“Mmm … I don’t have it … but my brother Andy might have something at his store.”
Joey Stevens stared at my Volkswagen vent-wing windows for The Argus, my beloved ’67 camper-van restoration project. Besides the Stevens Hardware on Dawson that Jock and I frequent, the family has another location up Market Street near the other den of temptation, Sahara Pita and Subs.
“How soon do you need this?” he asked.
“A couple of months?” I answered.
I mean, hell, we are three years into the restoration project.
But Joey had other ideas, and I got a phone call the next morning that my VW windows were ready.
Now, before readers roll their eyes at how naive I am, let me explain a little further. The classic “no drafts” or “vent wing” windows on VWs are the cute, little triangle windows that kind of turn out at a perpendicular angle from the vehicle. Three years ago, when I started taking the van apart, I pulled the glass out of the metal frames and removed the dry, cracked and nearly dissolved original rubber seals from 1967. Apparently, since I had no guidance, I did this wrong (surprise!). So, I was faced with two metal frames and two pieces of 50-year-old glass I was terrified of breaking if I tried to force it and hit something hard the wrong way.
John Wolfe and I already made an unsuccessful attempt at this in the garage. Then there was the day I waylaid a nice young man who was delivering glass to one of my neighbors. He was polite but definitely convinced I was going to sell him to a group of hippies restoring VWs in small caves somewhere, and he would end his days reinstalling glass on classic vans and bugs at gun point, never to see his family again. He suggested we contact his boss and ran away as fast as his little legs would carry him.
We contacted the boss and were told no-go on VW glass: “Try Wolfsburg West!”
Ah, the VW parts place Jock theorizes has tracked the progress of this restoration so well, they just send us a random box based on what they assume we must be working on and charge my credit card accordingly.
Well, they don’t have the rubber we need (which is shocking because I swear someone could build a VW from scratch from their catalog). But they did offer to reassemble them for me if I shipped them the windows—which takes service to a whole new level.
But did I mention this was 50-year-old glass? Not sure I want it going through the mail twice.
We tried an auto-glass place. They gave us the run around for six weeks.
Oh, what the hell, I thought. It can’t hurt to ask right?
So one afternoon I asked Joey if, since he did window repair, if he might be able to do my VW windows? Oh, and I needed an electric chipper.
“Can you show me where mortar repointing supplies are? Teach me how to use the bag for applying mortar before a fine tool? Find this particular size of metric bolt that we lost and match some paint from a paint chip I brought in off the radiator?”
Why did I ever go anywhere else? Why?
I remain on a pretty constant high from Stevens. Somehow, they continue to amaze me. I mean, they do screen-door repair! Like many people, I go to the hardware store on a mission and don’t really wander around to find out what all is offered—I just focus on the essential item that brought me in that day. One day, while visiting with Beau—the stunningly handsome young canine who works behind the front counter at Stevens—I learned they offer screen-door repair. (Don’t tell my dogs, Horace and Hilda, but Beau is one of my favorite reasons for visiting. I mean, he is a real heart-melter. Sigh.)
In due course, Austin and I dropped off the screen door from the front porch of my childhood home. It had seen better days. For the last seven years, it had been stored in an area that regularly flooded from storms. The screen was ripped, the trim broken. It was a mess.
“You know you could just buy a replacement screen door?” A well-intentioned neighbor asked while watching us load it.
Well, no. I can’t. I could make a replacement screen door, but this is a historic house. Nothing is standard on it. Nothing. After 120 years, nothing is square, either.
More importantly, this is the door that belongs to the house. No, I don’t just replace it on a whim. Breakage? Possibly. Destruction? Yes. (Hosana, our Husky-Lab mix, ate three screen doors during the first two years of her life.) But to replace for some sense of convenience or a change of mind? Not me.
“Did you know this was originally brass screen?” Heather asked me a couple of days later at Stevens.
I shook my head. “I guess it just turned black from all the years and dirt. Wow, that’s pretty cool.”
A few days later, I picked up an almost brand-new door. The screen was repaired, the anti-warping mechanism repaired, the trim replaced, the brass grill behind the lower screen reinstalled, and it looked brand new. All for about $40. But the care and consideration that clearly went into it is priceless.
“How long have you been shopping at Stevens?” John asked me on our way back to the garage after one of our many trips to Stevens that week.
“I guess as long as I have been with Jock? So 14 years? Since they were still on Castle Street. Why?” I looked at John in surprise.
“It’s just unusual to have that long a relationship with a hardware store,” John observed.
Jock introduced me to the world of Stevens, and I have to admit I fell in love immediately. But it was when we began the renovation of the new building for the bookstore in 2010 that I began to feel like I had taken up residence. Around that time, they moved to their new location on Dawson, which allowed for an expansion and a more central location. But the important things stayed the same, like the great, knowledgable, helpful staff. Full Belly Project keeps an account with Stevens that gets billed monthly—which means that when Jock wakes up with an idea at 3 a.m., after five hours in the shop, he can be at the front door when the hardware store opens without having to remember where he put his wallet in the heat of invention.
I’ve been thinking about John’s comment, and for Stevens, it’s not an unusual relationship. Since the 1930s they have been part of life in Wilmington. They continue to do business the same way: with sincerity and decency. That’s why it is not unusual that many people have been shopping with them for much longer than 14 years.
Of course, getting to scratch Beau’s ears is also a draw.