Since the 1890s, there’s been a general store or hardware store on the corner of Chestnut and 34th streets in Hampden. Off and on since 1968, it has gone by the name Falkenhan’s. The first Falkenhan to own and run the store was Frank, a plumber by trade. In 1998, he convinced his daughter, Deb, to take over. At the time she was a stay-at-home mom who knew “absolutely nothing” about the hardware business. Her first day running the shop she made $32. Ten years later, she is the hardware store equivalent of the Oracle at Delphi. Each day, roughly 150 customers filter in and out of her approximately 750-square-foot store. Some grab exactly what they need from the stuffed shelves or ancient glass cabinets, give Cop Car the cat a quick pat and go on their way. But others come in confused and helpless, in dire need of sage advice and encouragement— and they get it. Style recently sat down with Deb Falkenhan to talk about plumbing, repairing vs. replacing and doing things the old-fashioned way.
There are brands of plumbing fixtures specific to Guilford and Roland Park and Hampden. Guilford has a lot of Chicago, American Standard, Kohler and Streamway. In Remington and Hampden you have the Gerbers, the Sterlings, and unfortunately, after Home Depot moved in, Price Pfister. They brought it out here to the East Coast and now they don’t carry it any more so it’s tough to get parts.
Home Depot is a home improvement store. It is not a hardware store. The difference to me is that Home Depot wants you to replace. We help you to repair.
I know at least 80 percent of our customers by name, if not by face. Most of them are Harry Homeowner.
People get a little irritated sometimes because I ask a lot of questions. But if I don’t get all the information, you get home and find out you bought the wrong stuff.
As a plumber’s daughter, I try to talk people out of putting Drano in their drains. I have never, ever, poured chemical down the drain.
I wouldn’t have said 20 years ago that this was what I was going to be doing.
I still carry washboards. I have one lady who swears by them— she’s raising her grandsons and she washes their jeans on them. We have two sizes— $8 and $12. I sell one a year, maybe one every two years.
We sell nails by the pound and by the piece. You go into Lowe’s or Home Depot and you have to buy a box. We still sell the butchers wax if you want to get on your hands and knees and wax your wood floor.
I gotta say: electric is not my forte.
I had a guy come in yesterday and… we were able to replace the washers, screws and packings in his shower stems. He walked out of here being able to put back together the fixtures instead of having to tear out a wall to replace the whole thing. If he’d gone to Home Depot, they’re gonna look at him like, huh?
I have no interest in doing renovation myself. I have, however, replaced the flapper in a toilet.
My latest thing is to tell people to take a picture of their plumbing with their digital camera and bring the camera in. Then I can tell them what they need.
We give away calendars and our most popular is the one with girls— ‘Fantasy Builders,’ it’s called. Last year some of my women customers said, ‘You have this calendar for the guys. What about us?’ So I found one online and bought it. But it’s more expensive than the girls. So until I find some cheaper guys I’m not doing it again.
I’ve had people ask me to open on Sunday, but, you know, I need a day to do laundry. I need a day to do shopping.
My tennis shoes last four to six months. I’m on my feet on the concrete floor all day.
I hand-write all my sales every day. I have a cash register, but that’s it. I don’t use SKUs. I have 35 different nails here. Somebody comes in and buys three of them, it’s just as easy to write ‘9 cents’ as it is to pull out a book and find out what kind of nail it is. We spend a lot of time putting price tags on things and putting them on the shelf. It keeps the part-timers busy.
There are a lot of very different, unusual people in this world. I was brought home from the hospital to Hampden and lived across the street. I’ve watched the neighborhood go down. I’ve watched it come back up. I have learned a lot of patience.
I had a lady in here today and she wanted fence staples. My dad said to me, ‘Deb, we always have fence staples.’ And I said, ‘Dad, I bought a box of 25 1-pound fence staples and had them for eight years. I don’t have them anymore.’ He wasn’t happy, but he understood. But I’m going to order a little bit of fence staples to keep the lady happy.
There has been a lot of work done in these old houses that is not what they should have done. That’s more true in plumbing than in anything.
I don’t want my son to take over the hardware store. I want him to go to college. I want him to get a good education and work a 40-hour-a-week job and be home for his family. This is hard work.