- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

WHEELING, W.Va. (AP) - If you’re walking north along Market Street - near the entrance to the Wheeling Tunnel and the back entrance to the old Stone & Thomas Department Store, now the Stone Center - and happen to look up, you’ll see a faded sign for “Becker’s Hardware.” The business ceased to be a going concern in fall 2001, which is a shame according to local farmer Andy Hogan.

“You don’t see a hardware store like that anymore,” Hogan said while walking around his property outside of Bethany. “There was more knowledge in there. I feel sorry for young people today because they don’t know what a real hardware store is like. That place was the real deal. You could get anything in there.”

Indeed, Hogan remembers his mother purchasing a Conestoga wagon wheel in the 1990s that was “new old stock.” New in the sense that it hadn’t been sold.

But old in the sense that it had been in the store’s inventory for decades. He also remembers the store’s wooden floors. And how purchased items were wrapped in brown paper and tied with twine.

“They just stocked everything,” Hogan said. “You just don’t have that kind of service today like you did then.”

The story of Becker’s Hardware begins in 1909 when Charles H. Becker opened up shop at 1054 Market St. The store was four stories high, with items stored in wooden cabinets. And was equally divided between hardware and animal feed. The main feed contract being with Ralston Purina. It remained in the same place throughout its existence, save for a couple of years after a fire in 1923.

Becker’s grandson, Donald Stenger, grew up in the business. He’s 66 years old now, though he vividly remembers going to the store as a toddler to see his father, who ran the place. It was pretty much the same then as it was when he closed it down - hardware and feed. He and his sister both worked there as children. And after leaving the area for a few years, he came back to run it for its last 20 years of existence. He said it was best known for its customer service.

“You know it was a family business,” he said. “And as a family business your customers became more than just customers. The people you know by name, call you by name. You load something into their vehicle if it needs loaded. You extend them various courtesies that you don’t get at a big box.”

Time simply passed Becker’s Hardware by, Stenger said of his decision to close the business after 92 years. Downtown had changed a lot he said. Stone & Thomas was gone. Hornes was gone. Many businesses had moved to the surrounding malls, and people simply weren’t on the street during the lunch hour. He had an auction to liquidate the inventory and came across some interesting items.

“One of the things we found on the upper floors was an engine - a single piston gas engine - and I quite frankly didn’t know what it was,” he said. “My auctioneer at the time said it was a valuable and interesting piece.”

While he misses Becker’s, Stenger said that perhaps he was ready to move on. He currently has no plans to reopen the business. Though he agrees with Hogan that something definitely was lost when he closed the doors for good.

“There is a wealth of knowledge in these older stores,” he said. “A lot of people out there may have the knowledge, but is it concentrated in one store? Probably not.”


Information from: Wheeling News-Register, https://www.news-register.net



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