If you don't know Macks Hardware, maybe you've been lucky enough to know a place like it. It's the kind of store where no matter what thingamajig you want, they seem to have it, know where it is and walk you over to it. Even better: If you don't know what you need, an employee will figure it out for you.
Now, Macks will close at the end of the month after 47 years in business. Ian and Stephanie Speisman, who have owned the store in downtown Rockville for the past 13 years, decided that despite their best year ever, they can't afford to computerize as mandated by their hardware supplier.
The decision was a tough one for the Speismans, native Washingtonians who are going to work at separate jobs for the first time in their marriage. Ian, 51, will return to the locksmith business they ran before buying Macks. Stephanie, 48, will begin a new career in counseling.
"It's almost like you come in and you don't feel like it's work," Stephanie said. Added Ian: "I come here to be with friends."
Better friends are hard to find.
"We serve the public the way we want to be treated," Stephanie said. That service includes everything from driving to Frederick during the blizzard of '94 for snow shovels, to giving an energetic Cub Scout troop the grand tour, to delivering free of charge the order of a regular customer--who comes by cab every month to select her purchases--and going to her home to sharpen her lawn mower blades.
The Scouts particularly liked the pipe-cutting and pipe-threading machines, but most customers don't single out a favorite bit of hardware. They just appreciate the amazing amount of stuff--12,000 types of items packed into the 7,200-square-foot store, which looks much the same way it did in the 1950s.
"If you can't find it at Macks, you don't need it," said Jim Sullivan of Rockville, who's been shopping there for 20 years.
"It was a place to go to get what you needed to do the job. It was a place to get advice," said Philip Berman of Potomac, who stopped by the going-out-of-business sale. "They had the knowledge and the material."
Berman contrasted Macks' service with that of the bigger stores. "I went to Hechinger and said I needed a grade-5 bolt. The guy said, 'Huh?' I left."
While Berman doesn't need a lot of hand-holding in a hardware store, other customers do. Rockville resident Helene Dubov, for example, came in for help with her son's school project, which was to create a moving machine out of cans and pulleys.
"They gave me a half-hour of help," Dubov recalled gratefully. She also depended on Macks for expertise on a range of home projects--not that it took big-bucks purchases to earn consideration from employees. "They were even attentive when I bought a 5-cent screw," she said.
Rockville native Bea Rice knew exactly where to look for a part for an oil lamp that had been in her family for 80 years. She went to Macks, "the only hardware store I go to." Macks called around, found the part, phoned her and had her bring in the lamp to be sure the part was the right one. Of course, it was.
Rice thought it only right to bring in sticky buns on the first day of the closing sale.
Sharing the buns, in addition to the Speismans, were employees Arthur Aronson, 78, who has worked at the store for 10 years; Chris Dermody, 57, six years; Ted Morris, 67, three years; Harvey Rose, 71, who predates the Speismans with 20 years at the store; and cashier Kellie Husband, 19, one year. Their backgrounds run the gamut from plumbing to accounting to science, but they all clearly enjoy what they're doing now.
"I love talking to people," Aronson said. "It's a pleasure coming to a place where you take people by the hand to where they need to go."
Longtime Rockville residents say the store's tradition of service began when it was started as Abode by Glen Koepenick, who later became a real estate agent and investor, according to lawyer Milton Clogg, who was a customer of Koepenick's and then did some legal work for him.
The Speismans are the fourth owners of the business, which is in its original location at 8 West Middle Lane.
The personalized service attracted customers such as Wendy Levinson and Rosemary O'Donnell, who both originally are from small towns.
"That kind of business is a treasure," Levinson said. "You can go roam Home Depot, and maybe you'll find what you want and maybe you won't. At Macks, they'll find it for you."
Said O'Donnell, who took off from work to come to the first day of the sale: "I can't think where I'm going to go now."
One longtime customer was as sad as anyone else that Macks, where he has shopped since it opened in 1952, is closing--but it didn't stop him from taking advantage of the sale to play a practical joke on an old friend.
He bought a plastic frog and duck that sound off when their infrared beams are interrupted, then hid them in a friend's bushes. The croaking and quacking startled his friend noticeably.
That's customer satisfaction.