Unique people make hometown​ businesses special

“My two favorite types of homegrown retail establishments are bookstores and hardware stores.”—Gary Borders, in his recent column, “Looking for the Quirky Locally Owned Stores.”

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Growing up in Mount Pleasant, hometown hardware stores were the norm with two of them on the downtown square: Mason’s Hardware and Roger’s Hardware.

A true appreciation for them on my part was cultivated in Center after becoming acquainted with Vance Payne at Payne & Payne Hardware.

I knew about, “the big red hardware store, on the corner on the square,” before moving to Center. Texas Business magazine featured the long-time Shelby County family business in a mid-1970s issue highlighting the store’s practice of displaying lawnmowers, wheelbarrows, and other “hardware and such like” (a Payne’s original phrase) on the sidewalk and leaving the merchandise outside on display after the store was closed.

Unfortunately, that level of public trust fell victim to the times in the years that followed that article as did many of the hometown retail establishments. Payne & Payne Hardware that opened in 1915, closed their doors in 1996.

Long-time friend and fellow columnist Gary Borders’ thoughts reminded me of the Payne & Payne hardware store in Center and of one of my favorite Vance Payne stories to tell, of which there are many.

What makes the locally owned businesses enjoyable are the unique personalities of the entrepreneurs who own them. That certainly was the case for Payne & Payne Hardware when you walked through the door and met Vance Payne’s friendly smile heading toward you.

“What ‘cha looking for,” Vance greeted me on one such occasion some years ago.

“Some roll-rubber matting ‘bout three-feet wide,” I responded.

‘Wha ‘cha gonna do with it,” Vance inquired. The question was standard fare, and I regarded it as being friendly and inquisitive. It became apparent, however, that the questioning was based on his desire to find the best solution for the customer’s need.

“Top of my workbench,” I said.

“Follow me,” Vance replied, turning and heading for the back door. Across Shelbyville street, we entered a storage building where some rummaging around produced exactly what was needed to fill my needs.

“Perfect,” I told him. “How much for six feet?”

“Five dollars,” he said.

Reconsidering my need at this unexpected bargain price, I updated my quantity. “How much for 15 feet.”

“Five dollars,” he said again without hesitation.

The silence was deafening as I did the math while racking my brain for an understanding of such business logic. So, I floated another quantity. “I think I’ll buy 20 feet, just to be sure I have enough.”

“Five dollars,” Vance said, his ever-present smile growing larger.

Deciding I was all in on this one, I teased him, “So what if I want the whole roll.?’

“Five dollars.”

“Well then, I guess I would be silly not to buy the whole roll,” I laughed. “But, why price the whole roll the same as six feet?”

“Because I need to get rid of it,” Vance said.

This was not my first negotiation with Vance Payne, and I already knew that every question drew me closer to a punch line, but I had to ask. “So, why didn’t you just price me the whole roll for five dollars to start?”

“You said you needed six feet,” he retorted, about to laugh out loud. “And, the customer is always right.”

Handing him a five and shaking my head, I headed off with the prized purchase under my arm. “A pleasure doing business with you, my friend,” I waved.

“Come back to see us,” Vance replied.

Memorable people are what you get at “homegrown” businesses. And, memorable experiences are what you got with Vance Payne.

—Leon Aldridge

Photo and epilogue: Payne & Payne “Hardware N’ Suchlike,” opened in 1915 and closed in 1996, but the building has remained to house other local businesses like Lil’s Deals as tenants. In 2017, the building was renovated in its original red color, and a new Payne family business opened its doors. Vance and Billie Sue Payne’s son, Josh, and his wife Lacie opened Payne & Payne “Home N’ Suchlike” offering home decor, registries and gifts, kitchen wares, and more.

Aldridge columns are also published in the Center, Texas, Light and Champion and the Mount Pleasant, Texas, Tribune newspapers.

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