INKERMAN — Petro Ace Hardware co-owner Thom Petro said operating a hardware store is like “seeing the flow of life.”
“You help people through projects and they go from one project to another,” said Thom, 66, of Exeter. “You become friends and acquaintances over the years. Then people move away and new people move in—you make new friends, you lose old friends. It’s life.”
For 50 years, the Petros have turned customers into friends from their 640 S. Main St., Inkerman location. The building started as a showroom for Thom’s father, homebuilder and remodeler Thomas J. Petro Sr., until Thomas decided to also carry a small selection of products to sell visitors. In 1972, the construction business folded and the showroom became a dedicated retail space for hardware and building supplies.
Thomas passed in 1979, leaving his wife, Helen, in control of the business. In 1981, at the urging of Thom, they aligned themselves with Chicago-based Ace Hardware. Ace is a retail cooperative—its members are more like business partners than franchisees, each contributing to a partnership that allows stores to buy low and sell at competitive prices.
Thom said the marketing muscle of Ace’s recognizable brand also factored into the decision.
“I always felt we were up against some tough competition with some of the larger suppliers and lumber lards,” Thom said. “Basically, I felt we needed something larger than ourselves to promote an image. That’s when we made the move to Ace. We were tied with a national entity and a national identity and that helps a lot.”
In 1993, Thom and his brother Joe, 63, of Pittston, became co-owners of Petro Ace Hardware. Despite changes throughout the years, Thom said he and Joe never lost their focus on customers.
“We like to have them leave with exactly what they need to do the job they come in about, whether they know what they need or not, and everyone leaves with, ‘Thank you,’” Thom said.
Inkerman resident Jo Graf said she started shopping at Petro Ace Hardware a year ago. She said she kept coming back because Petro Ace Hardware offered hands-on service and a first-name basis customer relationship.
“They’re friendly, their prices are good they always have what I want—and they always help me because I’m stuck on stupid when it comes to anything in here,” Graf said.
As for Petro Ace Hardware’s future, Thom said he and Joe aren’t sure how much longer they’ll continue to observe the flow of life through the lens of a hardware store.
“Basically, that’s where we’re at now—we don’t know what we’re going to do,” Thom said. “We have no idea what the future will hold for the business. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not going to do this forever.”
Until their next project comes, Thom, Joe and their six employees will be in Inkerman, ready to help with their customer’s next projects. They’re also hiring. Desired skills include the ability to remember first names and the drive to end every interaction with a sincere, “Thank you.”
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