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On the first day of November, Astoria is going to lose one of its oldest friends.
Simons Hardware, which for 75 years has peddled tools and housewares to generations of Astorians, will shut its doors for the last time on Halloween, closing down an enterprise that outlasted the street names and held its ground against chain stores and the tides of economic change.
We decided 75 years was a long run, said the stores longtime manager, Richard Smith, who began working at Simons more than 50 years ago. We decided that wed end the business.
The death knell was sounded late last month when the 23rd Avenue storefront was plastered with fluorescent posters practically boasting of its impending demise, inviting customers to partake of close-out bargains and free prizes.
In they came, but not without the shroud of mourning.
This is like my family, said Vicky Wynne, a customer who has shopped at Simons for the past 23 years. Im very upset. Im going to miss it a lot.
Still, the bittersweet ending is not exactly tragic. Simons was not pushed out by the encroaching presence of Home Depot, nor did the economic downturn force the store out of business.
It was simply time to go.
Business is successful, Smith insisted, sporting the same good-natured, soft-spoken manner that has kept the customers coming back for decades. We just decided to retire.
The shop is closing in the same spirit of quiet neighborliness on which it has thrived. Although deep discounts have left some of the metal peg-board shelves bare, many customers are walking in not so much to stock up, but to share a last taste of conversation with the gregarious proprietors.
Simons Hardware was founded in 1927 by Sadie and Jack Simon, who hired a 12-year-old Smith in 1949 and treated him like a son.
In return, he showed a filial loyalty and never left.
Ive had the children of the children of the children come here, and I know them by name, Smith said. Its an open house. People feel very at easy to come in here.
When Jack died about 30 years ago, Sadie Simon kept the shop going with their son Seymour, his wife Rozlyn and Smith, who by then had been promoted to manager.
The hardware store passed into the hands of a third generation of Simons Marc, Linda and Nila in April 2001 with the death of Seymour, their father. Rozlyn, their mother, had died three years ahead of him, and Grandma Sadie before her.
But Marc is the only Simon who still works at the store. The burden of keeping things going after losing three family members in one decade ultimately proved too difficult, and it was with that in mind that the family and Smith decided to close up shop.
Its gotten pretty hard for just Richard and I to be here alone, Marc Simon said. Richard and I have been here holding it together.
After sitting in the same spot for the better part of a century, Simons has evolved into the stuff of local legends, boasting records of longevity that extend even beyond Smiths impossible-sounding 53 years of service.
Grandma Sadie lived to be 106, working the register until she was 91.
Then theres the cactus that sits behind the front counter and towers practically to the ceiling, a monster of a plant from which Smith has offered cuttings to customers for about 25 years.
Simons has been in the hardware business for longer than 23rd Avenue has been a number. When the shop opened, the road still had its original name, Potter Avenue.
They consider this the last of the old-timers in hardware, said Dan McDonald, a part-time clerk at the store who has worked there for 25 years.
But to simply call it a relic of the old-fashioned neighborhood hardware store would hardly do justice to the way Simons has kept pace with the changing face of the community, holding its status as a place where the conversation is as valued as the merchandise.
Founded by a Jewish family in a neighborhood filled with Greeks, Italians, Bohemians and Jews, the store still caters to the needs of the multicultural community into which Astoria has evolved. But most importantly, there is a place for everyone who walks through the door.
I always had chairs there for them to sit and dog biscuits for the dogs, said Smith, who at 65 years old is now contemplating his next step. Everybody was welcome here, including the animals.
When Marc Simon stands outside the store to smoke a cigarette, hardly a minute passes without his exchanging greetings with the familiar faces strolling by.
For Smith, the secret to 75 years of success is simple: The big stores can learn a lot from the small stores by being courteous, considerate and remembering people are human beings, not numbers, he said. Nobody should go into the retail business unless you love people.
Reach reporter Dustin Brown by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 154.
©2002 Community Newspaper Group
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