I love nuts, bolts and hardware so much that we came real close 40 years ago to opening a hardware store in our small town. Instead, we opened a stationery store and someone else opened the hardware store. We made a little money, but the hardware store owner struck a gold mine and is now living on his 200-foot yacht off the coast of Greece.

I love hardware stores, and by that, I don’t mean Home Depot, Lowe’s, Menards or Tractor Supply, all great stores, one and all. But we live 30 minutes away from the nearest Home Depot, which means it’s a one hour trip to buy one carriage bolt or a bar of Lava Soap. (Can you believe our local grocery store doesn’t sell Lava? They must figure no one works hard enough to get their hands dirty anymore. And they may be right!)

When I say a hardware store, I’m talking about the ones that serve small rural communities. In many respects, ours is very much like the general store of yesteryear where you can buy pet food, rhododendrons, Carhartt hoodies, soda pop, 5-hour energy drinks, candy bars and deck screws all in one place. Ours even has an all-new frozen food section for recently divorced men who want to buy their dinner in the same store they buy their chainsaws.

Our local hardware store is bulging at the seams, so every morning, they move out plants, barbecue pits, patio furniture and even dinosaurs for the garden, so the sidewalk out front looks like a Tijuana swap meet! Our local hardware store doesn’t sell beer and wine yet but they do give away free popcorn on the weekend, which draws customers like donuts do cops. There’s just something about the smell of popcorn drenched in butter that makes you want to buy a $300 leaf blower.

Over the years, I’ve collected my hardware store of sorts with a giant collection of nuts, bolts, hinges, washers, refrigerator lightbulbs, bearings, padlocks, bug spray, metric sockets, O rings, and WD 40. (You can never have enough WD 40!) I’m so well stocked that on rare occasions when the hardware store doesn’t have something, they send the customer to my house.

Normally, I’d rather have a root canal than go shopping, so while my wife buys our necessities in the grocery and drugstores, I’m getting in a little retail therapy getting blisters on my MasterCard in the hardware store doing the same thing, buying necessities like an air freshener for the car and sacks of bulk nails. Even though, with the advent of nail guns, no one has hammered in a nail since 1982.

The best part of having a local hardware store is that when the rubber flap thingy in the back of the toilet breaks, you can’t wait for Amazon to deliver a replacement part, or make multiple trips to Home Depot and waste an hour in trip time and another waiting for a salesperson to help you. I wouldn’t live near a town that didn’t have its own hardware store and here’s why.

Recently the faucet in my bathroom sprung a gusher and I thought it would be an easy fix, even though it was 35 years old. I thought all I needed was the rubber washer on the bottom. When I took it back the first time, the sales “associate” (that’s what it said on her badge) said I’d merely bought the wrong washer. On my second trip back, the associate suggested I buy the entire stem, which, much to my chagrin, was also the wrong size. Ditto the third and fourth trips. On the fifth trip, I wore a disguise and waited until the associate who’d helped me earlier was on her break. The new associate suggested a different fix but I never did get the right part. I decided to go to a store on my next trip to a bigger town to avoid further embarrassment.

A few days later when I took the wrong part back to our local hardware store for a refund, thankfully, the clerk didn’t recognize me. I apologized and said, “I must hold the record for having to come back to the hardware store the most times on the same day.”

She just laughed and said, “No, I just heard on my break about one idiot who had to come back five times!”

Can you imagine that? I’m afraid I can.

Getting through this together, Paso Robles