By David Thompson
The snow was pounding down with force and verve on Monday morning, and a calm silence swept through The Little City. The roads were almost empty and the sidewalks were untrodden; it had become a winter wonderland. However, it was business as usual at the corner of W. Broad and N. Washington streets, home to Brown’s Hardware.
Store after store was closed due to the winter weather, but the Falls Church’s Brown’s Hardware remained open. The store brimmed with merchandise, from kitchen supplies to gardening equipment, all fitted in a relatively small space. At the center of the store was the cashiers desk, the heart of the store, from which the dedicated staff reached out to their customers.
“We walked in today so people could get shovels, sleds, and whatever else they need,” Brown’s Hardware manager John Taylor said that Monday. No matter the weather, Brown’s will be open, its employees say, especially during adverse conditions.
“We’re here when they need us,” Taylor said.
Brown’s is the busiest before a storm, but when weather permits, Brown’s forte is helping customers with home improvement tasks, such as plumbing, electrical, and – come spring – gardening. But the cold weather has extended the winter season, with Brown’s this week selling out of ice-melting products.
Many of the store’s customers have had to deal with an increased amount of snow shoveling, but the snow brings additional problems for homeowners. Dipping temperatures can freeze water pipes, causing them to burst. And when the snow melts, flooding becomes an issue. For those with basement sump pumps, it’s important to make sure they are functional in the weeks after a snow storm. Minor plumbing repairs, along with minor electrical repairs, are the most common reasons people frequent Brown’s Hardware, and in the aftermath of the winter storm plumbing will still be high on the list.
Brown’s Hardware was founded in 1883, by James Brown, making the store 131 years old this year.
“We call him the godfather of hardware,” Taylor jokes, but hardware was not the only thing sold back then.
Brown’s was a general store, where locals would go to get anything and everything they needed.
“In 1949 we switched over to all hardware,” said Hugh Brown, grandson to the store’s founder, “strictly hardware and garden supplies.” In 1959, they relocated to their corner in downtown Falls Church.
Brown’s still aims to help customers with anything and everything, now with a hardware focus, and if they don’t have what the customer needs they will do their best to get it.
Brown’s has a long tradition of being hands-on with their customers, treating customers as next-door neighbors. Not only will Brown’s sell you the product you need for your newest home-improvement project, they will also give you much-needed advice – and even recommend trusted professionals when you need them.
They are a neighborhood store in a world in which neighborhood stores are becoming extinct, but Brown’s has found a way to become symbiotic with the hardware giants such as Home Depot.
“Home Depot sends us customers and we send them customers,” Taylor said. “It’s a two-way street.”
When Brown’s can’t provide what a customer needs, they’ll refer the customer to one of the larger stores. It’s a customer-service strategy that has worked for Brown’s Hardware and most importantly it has created a loyal customer base.
The small corner store has persevered. Brown’s may be entering a new chapter – with Hugh Brown, in his late 80’s, considering handing over management of the store – but Brown’s plans on being around for The Little City for a long time to come.