PORTLAND – Maine Hardware celebrated 75 years of business this past weekend, so we sat down with Tom Skelton, president of the company, to find out the trick behind its longevity.

Q: What is the secret behind 75 years of business?

A: It definitely has been customer service. It’s certainly one of our strengths. Having an extremely knowledgeable staff makes a huge difference. Most of our people have been here anywhere from seven years to 30 years. They’re very knowledgeable in what they do. And we have a lot of merchandise. We have things you just can’t find anywhere else. That combination has made a huge difference over the years.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the store’s history?

A: We started in 1934. It has probably been sold about four times, that I’m aware of. The current owner who purchased it 20 years ago, that was Pete Zimmerman, he grew the business. We incorporated an electrical wholesale business and closed some of the other locations and grew from there. We’ve gone from 5,000 to 7,000 square feet to 17,000 square feet of retail shopping, just in one location. 

Q: What distinguishes Maine Hardware from other hardware stores?

A: It has to be our depth of inventory, not so much that we have more dollar volume, but just the fact we have more individual (items). We just have stuff you can’t find anywhere else. With all the old buildings, we have a lot of plumbing fittings that people just don’t stock. That’s really what grew the business was the plumbing or electrical side of it. 

Q: So what do you offer in stock?

A: We offer painting supplies, featuring Benjamin Moore paints. We have a lawn and garden to automotive section and larger hardware section. We have a repair section for something from a lamp to a small mower that just need someone to take a look at to fix. We rent tools and equipment also. We do window repairs, we actually build storm windows, and screen repair, there’s a single individual that’s all they do. 

Q: Is Maine Hardware just for contractors, or can your average homeowner get supplies he or she needs?

A: The average homeowner. Probably the biggest growth in our business has been the retail side of business. In Maine Hardware’s early days, it was more known as the contractor type base. It’s sort of expanded from there when they moved into the shopping center here. Our business has grown tenfold in the retail side of the business with home owners and do-it-yourselfers. We still do business with contractors, so we really satisfy a lot of needs. 

Q: If I came in looking for advice on a home improvement project, let’s say remodeling a bathroom, what kind of services can you offer to help me get started?

A: We have two guys in our plumbing department that were actually plumbers, that’s all they’ve done their whole life. We have numerous catalogues to order from for the different lines. There’s plenty of choices. I don’t think we’d have enough on hand, only because of space, because there’s so many options, but the guys are very knowledgeable in guiding you through the best options. 

Q: Going forward, do you see Maine Hardware sustaining for another 75 years?

A: We’re always looking, if anything for the next new line of what we have to help out our customers. We’re definitely here for the long term. 

Q: What else should folks know about Maine Hardware?

A : I think it’s just how conscientious the staff is. We have some of the best people associated in the business. It’s by far one of the best crews we’ve had here. They’re so customer oriented and their whole goal is to make somebody happy. They really enjoy it. We have a lot of return customers. We have merchandise and we just have fantastic people. 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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