Rain or shine, heat or cold, drought or flood – C&D Hardware & Gifts has spent seven decades opening each day for residents of the Heights and surrounding areas to serve their hardware needs. And the reliable routine isn’t stopping anytime soon.
C&D was even open for a few days immediately after Hurricane Harvey in 2017, when some employees and the store manager made it in and opened the doors.
“(The manager) was in here when someone from the Wall Street Journal stopped by to ask about us being open when most people were closed,” co-owner Jim Stratton said prior to the store’s 70th anniversary celebration, which is on Saturday at 314 E. 11th St.
The manager’s response?
“We’re only closed five days out of the year, and this ain’t one of them,” Stratton recalled.
Thinking back to that exchange, Stratton said he believes it to be a microcosm of C&D’s dedication to the Heights and surrounding neighborhoods.
“That says it all,” he quipped with a smile.
Stratton, along with his wife Kathy and general manager Duane Myers, bought the hardware store from Alice Dailey and her mother, Rosie Cobb. Cobb was the widow of late owner Sam Cobb, who opened the store’s first location on 11th Street in 1951 along with his son-in-law.
C&D has operated from its current location – a building that used to house a record distribution warehouse owned by music producer H.W. "Pappy" Daily – for more than 40 years. Located right in the heart of the Heights, Jim, Kathy and Duane have prided themselves on keeping the small-town appeal which has been a staple of the store for seven decades.
As the years have passed, evolution has been necessary. And C&D has continued to serve its customers by consistently adding products and services to keep up with their customers’ hardware needs. They offer services such as pipe threading, knife and tool sharpening and key cutting, along with window glass cutting, screen repair and more.
“I think we’re one of our customers, for all practical reasons," Myers said. "We’ve grown with them – we’ve helped them, they’ve helped us. Just in the right place at the right time. My favorite thing is watching the kids grow up, helping them along the way.”
A longtime staple of C&D, and one that all three owners mentioned, has been that personal touch of customer service that can be hard to find at big box stores.
“People really get to know the staff, and ask for them by name,” Kathy Stratton said. “When you come into the store, you can find a salesman. If you can’t find one, just wait a minute and they’ll be with you as soon as they can.”
And sure enough, Garden Oaks couple Joe and Martha Rhea came into the store Tuesday as they have done for 30 years looking for help – and found it right away. Martha even mentioned an employee who has helped her with electrical problems by name, though he was not working Tuesday.
“We’ve seen a lot of different staff come in, but I really like Dan (the electrical guy)," she said. "He’s helped me many times with refurbishing lamps and things like that.”
She so prefers C&D to big chain stores due to their customer service that if something such as a particular light bulb is not immediately in stock, she said she will wait until it's at C&D as opposed to going to another store.
“They always seem to have what I need,” she said.
Joe echoed his wife.
“It’s a treasure having it here," he said.
The story was much the same from Heights resident Steve Connolly, who has been frequenting C&D since moving to the Heights five years ago. On Tuesday he was searching for the specific type of nails.
“You come in here like this and you’re looking for something, someone comes right over and asks if they can help," Connolly said. "If you go to those big major box stores, you’re in there by yourself. It definitely has more of a personal touch, which I appreciate.”
Jim Stratton said the key to C&D's staying power is the personal touch Connolly mentioned is not just a fad or a motto for public show. It’s ingrained in them, through good times and bad. In addition to Harvey, the store also operated on the power of two small generators for about two-and-a-half weeks following Hurricane Ike in 2008 so they could help Houstonians with issues resulting from the aftermath, according to Jim.
It’s what they do.
“That’s the fun thing, dealing with the people in the local neighborhoods, taking care of their needs and getting the products that they need," he said. "Anyone can sell hardware – we provide service. That’s why people keep coming back, because they appreciate service above and beyond. We’re not just pointing at something on the shelf. That personal touch is what it’s all about. … We go the extra mile for our customers.”
Here to stay
Throughout the generations, C&D has seen babies grow up into college students, families come through and move away, and everything in between. As the Heights has grown into one of Houston’s most bustling neighborhoods, the store has held on.
For all the owners, that is the best part of the job. Through all the change in the world, they said C&D has stayed true to its core values – helping them not just survive, but thrive.
“I feel like we’re a part of the community and are watching them grow," Kathy Stratton said. "When we started this, babies were coming in, and now they’re in college. It’s fun to see them and watch the neighborhood grow and change.”
The store is only closed five days per year, its website says – Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. Every other day, residents of the Heights and surrounding areas can stop by the store and experience the personal touch themselves that has sustained C&D for 70 years.
Myers and the Strattons are only too happy to oblige.
“They’re more than customers,” Myers said. “They’re really part of the family.”