By M.L. Dehm For The Herald Business Journal
MARYSVILLE — Few businesses are able to boast that they have been around for 90 years, and even fewer can say that they are still run by the same family.
Carr’s Hardware in Marysville is one of those few.
Through depressions, recessions and the advent of the big box store, small, family-owned and operated Carr’s Hardware at 1514 Third Street has survived.
Four generations have worked in the store. Two of those generations learned to walk there on the same wooden floorboards that founder Milford Carr first walked in 1924.
Carr was a blacksmith, shoeing horses and working at a forge on Marysville’s First Street. In 1921, he decided to put up a building on Third Street as an investment.
“He built this as a retail store and was trying to rent it out,” said 82 year-old Darlene Scott, current owner of Carr’s Hardware and daughter-in-law of Milford Carr.
The building didn’t attract any tenants. The longer the property sat vacant, the more desperate Carr became to do something with it.
Then Carr heard about a general store in Mount Vernon that was going out of business and selling all of its stock.
Carr was able to negotiate a good price for the store’s inventory. He brought it down to Marysville and in June 1924, Carr’s Hardware became a reality.
Today, Carr’s Hardware has a touch of the old general store about it. Customers can buy nails or Mason jars, bolts or bowls, garden rakes or kitchen gadgets.
While the original cash register was eventually retired to a back office, a vintage 1950s National cash register is in daily use up front. Customers often comment on it, amazed that it still works. Some ask suspiciously if they can use credit cards in the store.
There certainly weren’t any credit cards in those early days when Milford Carr and his two stepsons, Bruce and Howard Scott, were the key workers. They also weren’t in use when Carr hired pretty 16-year-old Darlene Campbell as a part-time employee in 1948.
Darlene caught Bruce Scott’s eye and they were married in 1951. As the couple settled down and started a family, Bruce Scott slowly began to realize that he was destined to take over the family business. It hadn’t been his original intention. The Scotts began the process of purchasing the store from Milford Carr.
“It was in 1953 that we doubled the width of the store,” Darlene Scott said.
That expansion is still visible today. Half of the store has the original wood floors and is visibly from a different era. The Scotts were able to buy the property behind the store, build a warehouse and add a parking lot.
In 1966, the next major change occurred. Carr’s Hardware became an independently owned member of Ace Hardware. It was one of the earliest Ace Hardware affiliates on the West Coast.
“Originally, it was just a buying group to be able to buy merchandise at more reasonable prices,” explained Gail Libbing, one of the Scott’s three children who is the third generation to work at the family business.
With the support of Ace Hardware behind them, Carr’s Hardware qualifies for much better prices yet remains independent. This has enabled the business to compete in an era where big box stores rule the hardware market.
But Libbing doesn’t want anyone to think that they are anti-box store. After all, Carr’s Hardware doesn’t stock things like kitchen sinks.
“We can get them, though,” Gail Libbing pointed out. Customers can order items online from Ace.com, choose free shipping to an Ace location and pick up their products from Carr’s Hardware. It’s something that Milford Carr never imagined.
Carr died 1978. Bruce Scott passed away in 1997, leaving Darlene Scott to run the business with the help of daughter Gail Libbing.
About a year ago, Libbing’s husband, Maurice, joined the business.
Their children, Jessi and Nicholas, grew up in the store, as Gail Libbing did.
In recent years, there have been a few challenges for Carr’s Hardware. One has been letting newer Marysville residents know that they’re there. The town has grown so much that many people drive right by what was once the downtown corridor.
Another is that younger generations have grown up going to big box stores. Many don’t realize the benefits of going to an old-fashioned hardware store where service and knowledge are emphasized.
Many also tend to think that small, privately owned businesses are going to be more expensive, which often isn’t the case. Still, Carr’s Hardware tends to generate repeat customers once they get the people through the door.
Now that Darlene Scott has worked at the store more than 60 years, the family hopes that she will take some time off.
It’s too early to tell yet whether the fourth generation will take over the store. But Bruce Scott certainly never planned to take over his stepfather’s business.
Gail Libbing never planned to follow in her parents’ footsteps, either. “You start working here because it’s family,” she said. “Then I got married and started having kids and it was a wonderful way to be able to still work and have the kids with me. Once you got in — that was what you knew.”
But the Libbings have vowed to try and keep Grandpa Carr’s store going at least to its 100th birthday.
“That’s our goal,” Maurice Libbing promised.