New owner, same friendly service at Crozet Hardware

Jeff Wood, Tim Richardson, Jeff Birkhead and Billy Staples. Photo: Mike Marshall.

After 41 years as an employee of Crozet Hardware, it is now owned by Jeff Birckhead. Longtime owner Rick Roescher retired last month, after helping Birkhead learn the back office paperwork he had taken care of himself in his 38 years as an owner.

Birkhead said he was already working there when Ruescher bought it from the previous owner, Norman Gillum. “So, Rick inherited me,” he said. Birkhead was a junior in high school, working late afternoons and all day Saturdays.

He was offered the job without applying for it. “Money was scarce for us at home, and Mr. Gillum asked my mother if it was okay to hire me.” Birkhead’s father died a few years ago, and Gillum knew the teen as he would stop by the store every now and then for hunting supplies.

Was Gillum, a man known for supporting the community, trying to help, or was he smart enough to recognize a valuable employee in the pipeline? “Maybe a bit of both,” Birkhead said. Whatever his motives, this decision has helped the venerable company, perhaps the oldest in Crozet (between it and the Modern Barber Shop) to carry on.

A business model that has long been abandoned by larger operations, but it has worked. The store has almost everything you could want, sometimes it’s so far away that you can’t see it. That’s why customers are always welcome to offer help. Odds are all you need is somewhere, and the employee will get their hands on it. “We can’t offer a real wood yard, or a huge color palette. We don’t focus on the contractor but serve individual homeowners, gardeners, and growers,” said Birkhead.

Crozet Hardware’s new owner, Jeff Birckhead. Photo: Mike Marshall.

Here are the services they can provide, many of them lost the arts: cut glass to spec, fix kerosene heaters, reconnect lamps, put new knobs on gadgets, fix an old-fashioned lantern, recheck monitors. They will sell you a custom length of burner pipe or a fuse for an oil lamp. There is a sharpening service that will increase the efficiency of almost anything that cuts or cuts.

Besides moving to the new owner, the administrative tasks haven’t changed much either. Employees still do a labor-intensive inventory once a year, devoid of any kind of computerized system, but backed by manual counting. “I’m stingy at Christmas,” said Birkhead. “None of us are looking forward to year-end inventory.” At any time of the year he would rather go out on the floor than do the paperwork, but he understands that the established practices still work well. He said, “If it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.”

Despite the inventory, employees tend to stay put. Billy Staples has been there for nearly as long as Birkhead. Tim Richardson joined the cast about six years ago, and Jeff Wood, known to everyone who has sponsored Crozet Market, joined a few months ago.

There were gradual changes. Kerosene heaters are no longer preferred, and there is less demand for bulk seeds. “At some point, we may need 10 50-pound bags of Top Crop bean seeds for our customers,” Birkhead said. “Nowadays, most people only want a small package.” Bulk seeds are still available, and most are tried-and-true varieties that do well in this climate.

Nothing has ever outpaced the heavy demand of a blizzard in 2010. However, the store does a lot of business every winter, whether it snows or not. Birkhead said people come at any risk of a storm to wear gloves, skis, shovels, rock salt and other supplies. “They dread even a hint of snow, a bit like what happens in grocery stores,” Birkhead said. And if you need any kind of screws, washer, or screws, you can bet they’ll be in the drawers behind the counter, and you can buy exactly the amount you need.

These days, employees don’t quite know what Friday’s truck will bring. Certain colors of spray paint or anything petroleum-based may be reordered as gaps persist in the supply chain.

While other companies struggled during the pandemic years, Crozet Hardware thrived, as people spent time on do-it-yourself projects, planted gardens for the first time, learned how to hang pictures or replace doorknobs. With so much growth in housing, more and more people are discovering that they can find everything they need for their new homes. Once inside, they find more than a variety of useful products. They’ll also get a great deal of free advice on home maintenance, gardening, plumbing and product selection, all perfected over many years of trial and error. But Birkhead said it can still be baffled by someone ordering an unfamiliar product or a replacement for a part they haven’t seen before. “After all these years, I’m still learning.”

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