Charles Cheatham considered — for just a moment — using his given name in the company name, but never ever considered his surname — for all the snide punning it would germinate in commerce. That was a long time ago, before any of us, now residing in Warhaven, were born. There had been enough joshing without. Charles, or Chuck, as he preferred, was in hardware to do business, not to nourish resentment, not to foster one-upmanship. He would bite his lip, keep his cards close to his chest and provide professional customer service day in and day out, opening in 1872 and retiring the business to his daughter and son-in-law in 1914. Four years later he was dead of the Spanish Influenza.
Chuck supported through contracts two small local mills for coniferous boards, cants and poles — one in the Craggies and one in the West Hills. He bought his hardwoods wholesale from Lyon Chapman Casket and Bat Company. Barbed wire, steel and iron hardware initially came from Garfield, but he was able to convince the founding fathers to support an effort to attract capitalists to build a local foundry. With the Western Mountains Railroad running its line down the Big River, Chuck was able to get a great variety of modern conveniences like plumbing fixtures, gas and kerosene lights, and ice boxes from the modern factories of the East.
Throughout the long tenure of this establishment, management has been skilled at fostering attentive, knowledgeable customer service. The store has always paid well and that practice has retained the better employees. It has been rare to encounter an ignorant or apathetic worker in the aisles, although that did happen — infrequently. Once, in the late 1960s the manager at the time caught a new young clerk lollygagging. “Look, Homer! If you want a job, you’d better start acting like it. Don’t think the L and M Merc or Lyon Chapman would hire your habits. Warhaven isn’t here to raise slouches!” Unbeknownst to him, in the next aisle was the president of the Chamber of Commerce, who was impressed with the candor and the community pride. It’s funny how small towns work. That November, at the Chamber’s annual banquet in which they bestowed awards and honors, the manager was named Citizen of the Year for that very same peptalk.
This place of business has changed little over the years. In the early 1890s, in an expansion project, the structure went from stick frame to brick, a long tall building taking up half the block, with the other half its lumber yard. To this day it still smells of petroleum products and wood smoke —- from the old pot-bellied stove that sits to the right of the entrance, encircled by stools, a checkers board ready on the ancient nail barrel. Peanut shells litter the floor; a plastic bowl beside the board sits half full. High on the left wall runs a track, along which runs a rolling ladder from which clerks reach for bolts and grab for hinges. The ladder is oak, the shelving pine painted a bluish green. Ceiling fans slowly turn, hung from the patterned pressed-tin ceiling.
Yes, you could travel to a big box store, but who, in his or her right mind, would choose to pass up this warm, inviting place? Indeed, for travelers who stumble upon this emporium of timelessness, some feel, within themselves, they have discovered the portal to Brigadoon.
Today, if you were to stroll into the Warhaven Building Center, you’d discover clerk Debbie Dacnic up the ladder midway, snagging a galvanized eye and eye swivel for George Ansbach. She is quietly whistling “In the Bleak Midwinter.” She appears festive in a sky-blue turtleneck and black fleece vest, descending step by step in her red running shoes, note by minor note. Stanley Humphley sits impatiently at the stove, hoping George will challenge him to a game. He pulls and snaps the right strap of his red suspenders. Debbie turns at the sound. She asks, “What’s that, Mr. Humphly?” A kettle of licorice tea steeps on the stove top. “Huh?” he responds.
Clerk Jerry Cistacolas looked over his shoulder, carrying a fifty-pound bag of sunflower seeds out for George, “Stanley, watch out! George cheats at checkers!”
George corrects him, “Untrue, sir! I only cheat at Monopoly.”
Stanley squirms on his stool, rising. “Then get over here, George Ansbach, and be prepared to lose miserably.”
“I suppose,” George retorts, “If I lose to a miserable old cuss like you, that’s losing miserably.”
“Huh?” Stanley asks.