When you usually think of the Hudson Valley, you picture small towns nestled among the mountains or alongside the Hudson River. Each town consists largely of independently owned, unique creative businesses more often than not run by people who live and grew up in the town. They know the neighborhoods, they know the people in them, and they are committed to the community.
The local hardware stores are among the staples of these towns. It makes sense. Every time you need a nail, a light bulb, a sewing needle, some pens or new cups, it’s where you go when you want to fix a leaky pipe, deal with chipped paint, need to dig a hole or mend a fence.
You can find thousands of specialized objects at your local hardware store. The chances are you know the friendly face directing you to just the right one.
An abundance of hardware stores in our neck of the woods are not only owned by a local family, but they have also been owned by that same family for generations. Tips and information have been passed down. Ideas have been reshaped by eyes that grew up watching these hardware stores progress and change with time. When they see you, they know you. They know the house you live in. Maybe they know your dad or mom, too.
They have everything you might expect to find in a hardware store, and quite a lot you might not even know you needed. They have kept adapting to new products, new technologies and new consumer needs. It’s comforting to know that part of what they do is to figure out what the community needs.
Herzog’s Home and Paint Center
The year was 1909. Like a gritty black-and-white photo, things looked different, but Kingston was bustling. Its many factories were employing thousands providing goods for the rest of the country, and indeed for the world. The area brickyards and bluestone quarries were in full swing, sending building supplies to help New York City grow. The first Model T car had come out the year before, and cars were on the cusp of surpassing horse-drawn carriages on the less bumpy roads.
Matthew Herzog decided to open a paint, wallpapering and picture-frame store on Wall Street in Kingston on May 10, 1901.
Fast forward to 2023, and you will find that a lot of things have changed. Kingston has been through many highs and lows. The name Herzog has remained. Still owned by the same family, Herzog’s over the decades worked its way up to becoming a full-fledged hardware and paint center with multiple locations.
Under the attentive eye of each successive generation, Herzog’s has continued to prosper and grow. In 1959, Robert Herzog, the son of Matthew, bought Kingston Lumber. In the 1960s the family created what is now Kingston Plaza. In the 1970s their hardware store moved to the plaza. In 1985, Todd Jordan joined his grandfather, Robert Herzog, in running the family business. He took over as president following his grandfather’s death in 1992, and was joined in the business by his brother Todd shortly thereafter.
Over the decades Herzog’s has expanded to include additional paint centers in Albany, Latham, Poughkeepsie and Fishkill. It has opened a garden center and gift shop at its Kingston location. Each year it has improved and expanded various parts of its stores, regardless of world problems and local challenges. Despite wars, recessions, the advent of big-box stores, and severe supply-chain problems during the recent pandemic, Herzog’s continues to prosper.
How was it able to survive all these events? Todd’s wife Julie, who helps run Herzog’s, offers a number of answers:
Resilience: “We prioritize tradition, but pivot with change.”
Dedication: “Our dedication to customers and employees runs deep. For over 110 years we’ve provided outstanding expert service with quality products. We realize our employees are the future, so we encourage them to gain new skills and give them opportunities for growth. And we never take them for granted because it’s their dedication that keeps us going decade after decade. We have created a workplace culture strong in diversity, inclusion and belonging. It’s important to us that every employee feels like they belong.”
Trust: “We make sure our staff provides reliable honest information to fill our customers’ needs and build strength in those relationships.”
Hardworking experts: “Our staff will always go the extra mile to help get any problem solved. We strive to hire people that know their area of expertise extremely well.” Because the Herzog family has lived here, they grew up here, and they understand the community, it helps them to understand the needs of those around them.
PC Smith Hardware & Son
Phillip C. Smith started business as a roofer and tinsmith on Market Street in Saugerties at the turn of the century. His son Albert joined his business in 1904 at the age of 14. It was Albert who created the official PC Smith & Son Hardware around 1914. It moved to its current location on Main Street in 1920. The business passed from generation to generation, and is currently run by siblings Rick and Sharon and Rick’s son Jacob.
Their location on Main Street in the center of the village has helped them be successful. Ultimately, however, it is their expertise in assisting customers that is most useful. Rick says that people will often come in with a broken item and ask for direction. The Smiths and their eight employees walk them through the steps of what it will take for them to complete their project. This kind of one-on-one customer service, passed down through the generations, has helped Smith Hardware remain a vital part of the community.
Each generation has also been able to bring something new to the table. Jacob, for example, completely digitized the store, bringing it into the present century. PC Smith is now able to track 35,000 active items, keeping up with seasonal and area trends. This advancement became vital during the pandemic, when their business markedly increased. Jacob credits that uptick to the fact that people felt safe with them during a scary time. They were trustworthy and local, kept items clean, had a strict mask policy, and offered curbside delivery.
H. Houst & Sons Hardware Inc.
Woodstock in the 1930s was a well-established arts colony, but even artists depend on someone practical to provide them everyday services. It was here that Henry O. Houst set up a small electric-motor repair shop on Rock City Road in 1932.
As time went by, he added a place to sell tools, hardware and paint. A decade later, his son Henry T. joined the business. Henry T. bought the current location on Mill Hill Road in the very center of the hamlet. The store remains there to this day.
Henry T. left the business to his two sons, Henry L. and Milton. Henry L.’s son Ned tells the tale of coming to Woodstock to give working at the family hardware store a try after three years as a naval officer. He was going to give the job a year to see how it worked out. “It’s been a long year.” he quipped after over a half-century of seeing how it would work out.
Currently Jody Bryan, Ned’s stepdaughter, and her husband run H. Houst and Sons. She has been working there since she graduated college, and has never looked back. “The hardware business is never boring. After all these years, I still learn new things.”
The business has changed over the years, and the staff all work hard to stay in tune with the needs and wants of the community. The store used to sell clothing and school supplies. Now it instead hosts an improved kitchenware section.
Cultural and environmental awareness is important. The store no longer sells lawn and garden chemicals. It seeks alternatives to plastic containers.
Houst’s encourages their customers to do their own trouble-shooting and repairing. Rather than things being thrown away, repairs keep them working longer. To help with that, Houst’s stocks specialty items that often can’t be found even in big-box stores. Houst’s also now runs a large equipment-rental business so that not every tool or piece of machinery needs to be purchased.
“For over 90 years now, it is the people, our staff and our customers, who have made us what we are,” Jody says. “Everyone loves a good hardware store!”
Jody left us with an affectionate tribute fashioned by Woodstock poet Will Nixon. Unsurprisingly, it’s entitled:
H. Houst & Son
Heaven and Hell in the same aisle as the helium balloons you buy to knock some sense into the sky.
Oil for the paraffin lamp so you can write poems by the light Emily wrote by.
Umber for the moods too much like March you begin to miss by July.
Suppose you weren’t born with the genes for splicing wires or hanging chandeliers.
There’s still hope at the hardware. The same two clowns who manage this place, the General & the Saboteur, also happen to manage your psyche. One never fails. The other always has fun.
So buy the dog bone shaped like an Olmec god. The squirrel-proof feeder that squirrels prefer.
Order the 1/4” screwlatchboltswitch that only costs 39¢ whatever the hell it’s for.
Nobody votes against hardware. Rumor says there’s a light bulb in back that burns forever.