Reynoldsburg News

Reynoldsburg's oldest business closes its doors

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An antique clock sits high above old farm implements. Rows upon rows of bolts, screws, tools, plumbing and electrical parts crowd the shelves of Connell Hardware.

But time has run out for the oldest of Reynoldsburg's "mom-and-pop" businesses, which closed Aug. 31 after 141 years in business.

Charity Connell said last week she was trying not to think about that last day.

"I will probably cry," she said. "I already warned everyone about that. It will be a sad Saturday for us."

Connell Hardware, 7345 E. Main St., began as a tinsmith shop on April 1, 1872. It was founded by Ralph Connell's grandfather, Ezra Samuel Osborn, who served several terms as Reynoldsburg's mayor in the early 1890s.

He opened the shop behind the Knights of Pythias building on the bank of French Run Creek, making spouting, roofing, buckets and tubs, according to a booklet written by Ralph Connell in 1972, when the hardware store celebrated its 100th birthday.

Osborn moved the tinsmith business to East Main Street, where Green Gables Restaurant later located, adding hardware items to his growing inventory. The store later moved again, manned by Howard Osborn, Ezra's son, to the corner of Apple Alley and East Main Street, about a half-block from its current location.

In 1922, Osborn's daughter, Nelle, and her husband, Elzy Connell, took over the business. They moved it to its present location in 1934.

Charity Connell said the store has always been a family business. Her dad, Ralph, took over at age 23, in 1948.

"My dad grew up working here, as did my sister, Sarah, and I," she said. "We helped my dad and mom with inventory -- counting every last screw and nail."

Mom Jean, 88, is also sad to see the end of Connell Hardware.

"Mom hates to see it close, especially since we are the oldest business in Reynoldsburg," Charity said.

The store was a busy place during her childhood, she said, when people bustled in and out and old-timers sat around the old potbellied stove.

The stove still stands in the center of the store, but sitting there in the summer meant sitting in front of a fan.

"The store has never had central air conditioning, just lots of blowing fans," Charity said.

She remembers two giggling little girls racing up and down the store aisles.

"My sister and I used to run up and down what we called the hill (slanted wood floors) and stand under the cash register to wait for the bell to ring, to let the drawer open over our heads," she recalled.

She said Sarah participated more in the hardware side of the business, learning to thread pipes and make keys for customers.

Willard Carl, 73, remembers sitting around that potbellied stove. He has been a part-time employee of the store for the past 10 years, but has known the Connell family for more than 50 years. Another longtime employee of the store was John Smith.

"I used to come in and smoke my cigars and Ralph liked it," Carl said. "That was when we were allowed to smoke."

Ralph Connell died in 2007 at the age of 82 as he sat in his favorite chair near the stove.

"I think Ralph knew things were sliding," Carl said. "I saw the business changing when Lowe's and Home Depot came in, then when Menards came, that finished it off, I think.

"It feels like the curtain is closing on the mom-and-pop businesses," he said. "Young people don't want to repair anything any more -- they want to replace it."

Charity agreed that the arrival of the big-box stores marked the beginning of the end for Connell Hardware.

"The economy also started going south, so we knew we couldn't hold on much longer -- although the big stores sent customers to us at times for some part no one makes any more, because they figured we might have it," she said.

Charity said her husband, Cody Lemaster, managed the store with her for many years, until he was diagnosed with lung cancer. He died in May.

"I knew I would have to step back and look at things from a business end and not a sentimental end," she said.

An auction will be held later this month to clean out inventory and furnishings, with the date to be announced soon, she said.

The building won't be sold, though, since space above the store and beside the store has tenants.

"I do want to thank all of our loyal customers," Charity said. "I appreciate their business so much. We would not be here if not for them."

Charlotte Vickers, manager of Vick's Pizza with her husband, Doug, said she hates to see Connell Hardware close. Vick's Pizza has been in its location near the hardware store for 53 years, since Hollis Vickers opened the shop in 1961.

"I'm just devastated," Charlotte said. "Personally, I would like to see the store preserved somehow or kept open. There are no hardware stores like Connell around any more, where people can walk in and see how simple things used to be."

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