HARDWARE, WITH LESS TESTOSTERONE

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By LINDA G. RASTELLI

From “hardcore hardware” (no, it’s not as kinky as it sounds) to tchotchkes, just about all the minor necessities of householding can be found at Bain’s Hardware in Sea Bright, says owner Frank Bain.

The aisles overflow with beach chairs and towels, fishing gear, gardening supplies and plumbing pipe. The business includes a full-fledged paint store.

Here, the affable, seemingly unflappable Bain helps customers — prying open a stubborn battery compartment on a Gameboy, fixing a window screen — while graciously answering redbankgreen’s sometimes silly queries about his shop. Middletown resident Bain and his wife, Pat, bought the nearly 100 year-old business 15 years ago, and have expanded it twice.

Why did you open a hardware store?

It was my dream. I always wanted a hardware store forever. I worked in corporate America, and didn’t like it. I was 40 years old when we bought this, and raising a family. My wife was never even in a hardware store, and then she owned one. We’ve been married 32 years. She’s my first wife. (Pat shakes her head).

It was either hardware or rock and roll, and I can only play the radio. I grew up working in a boatyard, taking bicycles apart. I was a sailor. I was a shipfitter. God gave me a machinery gift. I can fix a lot of things.

Do you have an MBA in window screens?

You don’t need an MBA. You need common sense and to love what you do. I love hanging out here. I’ve made great friends here. It’s a very social thing. Where else can you go to work in shorts?

You’ve a very large inventory. Do you organize all this yourself?

Yes, it’s a constant evolution. It can always be better. I try to look at it as a fresh palette every season. I want it to be appealing.

It’s much more of a variety store than hardware. We speak hardware, you understand, but hardware scares women away. Once they come in, they come forever. They won’t feel that there’s too much testosterone and ‘I can’t go in there.’

Your salesperson seemed to know everything about every beach chair you sell. Where do you find these people?

We’re blessed with these people. Everyone who’s ever worked here, we’ve never replaced anybody, we’ve just added more to our quilt. The people that are in our family here, you can’t replace them. Norell loves paint and is very good with color. Clariza always has a smile and happens to be bilingual. She’s teaching us Spanish.

Do people know what they’re going to buy before they come in?

Not always. We’re a giant point of purchase. They might come looking for an idea. We have something for somebody on any given day. They might have a problem we can help them fix. A lot of people just want to come in and have a friendly face to say hello to.

What’s the secret to retail?

I don’t know. I think you have to make everything inviting. People don’t always remember what you say, but they’ll always remember how they feel. Warmth is what we have, and it doesn’t come out of a can.

What’s the strangest thing anybody’s ever asked for?

I may have to ask for an assist on that one. (After a pause) Ladies’ underwear.

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What’s the most obscure thing you sell?

Hermit crabs.

Who buys those?

Everybody buys those. Didn’t you have one? We have all their accessories, too.

But you draw the line at underwear?

(Laughs.) Yes, we can’t do that.

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