Mr. Young’s Hardware
“Find a job you enjoy doing, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” — Mark Twain
There are parts of Kearny, NJ that consist of noisy, grimy factories and warehouses. The town is not too far from Newark or from New York. Incorporated in 1867, it was named after a Civil War general killed in 1862. It seems that all you see and hear in these parts of Kearny are people on their way to and from their jobs, or actually working. The faces here seem to hold back their smiles and happiness for when they’re home, or for when they are facing people that they know. I was only in Kearny for a very brief time.
I have nearly always been fortunate to have jobs that didn’t seem like jobs. This is because as the inherent routine of each one began to make it feel like a job, I would quit and go out to find a new occupation. A gaffer’s day was so varied, I wanted to do that and nothing else for over 15 years. Producing movies was enjoyable for only a short while. I could barely do it for five, and then only for a friend of mine.
One job I did have, though, was real work from the very start, and it lasted for about six years. I was broke and sick of movies and took a job as a project manager overseeing the remodeling of supermarkets. This very quickly turned out to be very similar to line-producing movies. Any further description of what either of those jobs entailed bores me to even think about, let alone write, so let’s leave it there. But a perk of the supermarket job was getting paid to travel up and down the east coast, usually by car. Every chance I got, I would take pictures of things that caught my interest.
I chanced upon the Freeman Building in Kearny, New Jersey. I was managing an installation that required an emergency visit to the nearest hardware store. Google told me Young’s Hardware in this building was it.
As I parked, I couldn’t help but notice the monumental nature of this building with no other tall buildings around. That, and the sheer age of it, moved me. I immediately dug out my camera and, once out of the car, knelt on the ground right in the middle of the intersection to take a picture. My face could not get down low enough to look through the viewfinder, so I took a few photos blindly as I varied the angle of the lens up and down to make sure I was getting what I wanted. The signal turned green against me, so I got up and went into the hardware store.
Inside it was like I stepped out of a time machine. Mr. Young, the owner, was behind an ancient counter. I complimented him on how beautiful his store was, all the labeled drawers and old shelving. We got to talking about how long he had owned it and that he’d done nothing to change it since buying it thirty years ago.
He loved the hardware business far more than he had expected. When he started, all he did was stock the shelves. After a time, he was running the store by himself. He did this for many years before buying it from the increasingly absent owner. But that just meant he owned the counters and the shelves and drawers and all the stuff inside. He didn’t own the space. That he leased. He regretted not buying the whole building twenty years before our conversation when it became available. He had saved more than enough to do so, but at the time, it seemed like such an overwhelming responsibility. He didn’t think he would like that.
My conversation with Mr. Young occurred ten years ago. Driving by it recently, I was disappointed to see it vacated. Here is a recent real estate description of the space formerly occupied by Mr. Young. The website where I found it had some typos. It may have been written by Mr. Young himself: “Chance of a lifetime! This corner Store for rent in the legendary FREEMAN Building. If you’re looking for that retro style place to run your business or looking to start a business. Then look no further as this is it. Also include in the rental is all the Retro cabinets and counters with all its charm. If you don’t want them not a problem as landlord will remove. Don’t judge by the pictures the condition as the hardwood floors are going to be completely refinished.”
The ancient floors, especially at the cashier box where the boards were worn down from a hundred years of customers’ purchases, was one of my favorite features. Ah well.
All photos copyright 2021 by R.Quezada-Dardon