Remembering East End Hardware

Published 12:53 am Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ironton landmark slated for demolition after storm damage


Through the back door was the best way into the East End Hardware on the corner of South Third and Spruce streets.

That’s where the pot-bellied stove sat, in the wintertime its black-gold coals glowing through the front vent and in the summer its cast iron frame standing as a mute sentinel.

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Always there were two or three drawing their chairs up to the stove, sipping on the homemade turtle soup Gene Sheridan kept in a kettle back there, a specialty of the house made from a 120-year-old recipe.

“It was like the old barber shop,” the Rev. Charles Moran recalled. “Soup in the back room. Soup and catfish.”

Moran grew up in the same neighborhood on South Fourth Street with Sheridan’s brood of eight girls and three boys.

“People would come in just to read the paper,” Moran said. “Somebody would come in and say ‘Do you want to go to Cincinnati?’ and three or four guys would jump up and away they would go.

“It was a very personable store. Gene was knowledgeable, very kind, gentle, humorous. He liked to tell jokes and was the one who wanted to lift you up.”

Sheridan took over the business that his father L.L. Sheridan had started when the younger man came back from World War II. About four years later East End Hardware marked its 50th anniversary as one of Ironton’s most prominent family businesses, always in the same location — that two-story brick.

Now in a couple of weeks demolition crews will pull down those bricks, another victim of the June 29 wind storms that ravaged the county and caused tens of thousands of dollars in damage while paralyzing rural neighborhoods for days.

As a gathering place in Ironton, East End is gone, but the memories of those who shopped there, gossiped there, and ate there, all under the benign eye of Gene Sheridan, are strong.

East End wasn’t the first hardware at that spot when L.L. Sheridan took over the building in 1899. At least 10 years earlier the store had gone by the name of Bester Brothers Hardware.

By the time he opened East End, Sheridan was already established as a merchant in Ironton teaming up with Mills Hutsinpillar in an earlier venture where Central City Hardware is today.

But L.L. wanted to go out on his own and his three sons, Billy Pat, Gene and Louis, joined him for awhile. Eventually Louis headed to the courthouse, first as a prosecutor and later a judge. Brother Billy Pat joined him as his bailiff.

That left Gene to run the store.

“Dad was a devout Catholic and attended Mass daily,” his son, Duke, remembered. “When someone bought something, when you walked away he’d say ‘God Bless.’ You’d go in to buy a screw and you might spend a half-hour there. He would be looking to find a nickel screw. Then he wouldn’t take a cent for it and give you a dollar drink of whiskey. Never in my lifetime did I see him mad. Never heard him curse. Nicest guy I ever met.”

The front end of the business was the actual store where the floors were so warped from the sometimes annual Ohio River floods they bulged in the middle with two massive doors that swung open onto the sidewalk on Spruce Street.

“When I was a child it looked to me like a Wild, Wild West saloon,” Duke said. “And out on the curb there were the shackles in the cement to tie up horses and wagons. It was like Mayberry.”

Stacked on shelves floor to ceiling could be found rope, screws, Foster stoves, boy’s wagons, forks, knives, spoons, plows, guns, doors and window sashes. Anything needed to fit the store’s motto: “Where Every Buy Satisfies.”

Out front the sidewalk was laid in concrete blocks that were 6 feet long. When a customer wanted links of chain or a chunk of pipe, Gene didn’t bother with a tape measure or ruler. He’d just take the chain or pipe outside, lay it on the sidewalk and cut from there.

“Whenever you went into the hardware, there wasn’t a price on anything,” Ella Lawless said. “Mr. Sheridan would say, ‘Now I think that would be about three dollars. He would never set a price on anything. But you could find almost everything.”

In 1998 Vince Sheridan, Gene’s youngest son, moved East End across Spruce Street to a new place he built. Then in 2002, he closed the store down, another casualty of the big box stores. Three years later Gene died at the age of 93.

“People have already started stopping by, actually crying,” Duke said about the soon-to-be demise of the store. “We will all be crying that day. There will be a big crowd there when it comes down.”

So far the family has given away 200 bricks from the building, the ones from the second floor that blew out onto Third Street during the storm, and will give out many more before the rubble is cleared away.

“It was an old-fashioned kind of store,” Lawless said. “And it’s another landmark that we have lost.”