As owners retire, downtown Hanover loses legacy hardware store

By JUSTIN CAMPFIELD

Valley News Correspondent

Published: 04-17-2023 12:42 PM

HANOVER — After Hanover True Value closes its doors Saturday for good, it’s going to be harder — if not impossible — for downtown Hanover shoppers to pick up that one wood screw needed for a home improvement project, a gas grill for summer cookouts and a garden hose to water the flower beds, all in one stop.

Operating in one downtown Hanover location or another since approximately 1918, the venerable South Street establishment is closing due to the retirement of its owner, Sonya Campbell, and her husband, store manager Mike Campbell. The business was for sale for more than a year but failed to land a buyer. Two potential transactions fell through.

“We were really hoping one of these two (potential buyers) would buy it, but it takes a big-time commitment,” said Sonya Campbell, 65, who also pointed to rising interest rates as at least a partial reason for one of the deals not going through. “Running a small retail business is like having a child that never grows up.”

The store’s closure eliminates the last holdout from a time when shoppers could find basic necessities within Hanover’s downtown shopping core.

“When I started at the hardware store, we were on Main Street; it was the quintessential small-town shop, where you could buy any living necessity,” said Campbell, who began working at the store right out of high school in 1976, before eventually buying it in 1991. “And slowly, over the years, that has really evolved. There are a number of things that are not available in town, like children’s clothing, shoes, work boots, really even sporting goods. I feel sad that the closing of our store is going to take even more of that away.”

And besides the tens of thousands of can’t-get-them-anywhere-else-in-downtown products the store carried, the knowledgeable service that went along with them will be missed as well.

“It’s the kind of place where you can go and get expert help,” said Jeff Graham, executive director of the Hanover Improvement Society, which operates the Nugget Theater on South Main Street. “They were able to help you figure out a way to get done what you need to get done. They filled a very unique mix, and it’s not going to be replaced easily.”

The store’s ability to draw shoppers into the downtown area will also be hard to replace, fears Tracy Hutchins, executive director of the Upper Valley Business Alliance.

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“Hanover (True Value) is kind of a destination business; people come downtown because they have a specific need there,” Hutchins said. “And while they are there, they might go into other stores and grab lunch. Now they might not be coming. It’s going to leave a big hole in downtown and alter the number and mix of retailers.”

The responsibility for filling the now-vacant space — and possibly the retail mix it represented — falls to Daniel Justynski, director of real estate for Dartmouth College, owner of the building and several other mixed-use buildings on the block.

He says the college is already working on a plan to subdivide the 4,054 square feet currently occupied by Hanover True Value into three smaller retail storefronts.

“I think if I were to hold out for a 4,000-square-foot tenant, it would be challenging,” said Justynski, who also said he was sad to see Hanover True Value go because his department often sourced parts and materials there. “By being open to splitting the property up into three separate storefronts, I believe we’ll be able to fairly quickly identify new occupants and make the space available for them.”

Justynski said the move toward smaller retail footprints is a national trend that Hanover has already seen before, pointing out the transformation that saw the former Dartmouth Bookstore located on South Main Street broken into smaller spaces that now house Still North Books & Bar, Sawtooth Kitchen, My Brigadeiro and J.McLaughlin.

And in West Lebanon, the former Pier 1 store on Route 12A is being subdivided into three or four spaces, with a Jersey Mike’s Subs and a T-Mobile store already slated to open there.

As for what they plan to do for retirement, Sonya Campbell said nobody has to worry about them “moving to Arizona or Florida,” although their exact plans are still up in the air.

“For six months, we aren’t going to do anything,” she said. “We might take a couple trips, but we aren’t in a hurry.”

The Campbells have three grown children, two of whom live locally and one who lives in Burlington, as well as three grandchildren.

“Our family is here, and we want to spend more time with our grandchildren,” Sonya Campbell said. “We also have a lot of friends in the (hardware store) industry who are retired, and we’d like to visit them.”

While Graham will be sad to see Hanover True Value close, he said the Campbells’ retirement is well-deserved.

“There were incredibly hard-working people, and it’s going to be a big loss for the downtown,” Graham said. “Many people will be sad to see them go, including me, but I can’t blame (Sonya and Mike). They’ve worked hard. Good for them.”

Those sentiments are shared by Hutchins, especially, considering the hands-on nature of the retail business and the nights and weekends that it often entails, she said.

“Retail is not an easy gig, and they absolutely deserve to have time for themselves and enjoy life, because they have put in a lot of time and effort,” she said. “They’ve had a beautiful business; the store was always a pleasure to go into, and that takes a lot of effort to maintain that. I wish them many happy trails.”

Justin Campfield can be reached at jhcampfield@gmail.com.

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