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70 years of service: B & W Hardware nails 7 decades in downtown Wake Forest

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WAKE FOREST — There on the side of White Street, its windows lined with outdoor grills and power tools, is B & W Hardware.

You’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who remembers a time when the store wasn’t there.

This month, the business is celebrating 70 years. The family-run business is reflecting on generations of ownership and roots that run deep in the community.

The building, with its green awnings and wide store-front windows, was a grocery store built in 1945. In 1949, P.D. Weston bought the building and converted it to a hardware store ­— then called Weston Hardware.

“I was originally in the funeral business and I wanted to change careers for different reasons,” said current owner Buddy Willis.

In 1986, Willis and his father-in-law, Clarence “Hap” Barnes, learned Weston was looking to sell the hardware store and retire. They worked out a deal where Barns and Willis would buy the store, and Weston would stay on as an employee for the next four years, sharing his knowledge of the business.

Barnes and Willis renamed the store B & W Hardware.

“It seemed like a good fit,” said Willis, now 68. “And the rest is history. We’ve been here ever since.”

In 2013, Willis’ own son-in-law, Joe Kimray, joined the family business. Willis said he intends to give the store to Kimray when he retires, and for the store to remain in the family for generations more.

The store’s grip on the next generation is already taking hold. Kimray’s daughter, 3-year-old Eleanor, is “already talking about working at the hardware store someday,” her dad said. “So that’s a good thing.”

‘Retrovating’

As one of the oldest companies in Wake Forest, B & W has outlived other family-owned hardware stores that used to be on White Street. The store is also surviving the emergence of big box stores and hardware giants Lowe’s and Home Depot.

That’s because B & W is different, Kimray said.

Customers are immediately greeted by a machine that offers freshly made popcorn — for free. The store sells Coca-Cola in glass bottles and nails by the pound.

It feels old-school while offering modern products customers demand, like the high-end outdoor grills the store is known for, Kimray said. As the store has grown over the years, it has strove to maintain a sense of familiarity.

Kimray called the process “retrovating.”

“We like to keep the feeling of the hardware store,” Willis said. “You used to go in, get yourself a Coca-Cola, sit down and talk with the people in the store. This store reminds me of the store my granddaddy took me into. It’s got an old, old, old feel.”

B & W is still a place where people come together to chat. As Kimray was walking around the store Tuesday, he could call out customers by name. He stopped and asked how one man’s recent trip to Europe had been.

“Service, service, service,” Willis said when asked how his store has survived the decades. “You can buy any product anywhere else, but if you don’t provide good service, they won’t come back.”

Downtown icon

Kimray, who grew up near Charlotte, said he knew he was home the first time he came to Wake Forest. He is now a board member of the Wake Forest Chamber of Commerce and on the town’s planning board.

Willis is a former chamber board member. He has been inducted into the chamber’s hall of fame.

Lisa Hayes, director of Wake Forest Downtown, said Willis and Kimray have impacted the downtown economy and the feel of Wake Forest as a whole.

“They are visionaries for what downtown needs to look like,” Hayes said. “They are great about sharing those ideas and then they back it up with sponsorships and volunteering for different things to make sure our initiatives come to life.”

B & W is one of the long-lasting landmarks in downtown Wake Forest, a club that includes businesses like Shorty’s Famous Hot Dogs, Wake Forest Federal and The Wake Weekly. Willis said he believed his store is the oldest company in Wake Forest that is still in its original building.

And there are no plans to move.

“I can’t imagine this business being anywhere else with the level of involvement we have in the community,” Kimray said. “Even with the growth we’ve had, we are still the quintessential small town America.”

The partners also acknowledge the store’s longevity is in part to the roots established by Weston 70 years ago.

“If it wasn’t for Mr. Weston getting it started and making it a viable store, we wouldn’t be here today,” Willis said.

Celebration planned

B & W Hardware is holding a public celebration to commemorate 70 years in business.

The celebration will be from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday at the store, which is located at 232 S. White St.

The event will include grilled food, ice cream and cupcakes.

“I think any anniversary that ends in zero is a mark of distinction because every decade so many things can change in the world and the market,” Kimray said. “Especially in a retail space, if you can clear 10 years, that an accomplishment.”

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