For Morgan Brian, there was something comforting about Tate Lumber and Hardware Co. in Arlington.
Perhaps it was the one-cent gum machine standing by the door. Or the rows of paint and tiny color cards. Maybe it was the shelf after shelf of open cardboard dividers, each cradling dozens of just the right sized screws and just the right shaped cupboard handles.
"It's like the places where I'm from in Louisiana," said Brian, picking through a box of metal hooks. "It's almost like I'm home here.
"It's just nice, like a hardware store should be like, not glossy and all."
Thirty-seven years ago, Lynwood Tate, a native of the North Carolina lumber country, borrowed a truck and $500 for a business license from two of his older brothers and moved into a tiny one-story cinderblock office along Jefferson Davis Highway at South Glebe Road in Arlington.
On Dec. 30, faced with an expired lease on the property, he locked up the store for the last time, making way for progress in the form of a new highway and an expanded car dealership.
Tate recalled last week that his Arlington store was once one of about 18 lumber and hardware outfits within a five-mile radius. He can still recite their names, although all but one of them have since left their original locations.
What began as a two-man operation has grown to 60 employes, and his business has soared to a $10-million-a-year venture.
Even now, Tate is not giving up the business entirely. His second store, in Sterling, will remain open, and he hopes his longtime customers will go there.
But in Arlington, a force greater than success has moved into the neighborhood: suburban growth.
In the nearly four decades since his store opened, giant subdivisions have replaced smaller tract home developments, and trendy, brightly lit mega-hardware stores have replaced many mom-and-pop shops. More important for Tate, his lease, which has been month-to-month since he moved in, is up and nonrenewable. The land under his rows and rows of wooden beams is slated for other things.
A planned expansion of the Jefferson Davis Highway will eat up what is now Tate's parking lot, and an adjoining car dealership will expand to the area that is now dusty with the tracks of lumber-hauling trucks.
"It's kind of sad, kind of sentimental," said Tate, a stocky man with frosty hair and a ruddy complexion. "After you've been here for 37 years, I think it leaves you with a feeling."
There were quite a few longtime customers during the Arlington store's last day. They agreed that friendly service and the staff's willingness to search for and order special items kept them coming back.
"We like all these people here," said Mary Good, an employe of Eugene Simpson and Bros., one of the largest general contractors in Northern Virginia. "I think people like the personal relationships they have with them."
"They bring us what we want," said contractor George Elliott, who said he has been buying goods at Tate's for 25 years.
Relative newcomers often shopped at Tate's just because it was in the neighborhood. "It's about the only thing right here in the area," said Randy Fiel, whose spider-shaped neck tattoo and silver cross earring distinguished him from the customers who wore their favorite caps.
"There's going to be a lot of hardship for a lot of people for a while," said Donald Augustine, who has worked for Tate for 20 years.
Augustine counts himself among them, but for another reason. "I really feel comfortable here," he said.
From the steps of Tate's front door, the view to the left is of the beige towers of Crystal City. On his last day, Tate, whose dark blue coat was dirtied with dust, reminisced on how he outlasted competitors.
"Hard work, for one thing. Hard work, I guess," he said. "Having a good wife to support you, who drives you."