Tom Nemec stands among some of the many party machines that are available at West Trenton Hardware. The family-owned business is adding “The Canopy Man,” service which, while still part of West Trenton Hardware, focuses on party equipment rental. Staff photo.

There’s a room in the basement of West Trenton Hardware on Upper Ferry Road with tents, tables, balloons and paper plates and party hats set up as though guests are arriving any minute.

“People ask me all the time if we throw parties down here,” said business owner Tom Nemec. “But I don’t think people are going to be sending out invitations that say, ‘Come to the hardware store for Johnny’s party.’”

Rather, Nemec’s latest business is to bring the party to you: tents, linen, plasticware, balloons, margarita and popcorn machines and inflatable bounce castles for the kids.

When Nemec’s father Bob opened the business in 1964, he had no conception that the store’s purpose would be anything other than selling hammers, screws and power tools.

But Tom Nemec acknowledges that it’s almost impossible to compete with the Home Depots of the world in the business of retail hardware. The stores with their sprawling canyons of merchandise and efficient supply chains have changed the way the up-and-coming generation thinks about hardware stores, Nemec said.

As a result, small competitors like the Ewing-native-owned West Trenton hardware have been forced to focus on areas where the big players are not so dominant, including equipment rental and repair services.

Nemec has also looked for unexplored businesses into which he could expand without being crushed by the big guys.

“We saw a need to diversify,” he said.

Two years ago, West Trenton Hardware started renting out party tents. Now they can set up your entire backyard, from the tent down to the place settings.

“This may be a direction for the future to make up for the decline in retail hardware [sales],” Nemec said. “This is how we want to build our business … People like to have everything done from start to finish.”

For the moment, the party supply store exists as a “party store within a hardware store,” he said.

West Trenton Hardware at 16 West Trenton Road is open from 7:30 a.m. to 7 p.m weekdays, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sundays. For more information, call (609) 882-0811.

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Diccon Hyatt is business editor of U.S. 1. He has worked for Community News since 2006 and was previously community editor of the Ewing Observer, the Hopewell Express, the Lawrence Gazette, and the Trenton Downtowner. From 2003 to 2006, he was a general assignment reporter for the Middletown Transcript in Middletown, Delaware. In 2002, he graduated from the University of Delaware, where he was features editor of the student newspaper, The Review. He has won numerous awards from the Maryland-Delaware D.C. Press Association and the Association of Free Community Newspapers for features, news, and opinion writing. He is married and lives in Marlton, NJ.