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Longtime stores ending operations

April 30, 2011|By HEATHER KEELS | heather.keels@herald-mail.com
  • Wolfe's on the Square in Williamsport is closing. Wolfe's was opened as a lunch counter in 1921 by George "Hooper" Wolfe, owner Jack Slick said. Slick, who is married to Hooper Wolfe's granddaughter, has operated it for 51 years.
By Joe Crocetta, Staff Photographer

Growing up on Summer Street in Hagerstown's West End during the 1960s, Paul Sharrah remembers walking around the corner with his father and brothers to Corderman's Hardware, where the 7-year-old Paul stocked up on ammunition for his BB gun.

Now, 46 years later, Sharrah still buys his hardware from the same family-owned shop, where clerks greet him by name and candy sells for 5 cents out of canisters near the register. But this summer, that will all change.

Like a growing number of small business owners struggling under the dual pressure of a bad economy and competition from national chains, Paul Corderman, 67, has made up his mind to close.

"We've got two Lowe's, and Home Depot, Wal-Mart — all of them just keep cutting into what we used to sell," said Corderman's son, Robert Corderman. "All we sell is the small-ticket stuff now, and you can't make it on that."

The Cordermans have set the end of June as their anticipated closing date.

Meanwhile, in Williamsport, owner Jack Slick has reached a similar conclusion about Wolfe's on the Square, his hardware, liquor and fishing supply store.

Saturday was to be Wolfe's last day.

Around lunchtime Tuesday, as he rang up a long line of customers stocking up on liquor during his 50 percent off closing sale, Slick said he wanted to "just quietly close the doors and go away."

"I'm 73 years old and I'm tired," he said. "I'm going fishing myself."

Slick acknowledged declining sales contributed to the decision.

"I barely could even make last year, so reading the handwriting on the wall — it's not gonna be good for a good while," he said.

Like the Bast of Boonsboro furniture store, which owner Douglas Bast has decided to close this summer after 174 years in business, both Corderman's and Wolfe's have  histories dating back through multiple generations.

Wolfe's was opened as a lunch counter in 1921 by George "Hooper" Wolfe, Slick said. Slick, who is married to Hooper Wolfe's granddaughter, has operated it for 51 years.

The store's liquor license has been in the family since prohibition ended, he said.

Corderman's opened in the early 1940s, when Paul Corderman's father, Harry Corderman, had a business distributing Kendall Oil, Paul Corderman said.

"While he was out delivering the oil and taking orders, his father came in and answered the phones, and while he was sitting here he decided he should sell something else, and he put in hardware for the farmers," Corderman said.

Robert Corderman said he thought if his grandfather were alive today, he would understand the decision to close.

"Especially if he would see how things have progressed over the years," he said. "I think even he had said sometimes — it's harder (as a small business) to find people to work for you, with the wages that some of these other businesses pay, especially the bigger stores, and the benefits they can give."

The Cordermans said their business reached its height in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, doing so well, in fact, that they opened a second store in Chewsville in 1973 that operated for 28 years.

"Then, in come the boxes, the big boxes," Paul Corderman said.

"They've got twice, three times the buying power that we have," Robert Corderman said.

The two credit customer service and a reputation for being able to get hard-to-find items for keeping them open this long.

Corderman's sells items such as plumbing valve stems and parts for lamp fixtures, which bigger stores often don't carry because they prefer to sell a whole new faucet or fixture, Robert Corderman said. But even that advantage is fading.

"Now most people are just replacing the item, they're not even fixing them," he said. "So it makes it even harder to sell if they're buying a whole new fixture every time it goes bad. They don't even think about repairing it."

Many of the customers shopping in Corderman's Tuesday morning said they were sorry to learn the shop was closing.

"They got whatever you need, and it's priced reasonable, so there's no problem at all," said Ronald Hart, 57, of Hagerstown, who said he has been shopping at Corderman's all his life.

"I always get my hunting nails and stuff for my tree stands, and if I need something for my lawnmower, plumbing stuff, it's here," he said.

Edward Younger, 46, of Maugansville, praised the store's quick service.

"I brought my screen in here yesterday (for repair) and they called me two hours later," he said.

Robert Corderman said his 14-year-old son, Collin, sometimes comes in to wait on customers and help with lawnmower repairs, but, sadly, will never have a real job in his family's business.

"I know he's a little disappointed about that, in all honesty," Robert said. "He hates to see the store go."

The decision to close was a gradual one the family arrived at over the past year, he said.

"It's just been a gradual decrease, and as you see it, there's no point in running it into the ground," he said. "So you might as well get out while you're not losing your shirt or anything else, and you still have a little bit of money in your pocket."

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