YORKTOWN, N.Y. - Mitchell Hardware, a Yorktown staple since the 1950s, will close its doors for good this Saturday, mainly due to the passing of second-generation owner George “Buddy” Phillips.
The smooth baritone of Jack Tschudy’s voice echoed down the near empty rows of the shop as the 16-year employee greeted a guest coming through the back entrance. Just two weeks before closing, and with no committed buyers on the horizon, the store looked like the milk aisle after a hurricane warning.
“It’s slim pickings, my friend,” Tschudy said jovially to the man in search of bulbs for an antique light fixture.
It’s obvious from the exchange that the two know each other, likely through the store. Both Tschudy and Mike Malone, the store’s other long-time employee, said they saw many regulars over the years. The draw, they said, was the one-on-one customer service. Malone is a man of few words and has a beard like Charlie Daniels; however, he greets guests warmly and knows his way around the store. Between Malone’s stoic reliability and Tschudy’s bellowing laugh, it’s clear why a visit to Mitchell Hardware was valued by so many Yorktown residents.
Nancy Phillips, Buddy’s sister, inherited the store after his death in August 2016. She said instability due to the fluctuating economy and construction industry over the last decade laid the groundwork for the store’s decline. Her brother’s death accelerated the process.
Their father, George Phillips Sr., owned the shop since the 1960s, when the Mitchell brothers passed the torch to him. They had opened it in the 1950s at the Yorktown Highway Department’s current location. It wasn’t until 1979 that it relocated to the present spot on Commerce Street.
George Sr. enjoyed working with people and had a knack for all things mechanical. A lifelong resident, he worked on a dairy farm in Granite Springs prior to running the shop. He loved to tinker with things and passed that interest down to Buddy, who Nancy said was in his element at the store.
Nancy is an engineer by trade, and though she enjoyed helping out at the shop as a kid, she is going to continue her work at an environmental engineering and construction management firm.
“Up until his last day, [Buddy] was adamant that he wanted the store to stay open,” she said. “We did the best we could to honor his wishes but we had to do what we had to do. It was not an easy decision to make.”
Loved ones described Buddy’s sense of humor as tongue-in-cheek and said he had a soft spot for animals. His hobbies included competing in (and winning) pool tournaments, often with sticks he made himself. He brewed beer and smoked his own meats, sometimes to the bewilderment of those he brought his creations to. Tschudy remembered a time he brought the gang a container of smoked goat.
A 1973 Lakeland High School graduate, Buddy went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in oceanography from SUNY Stony Brook and pursued graduate studies in ocean geology at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., where he lived for about 10 years. He returned home in 1992 to take over the store when George Sr. died.
Now, not even a year after Buddy’s death, employees and store regulars are preparing themselves for another goodbye.
“It’s sad,” said Richard Romanski, a 20-year-resident. “Obviously, him dying is sad and then the store dying a second death is sadder as well, but it’s the whole thing about main street America disappearing before our eyes.”
Tschudy and Malone agree, adding that mom-and-pop stores are “on their way out.” Tschudy’s parents also owned a hardware store in town. He remembers a time when if an item was out of stock, his father would call George Sr. to borrow it. He said that before big-box stores, shopping was a tailored-for-you experience and school clothes were a drive to White Plains away, versus a trip to the Jefferson Valley Mall.
Patrick Francois, the gentleman searching for lightbulbs, has lived in Yorktown and visited the shop since 1983 and reported that he is “very sad to see it go.”
“You could yell from the back of the store, ‘Mike, I need the thing,’ and he would say ‘turn left,’” Francois said. “At [a big-box store] you better wander around and hope you can find a salesperson who can help.”
He also said his home, like many others in the area, is older and requires certain items that large stores seldom carry.
Now, store regulars anxiously await the arrival of Lowe’s to Yorktown and Tschudy and Malone look forward to their retirements. They admit they are sad to close this chapter, but their exchanges with the store’s guests remain pleasant and their banter with each other is light.
Their daily exchanges will be replaced by time spent with family and devoted to hobbies. The store might be replaced by another hardware store, but they are all skeptical.
“People don’t shop in brick and mortar stores anymore,” Nancy said, citing online shopping habits. “I can’t blame anyone because I’m guilty of it, too; I shop differently than I did 10 years ago—it’s a necessary evil.”
Necessary evils are for those confident in what they want. The niche that Mitchell Hardware filled, she said, was for those who had a problem, but didn’t know what they needed and could turn to the store for help.
“I think it’s going to be remembered for the level of attention and assistance given to people for some fairly complex projects,” Nancy said. “I don’t think that’s something that’s offered anymore. I hope that whoever buys the building at least gives some thought to doing something in a similar vein because it is a necessary type of store for the town.”