One of the newest additions in Agora Downtown is Randy’s Hardware Market – a great little place if you need some office or cleaning supplies, general hardware, or want to browse their beautiful selection writer’s notebooks and pens. Randy’s Hardware has two full-sized locations in Bridgewater and Timberville. We had the chance to interview Christian Herrick and learn more about their journey to Randy’s Hardware Market.
What inspired you to start a hardware market downtown?
Christian: I have always wanted to have an urban hardware store and my wife and I have always wanted to have a shop of some kind in downtown Harrisonburg. More recently, I am heavily involved in the independent hardware industry and help organize a round table of recipients of the young retailer’s of the year award. We meet [to] discuss all kinds of topics relating to running our businesses…A few of these retailers have urban stores in places like Brooklyn, Cincinnati, and San Francisco. As they’ve described their stores to me over the years…It made my desire for a store downtown even greater. As I watched the renaissance of downtown Harrisonburg transpire ..I continued to search for a space that might work for us. Other opportunities popped up again and again and downtown seemed like it was just a dream.
Then I started to see and hear a lot about the Agora Downtown Market…After months of wanting to visit, I finally made it down and saw what a wonderful space it is. At the time there were several spaces open and like my mind does with any available resource, it began racing to explore possibilities. I spoke with Mandy of Mandy’s Candies about her experiences being a tenant and she had great things to say. I left thinking that I would mull it over for a few months and give it some casual thought.
The next day I got a call from the property manager who encouraged me to come down and see his vision for a hardware store in the place. It was neat to hear someone else’s excitement and I was genuinely curious, so I did that. Chris Howdyshell met me and explained all of the business he does with the local Ace hardware store and the amazing amount of local restaurants and businesses that do the same thing. As he explained this, I remembered that Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance had recently conducted an extensive market study of the area that was for public use and my plans quickly started to come together. I went home that night and poured over that market study and solidified my plan for an industry first hardware market.
What’s your favorite part of running Randy’s downtown?
As with anything I do, my favorite part has been the people that I’ve met. I didn’t realize how isolated I truly was working in the county for the past decade. In the last month I have met so many wonderful, inspiring, creative people that live or work in the downtown area. I love coming in to the shop every day and seeing the other shop owners, being able to interact with them, and getting a chance to learn all about this new community.
I decided to add a unique product line to our store downtown that you don’t usually find in a hardware store – fine writing supplies. It is a niche that really wasn’t being filled anywhere in the valley or from here to DC. It is also a passion of mine. I am an avid pen and notebook collector, especially fountain pens. Yes, I am that nerdy. But now we have some really, really cool notebooks (some made in Baltimore and Richmond even!) and awesome pens.
What are some of your most popular items?
So far, our most popular items have been our fine writing supplies – more specifically our Blackwing Pencils. For those not in the know (honestly, I had not idea), these pencils are incredible and truly one-of-a-kind. If you are like I was and think that a wooden pencil is a wooden pencil, you would be blown away. These pencils are made by a company in California that uses real incense cedar and Japanese graphite. This translates into the smoothest pencils people have ever tried, that sharpen to incredible points without constantly breaking as you sharpen them, and don’t lose the point as you go to use them. They are really great pencils. Our various notebooks have also been popular, especially all of the notebooks with the dot grid – a mix between lined and graph paper.
Next to that has been our huge selection of Mrs. Meyers natural products. People tell us we have a wider selection than they’ve seen anywhere and prices to match the big boxes. We like the nice display it makes and who doesn’t love the scents they come up with?!
Anything else you’d like to add?
I want to thank the downtown community for being so supportive of our new store and our new concept. We weren’t quite sure what the reception would be, but we have felt so welcome. We are already working with many downtown businesses to stock the items that they use on a daily basis. We recently were notified that after working with HDR, we were awarded a grant to receive assistance with some of the tech aspects of our business. And from our many customers so far, we have received such great feedback. I hope people will continue to follow us on Instagram so we can continue to communicate openly there. I also hope to spend more time engaging the JMU community to get their feedback and do whatever I can to help there.