A family affair
Nippy the cat roams the cardboard box filled back shop of Anderson's Classic Hardware in West Palm Beach, where shelves stacked to the ceiling contain every type of handle, knob and pull imaginable. There are silver starfish for sea-lovers and Swarovski crystal for those who want a little dazzle on their drawers. The cowboy collection is perfect for the cabinets in that Florida ranch house. And gold fixtures will give any kitchen or bathroom some serious sparkle.
The furry feline belongs to the family of five that runs the 82-year-old downtown business led by patriarch Jim Anderson.
"She's the house cat," Mr. Anderson said. "She never leaves the store. She loves it in here."
He does, too, having worked there since Harry Truman was president. The 88-year-old bought the high-end hardware store from his mother, Grace, in 1964 and moved it to its current location on South Olive Avenue in 1974. His father, George, who founded the business, died in 1955.
“I get up at 6:30, and I wake her up at 7:30,” Mr. Anderson said of his and his wife, Marie’s, weekday-morning routine.
Mrs. Anderson, also 88, does the accounting.
“We’re in good health — she’s Italian- Irish, and I’m Scottish-Irish,” Mr. Anderson said.
Neither wants to retire.
“Marie and I are so busy operating this company that we never gave it much thought,” Mr. Anderson said.
They have four children, six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Son George takes care of custom orders and technical details, and daughter Rosemarie manages the showroom.
“That’s her baby,” Mr. Anderson said of the storefront that’s crowded with displays of Baldwin, Emtek, Rocky Mountain Hardware and Watermark merchandise. “She says, ‘Dad, we’re going to do this, this and that,’ and I say, ‘Yes, ma’am.’”
When his parents kept the store, the Palm Beach High School graduate had little interest in going into the trade.
“I wasn’t really attracted to the hardware business,” Mr. Anderson said.
He instead took a job in broadcasting, working as an afternoon deejay at WIRK-AM in 1947, which at the time played popular music and not the country tunes the FM station kicks out now. In 1954, he became a talent on Channel 21, the area’s first television signal, shot from the 11th floor of the Harvey Building.
“Then I was married and had all these children and wasn’t making a lot of money,” Mr. Anderson said. “So I went to my father and said, ‘Is there room for me here?’ I learned from the dirty ground up. Dad was a good teacher.”
At the time, the company sold fine decorative hardware and bath accessories for residences, as well as industrial supplies to commercial institutions such as schools, hospitals and other entities.
“Palm Beach Junior College, Forest Hill High School, St. Mary’s [Medical Center], Good Sam’s [Good Samaritan Medical Center] — we supplied hardware for all kinds of buildings,” Mr. Anderson said.
In the ’80s, he decided to stop the commercial side of the business and focus on the residential side, as both became too overwhelming for the mom-
The residential side was more fun, he said, pointing to a printed-out picture, hanging amid a wall of framed family photos in his office, that shows the largest home Anderson’s Classic Hardware ever furnished. The owners of the 40,000-square-foot abode in Minnesota purchased $100,000 worth of product.
Customers’ wants, needs and tastes have evolved throughout the decades, Mr. Anderson said. The mirrored medicine cabinets of the past are the brushed-metal towel bars of today. The chrome-plated, kitchen-sink look has been replaced by fancy faucet sets that command upward of $2,000.
“People have increased their love of, just, stuff,” Mr. Anderson said. “People have gotten to the point where they want quality.”
He also noted another change: Twenty some years ago, more than 95 percent of the brands he stocks were manufactured in the United States. As of late, less than 5 percent are. But their integrity has remained the same.
“The material we sell has gotten much better,” Mr. Anderson said. “Manufacturing has improved because of the technology.”
Anderson’s Classic Hardware serves equal parts builders, designers and walk-ins and offers the same market price to all. One of the reasons is because the ordering, shipping and delivery process has been simplified — and sped up — by computers, meaning less legwork is involved.
“It would take three days to mail, 30 days to make and one week to ship,” Mr. Anderson said. “Now I can sit here and press email.”
The 8,000-square-foot, corner-lot presence faces new competition with the January opening of Blackman, a big building on South Dixie Highway that purveys posh kitchen and bathroom appliances and décor. Miller’s Fine Decorative Hardware, also a high-end retailer, is up the street. All are within five blocks of each other.
“West Palm Beach is really getting to be a cool place for designers and kitchen and bath shops,” Rosemarie Anderson said. “If any more pop up, it’s going to be a destination for this kind of thing. It’s a growing town. It’s a growing community. Every showroom has a little something different to offer.” ¦
Anderson’s Classic Hardware, 605 S. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach 561) 655- 3109 or www.andersonshardware.com.