When the community Christmas tree at the circle near the Williamsburg Shopping Center in North Arlington was decorated, it was Frank Bruffey who supplied the ladder.

When Little Falls United Presbyterian Church worked on its lawn, it was Frank Bruffey who provided the mowers, the seed, fertilizer, lime and other chemicals.

When neighborhood teen-agers went looking for their first job, it was often Frank Bruffey who hired them in his hardware store in the Williamsburg Shopping Center.

And when local residents need a check cashed late Saturday afternoon or advice on how to fix a leaky faucet or kill Japanese beetles, it is Frank Bruffey who helps them out.

All that will change Sunday when Bruffey closes up Williamsburg Hardware for the last time. The 30-year-old Williamsburg Shopping Center was sold in April to Williamsburg Associates Inc., and Bruffey's rent would have been tripled. The new owners say the higher rate only brings the rent up to market value, but it is higher than neighborhood hardware merchant Bruffey can afford.

Residents of the Williamsburg community no longer will have their own hardware store at Williamsburg Boulevard and Sycamore Street, which they have had since the shopping center opened. Nicholas Kalis, president of Williamsburg Associates Inc., said he does not have another tenant in mind for the 2,500-square-foot store.

Bruffey's store has supplied the needs of do-it-yourselfers, gardeners and homeowners with the thousands of items he has sold seven days a week since he opened the store in 1971--everything from brads, staples and nails to paint, brushes and scrapers. Add to that peat moss, weed killers, pie pans, coffee pots and can openers, and the surface of his inventory is barely scratched.

Lawn and garden supplies have generally been his biggest sellers. He rents lawn mowers and other equipment and has, at times, willingly loaned his customers such things as post-hole diggers and lawn spreaders.

Bruffey doesn't try to compete with the huge stores, such as Hechinger's, with their millions of items, but, in a way, that has been his strength. His comparatively small size and personalized service are what North Arlington residents say they will miss.

"This portends the end of the community atmosphere," said Stephen Maher, 22. Bruffey hired Maher at Williamsburg Hardware when he was 14--his first job. His cousin before him and just last year his younger brother were among the dozens of young people who entered the business world courtesy of Bruffey.

Customers during the store's "liquidation sale" shake their heads and talk in muted tones: "It's kind of sad, and I'm not even from this area. But my mother-in-law lives over here and she's all upset" about the store's closing, one man said last week.

"Disaster," exclaimed a young carpenter, whose family has relied heavily on the store for 10 years.

Rob Lively, who describes himself as a second-generation shopper at Williamsburg Hardware, said the store has been a "godsend to the folks around here for so long." He said he has been shopping there since he moved to the neighborhood about five years ago, and his father-in-law depended on the store for years.

Bruffey, 68, isn't planning to retire, even though he is closing his business. "I retired a year ago," he said last week, "and I've been in the store every day since. I never think of this as work. Hardware is my hobby."

And he doesn't just stop in. The store is open from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 till 2 on Sunday. He is there most of the time.

Leaving with him will be his store manager, Chuck Studholme, who got his first job at Williamsburg 15 years ago when he was 15. Next week, he will start his own home handyman business. After all these years of giving advice, he said, he's going to start practicing it.

Bruffey plans to look for a job in another neighborhood hardware store, and some of his about-to-be-former customers are trying to help him find one.

"The word is going out to these other store owners that where Mr. Bruffey goes, we go, and that's going to mean a lot of business," Lively said.

But the prospect of trading with Bruffey at another store isn't quite the same for some customers.

"That's too bad," said one customer when he learned of the closing. "That's about the only store I still enjoyed going into. It's friendly, you get service, they sell you what you want and no more."