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Hardware Retailers Wrestle With Safety Issues

Employees at Plummer’s Ace have been wearing masks since the end of March.
Employees at Plummer’s Ace have been wearing masks since the end of March.»

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought new levels of stress to hardware retailers, who now must find new ways to operate while balancing the health and safety of customers and employees. No one knows yet what the new normal of retail looks like. Many issues related to COVID-19 have been popular discussion topics on Hardlines Digest for the past several months. Read on to see what retailers were sharing.

Wearing Masks

On May 15, Susan Harlan of Vickery Ace Hardware in Smyrna, Ga., posted, “I had a customer today tell me she was no longer shopping at the (independent hardware) near her house because they were not wearing masks. I was really surprised. We are all wearing masks at my store and it made me wonder what the rest of you retailers are doing? I was wearing gloves too, but now it seems it’s better not to.”

Jody Bryan of H. Houst & Son in Woodstock in N.Y., replied, “We have been wearing masks since the first week of April. 99.9 percent of our customers are wearing them when shopping in our store.”

Alan Talman of Karp’s Hardware in East Northport, N.Y., said, “We wear masks. I’ve had more than one complaint to the police department, because they thought they saw a person in my store not wearing a mask. I’ve also had emails complaining to me as well that the complainer saw a person in the store maskless.”

Brandon Buckalew of East Grand Forks Hardware Hank in Minnesota said, “We have a mix. I let my staff go without while they aren’t on the floor. Every now and again they’ll try and go to the bathroom or something without one and end up helping a few customers. When that happens, the goal is to keep distance, and sanitize and clean up afterwards.”

Bob Brame of Cadiz Ace Hardware in Cadiz, Ky., replied, “We are all wearing masks—probably 25 percent of customers are. We are cleaning nine times a day, plus other things.”

Barone Hardware & Auto installed a plexiglass sneeze shield to protect staff.
Barone Hardware & Auto installed a plexiglass sneeze shield to protect staff.»

Karla Robson of Slavens True Value in Cortez, Colo., said, “We are not wearing masks. Ninety percent of our customers are not wearing masks and that changes due to time of day. Certain times it’s probably 60 percent not wearing and 40 percent are wearing. We have a clear sign on all the doors stating that we are not and that many of our customers are not wearing masks, and if you feel your health is in danger please use curbside. We had a few complaints, but more customers are stopping me and saying how much they appreciate the ‘normalcy’ in our store, and to keep it up.” 

In our business at Cornell’s True Value, staff and customers must wear masks, that’s just good sense in our area but we also had an executive order from the governor in effect. There is the occasional customer that tries to enter without a mask, and we politely ask them to leave and get a scarf or other covering before entering. We are also still providing an hourly bonus for staff working during this stressful situation. We have not yet set an end date for the bonus.

Scott Lawson at Berea Ace Hardware in Kentucky said, “We had not been wearing masks, until May 11 when our governor mandated that employees must wear masks and highly recommended that customers wear masks. About 30 percent of our customers were wearing masks before the mandate and now about 40 percent. Ironically, our State Representative was in today (May 15) with no mask and stated he disagreed with the governor’s mask mandate. Fortunately, our county only has 32 cases with 27 fully recovered.”  

Cynthia Martini-Kreckman of Martini Hardware in Houston, replied, “We are strongly urged to wear mask in Houston. Some employees wear them and some don’t. Cashiers are behind a plexiglass wall and prefer not to wear them, because customers were having a difficult time understanding them. Only about half of our customers are wearing masks and surprisingly it’s the over 50 customers who are not wearing masks. Employees do their best to keep their distance with all customers. We have had very little request for curbside service. I guess with us being a smaller store, they feel more comfortable shopping here.”

Scott Plummer at Plummer’s Ace Hardware in Farmington, Mo., posted, “We have been wearing masks since the end of March. We only have 33 cases in our county (as of mid-May) and probably only 20 percent of the customers are wearing them, but I think it shows respect to our customers. I do not wear a mask while going to other stores (but I keep my distance), but I feel better about the business if they are wearing masks.”

Hazard Pay

Bruce Phillips of Crowder Bros. Ace Hardware in Lakeland, Fla., wondered if other retailers were still offering hazard pay on paychecks. “I’ve done them for the past two payroll periods (one month) and am wondering about how long to continue,” he posted.

Ruth Meredith of McDonald Center in Virginia replied, “Our company did them for the past two paychecks. Virginia is starting to open back up this Friday (May 15), so we have discontinued it.”

Vickery Hardware taped off spots for customers to stand in line.
Vickery Hardware taped off spots for customers to stand in line.»

Jeremy Peterson of Family Hardware in Cape Coral, Fla., said, “We did $2 bonus per hour worked for the month of April only. Our state was shut down for basically all of April.” 

Joe Proctor of Proctor Ace in Florida, responded, “We most likely will be continuing our COVID bonus of 15 percent thru the end of May. You might want to call it something other than hazard pay for potential liability reasons.”

Randy Patzer, with two Ace Hardware stores in Michigan, posted the following on May 13, “We are keeping it on until things return to normal. We are still missing 40 percent of our employees and our hours are still cut. The state is still saying a couple more weeks. The bonus is simply called a bonus.”

Limiting Customers

In late April, Buckalew of East Grand Forks Hardware Hank wondered how other retailers are limiting customers in the store. “We have the floor spacers and we’ll have direction signs to keep the flow of traffic from crossing. I’m considering putting an extra person on as security to get in people’s faces about it. Around here we have so many people that don’t think this is serious,” he posted.

Bob Brame of Cadiz Ace Hardware, posted, “Inside 7,000-square-foot store (we allow) seven customers at one time; outside we spread the flowers where they take up over twice the room and still have problems with too many gathered together. Our lady out there suggests the 6 feet to people, but I am amazed at how few want to comply. One-third wear masks and two-thirds don’t. Good sales but cannot find people to hire. Don’t feel comfortable hiring young people.”

Cadiz Ace Hardware placed a sign at the entrance to caution of the need for social distancing.
Cadiz Ace Hardware placed a sign at the entrance to caution of the need for social distancing.»

Dave Barone of Barone Hardware & Auto in Bronson, Mich., replied, “We are a 6,500-square-foot store in a rural community. I posted a while back about going ‘solo’—no groups, only one person per shopping party. I had a number of people get upset and walk out. Some of them are my regular customers. I have been asking people for over 40 years to come to my store and shop and turning them away is truly painful, but I believe it is in the best interest of my staff and my customers.” 

Barone noted they went to modified curbside in late April. “We have two doors at our parking lot, so we are allowing one customer just inside each door at a time. We put a table across each door and sneeze shield and a POS station. It is a lot of legwork for us, but we are serving most of our customers in two to three minutes. We are taking orders by text, phone or walk-in—text orders are becoming very popular. The customer places the order, we fill it and let them know it is ready for pickup. It cuts down the wait time for them when they are at the store. I still have had some people upset because they can’t come and browse,” he posted.

John Fix III

John Fix started the Hardlines Digest in 1996. The list was run for many years using servers in John’s hardware store, but the list has migrated to Google Groups. There are currently more than 2,300 subscribers reading Hardlines Digest. To read more or subscribe, go to www.hardlinesdigest.com.

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