Even if you’ve just moved to Nappanee, you probably know of the Martin Hardware building just off the main downtown intersection of US 6 and SR 19. Though you will not have had the opportunity to shop there as it has been closed since 2013, the building still boldly declares “MARTIN HARDWARE | SINCE 1958.” The mural on the east side of the building of Raymond Martin, the store’s founder, causes my 4 year-old to call it the ‘old man building’.
I, myself, only vaguely remember shopping in here a time or two when I was in my teens. The hardware store was not where I spent a lot of my time at that age. But if you start asking around, you’ll find a lot of your neighbors have a memory or more at Martin Hardware: picking out their first (or fifth) baseball mitt and getting it conditioned, finding just the right bolt or fitting they’ve discovered they needed mid-project, picking out the perfect paint color to freshen up a bedroom, or buying bags of lawn fertilizer to make their yard summer-ready. Martin Hardware’s motto:
“If we don’t have it, we can get it — if we can’t get it, you don’t need it.”
We recently had the opportunity to meet with Dennis “Denny” Martin, who to
ok over the business from his father in 1972, to hear more about his time there. An early comment Denny made in our meeting, “It smells different.”
As we walked the building, Denny filled us in on the secrets this old place has to offer. He pointed out where the hallway used to be that led into the old Nappanee Hotel next door. We learned about the manual elevator lift that used to go from the basement to the top floor pulled by ropes and pulleys (This actually answers the question from our walk-through video of the mystery door in the hidden office! If you missed out, take a walk-through now) We were even shown two other hidden rooms that we didn’t know existed yet — but those will be explorations for another day.
Doing business in a 100 year-old building presents its challenges at times, whether that’s with fitting in modern-day display racks, updating to new technology or simply just following the complex maze of utilities from a century’s worth of time. One technology that seemed pretty state-of-the-art for the time of Martin Hardware, was the video security system. Upon asking about the cameras Denny just laughed and said, “Those start nowhere and go nowhere.” The cameras placed throughout the main level were for looks only to help deter theft. 🙂 “Faked you out though, didn’t they?” he chuckled.
After spending 43 years of his life pouring into a business, a building, a culture; I wondered what Denny would miss most. He didn’t reply right away. But eventually he said what he missed most was the smell. He commented that he often heard the remark from newcomers, after a deep inhale, “Now this smells like a hardware store.” Though he didn’t know what that scent was at the time, without thinking he commented on that difference when he came back into the building all these years later.
In a small town like Nappanee you get to enjoy a certain kind of close-knit community that larger cities aren’t always privy to. One of those manifested in the morning coffee shared among the locals each day at Martin Hardware. Some of those coffee mugs are still hanging in the building today. I can only imagine the stories that were told during this daily ritual. I asked Denny if he had any good stories to share from his time at 151 E. Market. “None that I can repeat!” he replied with a hearty laugh. But he followed that up by saying there were many times that he and his employees would comment that they should be writing some of these things down to come back to and read in the future.
Our visit with Denny Martin was a wonderful reminder of the history of our building and our town. The stories that fill these walls give us a hope and excitement for the stories we will create here as well. If nothing else, may this be a reminder to you to write things down. Remember the good times and take note of them. All good things come to an end, and the extra time at home with our families will come to an end all too quickly. We may even look back and wish to be back here. I’ve been listening to this song recently called Good Old Days, by Macklemore. One of the verses says this:
“Maybe these are the moments
Maybe I’ve been missing what it’s about
Been scared of the future, thinking about the past
While missing out on now”
Thank you for joining me again as we look back through the history of our building. Make sure to sign up to get email reminders when new blog posts are up, if you haven’t already. And like our page on Facebook to stay connected!
Building photography by Nappanee local, Matt Bennett.