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End of an Era in Centreville

Local landmark, Hunter Hardware, is closing.

When Hunter Hardware closes its doors for good on Nov. 30, it'll mark the end of an era in Centreville — a peaceful, gentler time when friends gathered Saturday mornings for coffee, camaraderie and the latest gossip.

IT WAS also a popular and successful business but, more than that, it was hardware with a heart. And that was due, in large part, to the man who owned and ran it for the past two decades, Roger Bostic.

"It was almost like he couldn't wait to get to work in the morning," said his daughter, Jackie Osborne. "He'd even come in on holidays. And so many times, people wouldn't have the money to pay for something, but he'd say, 'OK, just take it and pay for it the next trip' — and they would."

Actually, John C. Hunter and sons Jack and Herb owned the store from November 1951 to the late 1980s, when Bostic bought it. But he'd worked in it since age 12. Said his wife Helen: "That's all he knew for 52 years."

Sadly, though, Bostic died of a heart attack on June 16 and, since then, Helen and Jackie have done their best to keep things together. But now, the day-to-day running of the business and all it entails is more than they can handle, and they say it's time to pack it in. But they're glad Roger doesn't have to see it.

"It might have been more than my dad could have taken — like giving up your best friend," said Jackie. "He died the day after he told me he had 52 years in the business. He said, 'That's something, isn't it? Time goes by.' I'm sad, but I need to move on. It's been real hard trying to make the big decisions he would make about the business."

"We tried to sell, but nothing came through, so we're just trying to get rid of everything," said Helen. "Our lease is up Nov. 30, but we have only two weeks to sell it all. Then it'll take two more weeks to clear it all out — all the fixtures and everything."

Crying, she said, "People come in every day to see us and commiserate and say goodbye and, sometimes, it really hits me. They think it's terrible about us closing, but we have no choice."

She retired almost five years ago from a position with Fairfax County Circuit Court, but Jackie's worked in the store for 17 years and, after taking a month off, she plans to find another job. And, of course, since they owned their small business, they leave with no benefits.

Since Roger died, his wife and daughter, a cousin and a part-time high-school student have run the store. And before then, Jackie told her dad, "I'm doing this for you; I want to help you." And admittedly, said Helen, "The last few months have been tough. But there's always someone else who has it worse than you."

AND ALTHOUGH something shiny and new will replace Hunter Hardware in the now-Korean-owned, Old Centreville Crossing Shopping Center, it will never be the same. And Centreville itself will suffer the loss because an irreplaceable part of its history will be lost.

"It's too bad, because it's a Centreville tradition," said Virginia Run's Jim Hart. "It's a real, Centreville landmark. There aren't very many businesses here that have been around as long as that one."

From the mid-1970s into the 1980s — when Hunter Hardware was on the hill at the corner of Old Centreville Road and Route 29 — it was the hub of local news and information. "About 20 of us used to gather there Saturday mornings for doughnuts and coffee and to pull tricks on each other," said Centreville's Tom Hatcher, 87.

He said he and fellow Centreville old-timer, Kenyon Davis, also helped put together the equipment that had to be assembled — wheelbarrows, lawnmowers, Roto-Tillers, etc. And it wasn't because they worked there, but because they were buddies with Bostic and the Hunters.

"On Thursdays, we'd help unload the delivery trucks," recalled Hatcher. "And sometimes, we even waited on customers. And Roger was so knowledgeable about everything. You could go in there with a key to be made, and he'd go to the key blanks and pull off the exact one you needed out of 500."

Even after the store moved to its current spot, the customers kept coming, and they became friends. "It was a hangout, and people loved it," said Jackie. "And we got to know them and their wives and children. We close at seven but, if somebody called and said they needed something that night, my dad would say, 'OK, I'll wait here for you,' and he did."

Roger loved what he did so much that he even worked when he wasn't feeling well. "And he'd do anything to help other people," said his daughter. "If someone said, 'I don't have enough money to eat tonight,' he'd reach into his pocket and give them some money. He really had a good heart."

And when it came to hardware, she said, "He knew what people liked and would call and tell them when it came in. You won't find the big stores doing that. We even did glass-cutting, which not everyone does, nowadays. He'd say, 'Your time is your money. Service is the biggest thing that keeps you in business.'"

Millie Schoepe of Centreville's Westbrook community said people who've lived here more than 30 years are "devastated" by the fact that they'll no longer have a neighborhood hardware store.

"If it wasn't for Hunter Hardware, I don't know how I'd have built my house because my children and I constructed it ourselves," she said. "And whenever I needed something, I just went to Hunter Hardware to get it."

"AND THEY were always neighborly and personable," continued Schoepe. "For example, if you only wanted one nail, you could get it there. Now, you go to a big hardware store and you have to buy a whole package — and it's more than you need."

Agreeing, Sully District Planning Commissioner Ron Koch, said, "You always found what you wanted there, and the people were friendly and helpful. And if you didn't know what you needed, they'd tell you — and also how to install it. At Hunter Hardware, they knew the importance of customer service, and I'm so sad to see it go out of business. It'll be a great loss to Centreville."

On Saturday, Irene Warren of Little Rocky Run was at the store with her husband. "I come here a couple times a month," she said. "We always come here for our barbecue grills and any, little, random thing — like the things that hold my cupboard shelves up. And it's amazing, they always have what you need."

Her husband got keys made there, that morning, and she was pleased that "he didn't have to wait in line, like at the big hardware stores. And their keys don't always work. Here, you're done in 10 minutes, and the keys always work. I think it's a shame to lose these little, local, mom-and-pop businesses. It's more personal here."

Indeed, Bostic prided himself on giving special treatment to all his customers. Said Jackie: "The big guys will outsell you, but we always had good service and people who could tell you how to use things. And that takes time and experience."

Luther Phares of Fairfax has sharpened saw and lawnmower blades for Hunter Hardware customers, the past few years, and said he hates to see the store go. "And Roger was such a nice guy," he said. "Coming here was like visiting part of your family."

Jackie said her dad loved to talk to the customers about old-time Centreville and how it used to be. "There are so many memories here," she said. "He could remember everybody's names, what they did and what they liked. And people would come and tell him, 'Thanks, you really taught me a lot and helped me out.'"

Often, she said, "We were so busy working, we didn't even take lunch." Now, though, the paperwork, the long hours and the endless details of running the store have taken their toll.

"The lease was up, anyway, and it's too much for me and Jackie," said Helen Bostic. "You have to be here all the time; I don't know how Roger did it."

HERB HUNTER, of Gate Post Estates, said that, in the long run, it'll be good for Jackie and Helen to be rid of all those headaches. "But it's a whole era that's gone, and it makes me sad," he said. "Change is the one positive and steady thing in this life. But we had a good run, these many years, and always did our best by the community."

"I hate to see it close — it just tears me up," said Tom Hatcher. "It was so community-oriented, and the Hunters and Roger did a wonderful job of maintaining it. You'd call the store and he'd answer, 'This is Roger; how can I help you?' — and he meant it. I guess things have to change, but we'll all still have our fond memories."