“When you walk in … if we don’t know you, we get to know you.”
–Jeff Hastings, co-owner of Burke Brothers Hardware
by Jessie Ammons
photograph by Travis Long
Near the State Fairgrounds on Hillsborough Street, Burke Brothers Hardware stands out for its neon “established in 1936” sign and hammer door pulls. “There’s only a handful of this type of store left in North Carolina,” says co-owner Jeff Hastings.
As its neon sign attests, the store opened more than eighty years ago, first as a food market and, since the ’50s, as the hardware store it is today. Paul Burke started the operation with his brother Paul; over generations, sons, brothers-in-law, and, just last year, a trusted friend (but non-family-member) became involved. Today, Paul Burke’s son Henry Burke, son-in-law Jim Garriss, and hardware professional Jeff Hastings run the business. “A hardware store is kind of like your family physician,” Garriss says. “The family physician is a general practitioner for whatever ails you. We’re the practitioner for your home. You come in with a problem, we try to get you a cure.”
Among packed rows of screws, nails, tape, and tools is an old-school hardware store touch: a popcorn machine. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, fresh popcorn is free for the taking. “On the occasional day the machine is down, you see people’s faces just drop,” Garriss says with a chuckle. “They know when it’s popcorn day and they look forward to it. That’s what it’s about: to build relationships and to build memories.”
“It’s just another personal element,” Hastings says. “We hope people think of us as an extension of their home, as their hardware home. Our goal is to get you everything you need. When you leave here, you shouldn’t have to make any extra trips.”