The two-story Italianate style building located at 15 W. Delaware Ave. in Pennington’s historic district has been a hardware store for more than 160 years. The services offered and tools for sale have changed, but little else, including the front door flanked by windows filled with sale items, tin ceiling, wood floors lined with shelved items, and the unfinished second story used for stock storage.
In its many years, Hopewell Valley residents have relied on it to get what they need in a town that they love. Maureen and Greg Hullfish, owners for the past 23 years, hope that continues, but it will depend on the next owner, since they are selling the building with or without stock. They’re tired of shoveling snow and fighting icy winds and are eager to retire to South Carolina, where many of Maureen’s family have moved, as soon as the building sells.
Greg Hullfish was 16 in 1976, when he began working at Cryer’s Hardware in Ewing. The business suited him and he stayed after graduating from Hopewell Valley Central High School. He liked talking to customers, listening to their projects, gathering needed supplies, and sending them on their way to create and repair.
Maureen, raised in Ewing Township, found reasons to stop by the store, buying what he sold. Soon, talk of a first date came to pass, dating turned into marriage, and the couple settled in Hopewell Township. In 1995, when they were young enough to think all things were possible and old enough to have saved the money, they purchased Pennington Hardware.
A brief history
According to Pennington Profile: A Capsule of State and Nation, by Margaret J. O’Connell, the first incarnation of the store was known as Burd & Witter Co. Built in 1850 by John Ellis Burd. Witter was for Henry Witter, who was Burd’s partner for a brief period of time. The hardware “concern,” as it was called back then, sold tools and stoves, and installed tin roofs, among other things.
Besides being a businessman, Burd was an involved citizen. He supported the great migration west by hauling a wagon built in Pennington to Trenton that was then shipped and used by settlers of the Oregon Territory. After a devastating fire at the Presbyterian church, he trudged through fields and woods in 1874, asking people for money to rebuild.
In 1878, John Ellis and son Jonathan partnered, renaming the business J.S. Burd and Co. The village was a busy place as customers could buy stoves and hardware from the Burds, meat from Benjamin Taylor, and custom-made carriages from James Bergen on West Delaware Avenue.
By 1883, the town’s population of 700 also supported three blacksmith and wheelwright shops, two furniture stores, a tailor, a fire insurance company, three seminaries, a druggist, the newly built Blackwell Memorial Home, a confectionary, a restaurant, three churches, three general stores, a hotel, a boarding house, and a lumber-coal yard.
Jonathan, like his father, was a smart business person but also an involved community member. In response to a severe drought in 1886 that dried wells and cisterns, William Yard, Oliver Gray, A.D. Clarkson and William Muirhead joined him in starting the Pennington Water Company. They built a reservoir and piped water to the town.
The store kept its name but changed hands at some point in the early 1900’s, though who purchased it and what was sold is not known. In 1951, Helen and Robert Flynn became the new owners, calling the business Flynn’s Hardware. In 1977, after retiring as an airline pilot, Houston “Judge” Landis pursued his dream of owning a hardware store with wife Jennifer. They renamed it Pennington Hardware and worked the business together, along with their teenaged children Houston, Michael, and Terri.
An Uncertain Future
When the Hullfishes bought the store in 1995, Maureen still worked full-time for the New Jersey Department of State, daughter Jules was a 13-year-old Timberlane Middle School student, and Nicole, a one-year-old, was beginning to walk. They hired a small staff to help during the week, but Maureen and the girls were needed after school and on weekends.
With 16 years of experience, Greg knew what stock sold and what customers wanted, a friendly face when they walked in and supplies they needed. He built the business with the customer as its core. Many customers simply stayed from years shopping with the prior owner and many more grew from word of mouth.
Together, the family made paint that brightened new babies rooms, gave advice on what was needed to fix leaky sinks, made extra house keys, sold shovels used in snow storms, and pieced together vague descriptions of things torn and broken so replacement parts could be purchased. Around the time that Maureen left the government to work full-time at the store (2000), Jules married and moved to Titusville, where she still lives with her family. Nicole, now 24, has her teaching certificate and will relocate to South Carolina along with her parents.
With her parents ailing in recent years, Maureen began to spend more and more time away in order to care for them until the last died in 2017.
“We took care of all our parents and our kids are grown. We want to go and enjoy life a bit before we can’t,” said Maureen of their decision to sell.
Though work gloves can be purchased at some gas stations, screwdrivers in dollar stores, and much else in Home Depot and Lowes, customers intentionally choose the Pennington store. “People have been coming here because they have a good experience. They get a smiling face and the things they need. Pennington supports us,” she said.
The bigger stores have had their effect but due to loyal customers that “don’t want to lose us,” said Greg, the business remained successful.
“We’re not going out of business. We’re retiring,” Maureen said.
At the end of the day, the building will be sold, and the business will either continue or it won’t. The Hullfishes will take any good offer that allows their release from the cold.
Christine Defrancesco-Butrym, a long-time customer of the store, hopes they find a buyer who will preserve the business. “The store has been a constant in our community for so many years. Small-town America is alive and well in Pennington and I hope that someone will continue the business’s legacy,” she said.
The store is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Phone: (609) 737-0059.