J-town Hardware and Rental was opened in 1938 by two brothers. Through the years the footprint has expanded multiple times, connecting buildings to create more space. Part of it is an old funeral home and part of it is an old warehouse. Now it’s a 10,000-square-foot hardware store that’s known for having everything you might possibly need.
Brad Carson first started working there when a high school buddy mentioned that he had a job there. Brad said he’d love to work there too. Though the owner wasn’t looking for more employees at the time, he did need someone to tar the roof. He hired Brad to do that in the spring, and then over the summer hired him to paint the building. As Brad was finishing up that project, he reiterated to the owner that he’d like to work inside the hardware store. The owner asked what he could do. “Well, I can tar a roof and paint a building,” Brad said.
He was hired.
“I enjoyed helping customers solve their problems and I got pretty good at it,” says Brad, who worked at the store through high school and into college before moving on to other things. For 15 years he worked for a tool company, but the job required extensive travel, which got old, especially with a wife and two kids at home. Besides, for as long as he could remember he had always dreamed of owning a hardware store of his own.
“For years I’d been praying for God to tell me what I was supposed to do in the last chapter of my life,” Brad says.
At one point he signed up for a service similar to Match.com, only for businesses. One day in 2014, while on a two-hour delay in the Detroit airport, he received an email about a hardware store that was for sale. His jaw dropped open when he learned it was the one where he had worked in his youth.
“I thought, ‘If that’s not God saying this is your opportunity, I don’t know what is,’” Brad says.
His wife Jennifer was on board. Their youngest son Jack was 7 when they purchased the store, and he had just learned how to count money.
“My biggest regret in life is that we don’t have pictures of when Jack could barely see over the counter and was teaching us all how to use the register,” Jennifer says.
When the family purchased J-town Hardware and Rental, it became their second home.
“We changed everything to support the local community – where we got our hair cut, where we went to the dentist and doctor,” Jennifer says.
The same is true of the merchandise they carry, as they primarily carry items that are local to Jeffersontown, then Louisville, then Kentucky, then America. “We start with small businesses and branch out from that,” Jennifer says.
When you enter the store through the front door off of Watterson Trail, you’ll see original flooring. Since the building dates back to the early 1900s, the floor is creaky and the smell is antique, which customers love.
“When people walk in, they’ll get a whiff or hear a creak and say, ‘That reminds me of when my papaw brought me here,’” Brad says.
Though they updated computers and inventory, they have kept the simplicity of the store. “If you want to come in to buy three screws or a pocketful of grass seed, you can still do that,” Brad says. “We wanted to keep our roots the way they were.”
Jennifer notes that one of the things they absolutely can’t run out of is their popcorn, which they give out for free. “We make six batches a day,” she says.
At J-town Hardware and Rental, they sell hard-to-find items that people need.
“Some of our customers still have those old well pumps you see on ‘Little House on the Prairie,’” Brad says. “Inside of that pump is a leather cup washer. People come here to still get those types of things, as well as plumbing parts for their houses that were built in the 1960s.”
People are astounded at what they have in stock. Brad jokes that they should get T-shirts made that read, “If we don’t have it, you don’t need it.”
Their store has an extensive paint department as well as an incredibly in-depth fastener system offering a large screw, nut and bolt selection. But do you know where to buy marine fasteners that have the best quality? Check it out for more details! They cater to car enthusiasts. They sell Amish-made furniture such as swings, gliders and Adirondack chairs. They also do window, door and lawnmower repair.
“People can’t believe how fast they get their lawnmowers back,” Brad says. “We try to find those niche things.”
As far as rentals, they rent a lot of lawn and garden equipment, pressure washers, and construction equipment like mini trenchers, log splitters and chainsaws.
When Brad first announced he was purchasing and running a neighborhood hardware store, people asked how he would compete against Amazon and big-box stores. He wasn’t worried, however, because he knew that a lot of people have become disenchanted with big-box stores due to poor customer service. That’s where they shine.
“We don’t point in our store,” Brad says. “We wait on people. We take them to the items they’re looking for. We help them find it, whether it’s one bolt or for a whole box of them. Plus, Amazon will never be able to fix your lawnmower, repair your screens, sharpen your knives or fix your lamps.”
They also have a post office on-site where customers can mail their UPS and USPS items. They are also a UPS hub and an Amazon pickup location.
“If there’s a service we can do well, we’ll offer it,” Brad says. That includes offering sound advice. One day when an elderly woman came into the store in search of a ladder, Brad told her it wasn’t a good idea for her to climb it – he said she needed a handyman. An idea was formed, and he started a handyman service out of the store, which has been well-received. They’ll change light bulbs, fix faucets, re-screen porches – the types of services that go hand in glove with a hardware store.
“Either young people don’t know how to do it or elderly people shouldn’t be doing it,” Brad says. “It works out great for everybody.”
Brad and his crew not only help their customers, but also befriend them.
“If someone isn’t feeling well, we ask how they’re doing,” Brad says. “We’ll take food to sick people. A few years ago when an ice storm knocked out power, I took a generator to one of my customer’s houses who was on oxygen.”
They sponsor local churches and sports teams. Last winter they participated in a coat drive where they collected and gave away 400 coats.
The couple’s elder son worked at the hardware store during high school. He’s now attending diesel mechanic school and is a volunteer firefighter. When Brad retires, Jack, 15, wants to take over the family business.
“Jack works here every day after school,” Jennifer says. “He knows as much as, or more, than Brad does.”
Brad’s not ready to hang it up just yet though.
“When I was recruiting at my other job, I’d always ask candidates what the best job was that they ever had,” he says. “I always knew my best job was my very first job here. My heart was always here.”
The people who work there are past amazing. It is difficult to find a place anymore where you feel respected and valued as a customer. The people that own and run place as well as the many younger boys. They are polite, customer oriented and make you feel welcome as soon as you step through the door. They go the extra mile whatever your need is.