Community Plumbing: how hardware stores can be the place where localities fix themselves


A beautifully written tale from Places Journal, the architecture and urbanism site, about the way that hardware stores (as they're known in the US) operate to maintain a community's sense of power, capability and purpose.

The author, Shannon Mattern, grew up in a hardware store and clearly has a feel for their deep meaning:

[The hardware store] holds (and organizes) the tools, values, and knowledges that bind a community and define a worldview. There’s a material and social sensibility embodied in the store, its stuff, and its service, and reflected in the diverse clientele. That might sound a bit lofty for a commercial establishment that sells sharp objects and toxic chemicals. But the ethos is palpable...

...Why should we care about the survival of these quotidian spaces, with their ten-cent goods, at a time of crisis when many American cities lack affordable housing and clean water? I’d argue that the hardware store is more than a “common ground.” It’s a place of exchange based on values that are evidently in short supply among our political and corporate leaders: competence, intention, utility, care, repair, and maintenance.

In an era of black-boxed neural nets and disposable gadgets, hardware stores promote a material consciousness and a mechanical sensibility. They encourage civic forms of accreditation, resistant to metrics and algorithms. At some neighborhood stores, you can stop in for a couple of screws and be waved off from paying at the register.

And the hardware store is a vital social infrastructure, integrating the civic and commercial spheres. Particularly in small towns, the “other America” rendered visible by the 2016 election, hardware stores can function as social spaces where the working class congregates and consolidates and negotiates cultural differences. (In cities, this also happens at specialized “supply stores” catering to professional electricians, plumbers, and builders.)

What is also lovely is that the hardware store she focuses on has, by virtue of being this enabling community space, become an annual art gallery - the Crest Hardware Art Show. The art is "hardware store" themed, studded throughout the shop, as you can see from the selections below:

Does this theory work on this side of the Atlantic? Do you know of a DIY shop that serves the same community-integrating function as the Crest True Value Hardware Store? We'd love to hear about it - let us know.