In the early ‘90s, I used to see the bumper sticker “Historic Preservation is the Ultimate Recycling” in Wilmington a lot. Growing up in a historic house with a father serving on the Historic Preservation Commission, it was on my radar. Though I lived through the 16-year renovation project of my parent’s house, I was still unprepared for the reality, intensity and magnitude of directing my current historic renovation.
When we began renovating the new space for the bookstore I stressed to our contractor, Rob Zapple of Rob Zapple Design and Build, that we would pay more for “made in the USA” and especially “made in NC” products whenever possible. During that meeting, Jock [Brandis, the love of my life,] and I cited the then recent Chinese Drywall excitement as something we preferred to avoid. Rob agreed that this was a worthwhile goal and assured us to work toward this in every way possible.
Purchases for the project have included bookshelves, paint, cleaning products, fasteners—all of which I have purchased locally. I have spent close to $6,000 at Stevens’ Hardware alone since this began. Colin, one of Stevens’ associates, assures me that I am the only person who has ever ordered two cases of sanding belts, at least that he can remember. All the folks at the hardware store—Joey, Ed, Colin and Heather—have succeeded in filling my requests. We are purchasing many items in quantity like never before, such as sanding belts and 480 angle brackets to attach bookshelves to the walls. Joey has responded by rewarding our repeat business (and, I think, our inventiveness) with great discounts. No chain store in town can compete with their level of service: They load my car, greet me by name and with a smile, ask about our family and pets, and once stored 30 gallons of paint for four days until I could pick it up.
Last week, Joey and I were chatting about Jock and his adventures while looking for my special order, before he stopped to say, “Good night, Mom.” The kindly lady, who has covered the front during times of rush, smiled as she walked out. I realized once again how lucky I was that I was spending money at Stevens’ instead of a chain store.
For readers who don’t know, Stevens’ has expanded significantly in the last couple of years. Their location on 13th and Castle streets is now exclusively their paint division. I have been practically living there for the last three weeks. Housed in this quaint little hut amid cans and pails of paint is the paint guru: Gavin. No matter how ridiculous the question—“Do I really have to prime dry wall before I paint it? “So I need to paint a metal column…”—Gavin just smiles, takes a deep breath and then guides me and the rest of the public through the treacherous world of liquid color and wonder. Painting 14 foot ceilings, walls, columns, metal and wooden bookshelves, a bathroom and a commercial kitchen is a process I would absolutely not have survived without Gavin’s guidance. No matter how far I push his patience, I think he is scared I am just going to ask him to come help.
The lumber for our bookshelves has all come from Godwin’s—a trip worth itself if just to see the lumber barn. It is breathtakingly beautiful: two stories with cat walks running side to side, sky lights, bays of wood of every size, shape and type imaginable, and all in a gently curving L shape. I really catch my breath each time I enter; it is such an experience. Wayne, who has loaded most of our purchases in the pickup truck, is very concerned that I have been buying 2 x 6’s, which he tells me “is just terribly crappy wood. It’s meant for framing to be inside a wall where nobody’ll see it.” Since I persist in buying 2 x 6’s for what should be pretty bookshelves, he sifts through the whole bin to find me the best of what he’s got.
While down at the bookstore one day, one of the carpenters mentioned that they were waiting on a delivery from Godwin’s. Apparently, the rest of the 2 x 6’s in the bin were being used to frame our interior walls. The next time I visited, I mentioned that Godwin’s was supplying our lumber inside and out! The guys behind the desk nodded sagely, acknowledging that all was right with the world. Then, one asked how old our new building was. “It was built in 1910,” I replied. Everyone chuckled. “Well we’ve been here since 1909, so chances are we supplied the original wood, too!”
Most recently, we had come to a tricky part in the renovation process: the countertop for the lunch counter, which is located in the middle of the store. Originally, I wanted to do something exotic from Sapona Green Building (I am so in love with their stuff!), but we have gone 10 rounds on permitting the café, and we decided that if we ever wanted to open the doors, we needed plain formica that every inspector would look at, recognize and pass. Consequently, I asked that Stevens Hardware order it because I knew Ed and Joey would pick out something really lovely for me. Moreover, I knew if there was a problem, they would fix it immediately. Believing that was the course we were set upon, I hadn’t thought about it in weeks—until Monday. I asked Rob if he had ordered the countertop yet.
“No, and at this point we have to just buy something off the rack.”
“What does that mean?”
“Lowe’s or Home Depot or some place like that.”
“Rob, I do not shop at those stores” I shook my head. He began to laugh at me. “Rob, I do not shop at those stores,” I repeated.
“OK, Gwenyfar, OK,” he said, and the topic moved on to the trials and tribulations of the second-floor windows. The next day I came into paint the ceiling, and Rob showed me the newly delivered countertops.
“They look fine,” I said.
“That’s it? You didn’t even look!” he said, as if mocking a woman asking a man if she looks fat.
“Besides, I thought about our conversation and they came from Meyers—a local company.”
Gwenyfar Rohler is the author of “The Promise of Peanuts. A real life fairy tale about a man, a village, and the promise that bound them together,” available at OldBooksonFrontSt.com. All profits go to Full Belly Project (fullbellyproject.org).