For around a thousand years, my wife's family owned and operated a stand in a once-thriving farmers market just outside of Philadelphia. Its humble beginnings were actually rooted in another man's business. My father-in-law was reeling from a devastating fire that wiped out his own hardware business that he ran in a building across the street. In an effort to generate some income while he rebuilt his business, my father-in-law bought out an older man who owned a little hardware store in Zern's Farmers Market. In addition to the man's unusual and mismatched inventory, my father-in-law brought in newer merchandise as well as a few items that were able to be salvaged from the fire.
Over the years, more merchandise was brought in and more space was secured to accommodate the expanding inventory. We busted through to the next stand and, with the addition of some second-hand shelving and creative merchandising, turned "Larry's Hardware" into everyone's first stop upon arrival at Zern's.
In reality, Mrs. Pincus was responsible for Larry's Hardware's popularity. Working at the store (sometimes unwillingly) from a very young age, Mrs. P began to bring in unusual items. Specifically, she sought out pop culture kitsch and collectibles that appealed to our fellow collectors — and other folks with disposable income. With our own Disney collection as a jumping off point, Mrs. P created eye-catching displays of Coca-Cola memorabilia (both new and antique), sought -after metal lunchboxes, superhero and rock & roll items, ephemera related to long-forgotten TV shows and movies and hundreds of corporate promo items. There was something for everyone, no matter what sort of collection you had... or wanted to start.
Word began to spread and each weekend (the market was only open on Fridays and Saturdays), the aisles were jammed with curious shoppers out to marvel at the childhood memories that dotted our shelves, as well as hardcore collectors seeking out that one elusive piece that'll complete their collection. Mrs. P, our son and I would offer assistance to several customers simultaneously — giving advice, explanations, prices — hoping that each bit of information we gave would result in a sale. We had regular customers and we would regularly supply their collections. After a while, Mrs. P would look for items for specific collectors. She knew what they liked and she knew what they would pay for things. Her uncanny sense of shrewd business acumen was unmatched. The best salespeople make it appear as though they aren't selling. And Mrs. P was one of the best. She could sell a drippy popsicle to a man in a white suit.
Of course, the typical Zern's customer wasn't typical. They were extremely discerning, very suspicious and not always willing to part with their hard-earned money. Mrs. P became their friend... and your friend wouldn't steer you wrong. She developed a trusting bond with a lot of her regular customers and they kept coming back for more. Some of them, however, weren't even sure what exactly it was that they collected.
|Is that Elvis?
My father-in-law closed up his store in Zern's in 2007, but Mrs. Pincus kept the collectibles business going online — to this day. An online business presents a whole new set of frustrations, but, at least mispronunciations aren't among them.
However, some people still don't know what they want.