"I wrote the following accurate historical narrative in 1992 for Professor Leo Keenan’s English 101 class at St. Bonaventure University.
This year, 2017, is Worth W. Smith Co.’s 88th anniversary. Not only will you hopefully find this story entertaining but it will give you an insight into our corporate culture and you’ll understand why we are proud to be part of Worth W. Smith Co.."
As you drive down East Valley Road in Farmer’s Valley, Pennsylvania, heading towards Smethport, you pass a large, ominous building that stands silent and solemn next to endless, flowing rows of corn. It lies in the shadow of Fairview Cemetery, which only adds to the sadness and loneliness, which seem to ooze out of the building. Weeds and large bushes have grown up along the edges of the structure, and few, if any, intact windows remain. The red paint, which was once bright and radiant, has now dulled on the cement block walls. The walls bulge and dip due to the strain of age. The dilapidated and gloomy building, which seems to harbor ghosts and ghouls, was once a thriving workplace and was a virtual hardware mecca located in the hills of northwestern Pennsylvania. It has been said that any tool or gadget in existence could be found there if you had the time to search for it. It was a business started by a third generation German-American Worth Waldo Smith, my grandfather.
My grandfather was a hunter, not of wild game, but of deals. If there was a profitable deal within a six hundred-mile radius, he could smell it. It could have been a truckload of v-belts or three tons of emery wheels, but if it was cheap, it was his. He packed the building, which is roughly 15,000 square feet and has 20-foot ceilings in most parts of it, with any and every bargain he could find. People came to it; not only for tools, but just to stare in amazement at the creation which my grandfather had assembled.
I am told, by my father and many men who remember the business when it was operating, that the interior of the building today is almost identical to what it was in its prime. Stepping into the building is like stepping into the past. The military surplus, of which there is plenty, harkens to the days of World War II, and almost any item in the building could be called an antique or a relic. The aroma on the inside is intoxicating. The musty odor is a combination of the greases, chemicals, and oils that lurk among the shadows and emit their fumes into the air. Tools and boxes litter the floor, and it is similar to running a gauntlet when going from one end of the building to the other.
My grandfather was an astounding salesman and an intense, ingenious businessman; however, he had a uniquely different approach to marketing than businesses do now. Today, in my father’s hardware store, the alleyways are kept neat and clean and the merchandise is displayed for easy viewing. My grandfather’s theory was, “Stuff it where it fits,” and “Dirt builds character.” He did not believe in keeping the merchandise at eye level so the customers could see it easily. He believed in stacking the goods all the way to the ceiling, which meant racks that were twenty feet high. The customers literally had to climb for their merchandise selections. This is what gave the store its mystique. Digging through the rubble and climbing over the massive piles of bargains is what drew people to it. It was like roaming through the New World, searching for the Lost City of Gold. Although that may seem like an exaggeration, the comparison is exact. In the back of the mind of every person who wandered through the store, there was the thought that somewhere, under the heaping mounds of goods, there was a treasure; some misplaced object that had been laid down and buried; a wondrous gift just waiting to be found. It was, of course, this treasure that kept people digging and pulling and searching and coming back to this mecca in the middle of nowhere. Many a man spent hours picking and poking through the hardware, looking for the glistening object that would solve all his problems.
Today, the building is cold and quiet. Inside it is dim and eerie and reminds one of a time long forgotten. As I mentioned before, it has not changed. It is still full of merchandise, and you have to watch your step so you do not trip on anything. The roof leaks and bats flutter about. You find yourself constantly looking over your shoulder. I always have the feeling someone is watching me when I go there. It is probably my grandfather’s spirit recounting all of his wonderful deals and bargains.