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Greenwood Electric & Hardware Store – looking back at a family business

Greenwood family demonstrated strong determination after each of several fires and continued to operate their business despite the setbacks

From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:

Hardware stores have always been an important business in any community. They stock everything from nuts and bolts and screws to kitchen and canning supplies to that little “thing-a-majig” that we don’t know the name of but they can find it on their shelves!

Therefore, it is little wonder that Sault Ste. Marie has had a number of hardware stores that became valuable members of the business community.

Roy Greenwood’s entry into the hardware business came about gradually.

With the introduction of electricity to Sault Ste. Marie in the early 1900s, a lot of wiring needed to be installed. Since Roy Greenwood was an electrical contractor, he was one of those responsible for installing the wiring for electricity both in the Sault as well as in the outlying areas.

He also had to install the wiring for the new telephone service when it reached Sylvan Valley – which was an exciting time for the farmers in this area to realize that they were going to have telephone access.

With his background in electricity, he opened an electrical supplies store on Queen Street.

When the hardware store next door to this business went bankrupt, he bought the stock and building. By taking down a wall separating the two spaces he was able to combine the two businesses and he soon found himself in the hardware business.

In 1926, Roy’s son Harold began working after school at his father’s hardware store, located at the corner of Queen and East Streets. The after-school job eventually led to working in the store full-time and Harold eventually took over the management of the hardware store for his father.

In 1936, a branch store was opened at the corner of Gore Street and Wellington Street.

In June of 1953 Greenwood Hardware was centralized at the Gore Street location and it became known as the Greenwood Gore Street Hardware Store. After Roy’s death, Harold bought the hardware store from his mother in 1957.

When asked about the changes in the hardware business in a Sault Star article from 1984, Harold acknowledged that over the years, as people visited Greenwood’s Hardware, they were searching for many different things.

During the 1930s and 1940s, people were more interested in finding a key piece needed to make repairs to something that they already owned.

In later years, people had less interest in repairing things and instead were frequently more likely to buy a new version to replace their old item rather than repair it.

The business suffered through a number of fires over the years. On April 19, 1954, fire broke out at 6:30 in the morning in a three-storey warehouse located next door to the store.

It was estimated that about $50,000 in hardware supplies were destroyed plus the damage to the warehouse and an attic portion of the store itself for a total cost of $85,000.

On Nov. 16, 1963, a fire began about 7 a.m. and completely gutted the store. The loss was estimated to be about $100,000.

Firefighters found a beaming flashlight at the scene leading to a suspicion of arson. Those fighting the fire had an added danger when the fire touched off rifle and shotgun shells!

A fire in 1965 was devastating as it took out the entire business block at the head of Gore Street.

The front section of Greenwood Hardware (which fronted onto Gore Street) was destroyed and the business was forced to move into the back section which fronted onto London Street for the rest of its existence.

This fire was due to an explosion at the restaurant located next door to the hardware store.

In 1966 a warehouse that Greenwood Hardware had rented next door to their business in order to store paint supplies was destroyed by fire.

The Greenwood family demonstrated strong determination after each of these fires and continued to operate their business despite the setbacks.

After Harold’s death in June of 1985, the business continued to operate but in June of 1992, Harold’s wife Thelma Greenwood decided to retire and Greenwood Hardware was sold to Clayton Catling, a former employee at the store.

Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.

Find out more of what the Public Library has to offer at www.ssmpl.ca and look for more Remember This? columns here