Pierce & Co. is said to be one of the oldest continuously operated hardware stores in North Carolina. Opening in 1898, it serves the Hallsboro community’s every need, from plumbing parts to dinner.
The dry goods store was started by a trio of cousins, according to the store’s current operating family - the Jollys.
The original building is a short distance from its current operating location on Sam Potts Highway. The business has evolved throughout the years, along with the community. During the Great Depression, it served as a bank for those fearful of putting their hard-earned money in a real bank.
The location moved in 1926, as it made sense to relocate closer to the railroad track where shipments of lumber and cotton were being sent to the big city of Wilmington.
Today, Pierce & Co. is perhaps best known for its steaks. Yes, you read that right – steak at a hardware store.
Talk to any native of Hallsboro and they’ll kindly correct you if you attempt to enter Pierce & Co. from the front door. Pull the handle and it will let the whole store know you are either new in town or it’s your first time at the store. A friendly face will quickly let you know that the front door is actually on the side.
If your front door attempt doesn’t give you away, the moment you enter and your eyes widen at the sight, well, that will be the second clue that you are new. They don’t blame you. Walking around this big brick store is quite an experience.
At the center of the building, you can’t help but stop and gawk and the massive vintage cash register.
“It’s a 1923 model, stamped on the bottom, it still operates,” said Brenda Jolly. “If it’s a rainy day and nothing’s going on it's also the center for, community talk.” Community talk is the politically correct way of saying: gossip.
After long-time employee Gary Hooks shows you all the pulls and knobs on the register, look up. Take in the original tin tile ceiling. Look down at the knotty hardwood floors. Look around, remnants of history are everywhere, including the storage area where stacks of decades-old typewriter-printed customer ledgers are kept.
Some traditions have remained unchanged for years.
Around lunch, a contingent of men usually shows up to take their pick of the pre-packaged two slices of white bread and packet of mayonnaise. They order a few slices of deli meat from the butcher and plop down in the unofficial seating area – the lawn furniture on display up front for sale.
“If you don’t want to be around the crowd, but if you want to hear 'the talk' you stay up around the butcher counter,” Brenda instructed.
The rows and rows of inventory have modernized, everything from tools to seeds to toys, but you won’t find any updates to technology. This is how the Pierce family ran it, and this is how the Jolly’s continued it when they purchased it in 1990.
“It was a huge change for us. We took a huge cut in pay to make this work, but we have never regretted it,” Brenda said.
Brenda and her husband William had long careers in corporate America until they traded in their suits for security.
“A lot of people overlook opportunity because it comes dressed in overalls and looks like hard work,” she said. “The dream and vision of what it could be and the quality of life – it’s not always about the quantity and income. It’s about the way you live.”
While stores across the country have closed to online shopping competition, Pierce’s has endured thanks in part to a very strict policy.
“William’s motto for the store is, 'if we don’t have it you really don’t need it,'” she laughed.
Taking over a local institution, the Jollys chose the American Dream, instead of the easy road to retirement.
Brenda says it’s not “work” if you enjoy it.
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