it is! A three-quarter ratchet drive. It’s still there."

The air smelled both raw and ancient — of fresh paint and new wood, dusty cardboard and rusty metal.

"Old-fashioned mothballs, I mean where do you see those, mothballs. Now we're down into some electrical, old stuff, new stuff. I just saw something I need to buy, but I'm not going to now. This is how it works,” Johnny said, delighted.

A stairway lined with hardware items leads down to a basement
Anna Van Dine
/
Vermont Public
Fernandez Hardware has two floors: the main floor, and the basement, where the town bowling alley used to be.

Johnny Summers grew up in London. He remembers as a kid going to gaze in the window of the hardware store. It was fascinating.

“They filled the window a bit like this, just an amazing array, packed in,” he said.

He says he left London as a young man and traveled the world. India, Africa, the high seas. Eventually, he ended up in Vermont.

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These days he builds clay dome pizza ovens, and volunteers as an EMT. He does carpentry projects here and there. And every once in a while, someone will pay him to sail a boat from one place to another. He knows the importance of precision and the value of good tools.

“Look around, this is all the selection of different nuts and bolts, rigging items, line cord chain," Johnny said. "There’s a great logic actually, you can go to one department find what you need.”

About 30 years ago, he needed a specific, small spring. The search brought him to Fernandez Hardware, where he was sent into the basement.

“Finally, for the spring I needed, I was directed by Dave’s dad, ‘Look in there.’ And the light was coming through the window, and I could see these shelves with all the grime and grit and cobwebs, and there in a box was the spring," Johnny said. "Perfect spring, just what I needed. He knew right where it was in the depths of the store.”

A barefooted man stands in the aisle of a hardware store, reaching towards a shelf
Anna Van Dine
/
Vermont Public
Johnny Summers, who as a rule does not wear shoes, reaches across the counter of his favorite hardware store.

Dave Fernandez says that’s why people come here.

“Sometimes you’ve got to hunt a little bit, but that’s the fun of it," Dave said. "People come in and say, ‘I don’t mind hunting for stuff like that,’ they got the time. Then other people are more quick and say, ‘Dave, can you help me find this?’ and I say, 'Sure, it’s right over here behind this box and up on that top shelf!'”

A hardware store is a museum of human ingenuity. Someone dreamed up each gizmo and gadget, someone needed all those different sizes of screw. Every item, large or small, was invented and manufactured for a specific purpose, from the high-tech to the old-fashioned. Like the old washboard Johnny picked up, saying, “Have you ever seen such a thing? Amazing, that you can come in and buy an old washboard, a scrubbing board. Oh! A little tiny one, oh my god.”

Johnny says people who like hardware stores are people who are fascinated by detail, by how things work, and how things are put together. And there aren’t many shops like this left.

“This is rare,” he said. A “life-changing experience. There’s so many different things, just look at all these sizes, all these shapes, and it does remind you that it’s amazing what we’ve created.”

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Anna Van Dine @annasvandine.

Anna is a reporter and co-hosts Vermont Public's daily news podcast, The Frequency, with Henry Epp.
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