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Getting the goods on a hardware store

April 7, 2016
By Marybelle Beigh - Westfield Historian , Westfield Republican

But WAIT! Ryan Hardware at 31 East Main? Wasn't that Waite's Hardware?

There's nothing like a good "history mystery" to whet a historian's research appetite! Of course, it does help to be the local historian living in the history mystery community, which was NOT the case when an email to "" appeared Sept. 26, 2014, on my computer in Silverton, Col., with the subject: "Hardware store history!"

From Michael J Ryan, the email read as follows: "Hello, I've just come across the article below about the hardware store formerly operated at 31 East Main St. It mentions Francis P. Ryan, who owned the store for a period in the 1920s. He was my great grandfather and I would be interested in any further information you might have about his tenure with the store." A link to the Dibble's Dabbles titled "31 East Main Street was hardware store for 125 years" was provided which opened in the email to show the republished article of the late Westfield Historian, Billie Dibble.

Article Photos

Submitted photo
This is a 1960 photo of Waite Hardware, formerly Ryan Hardware, in Westfield. It is next door to Gunnard’s Drug Store which is where Blanche’s is now.

Cyberspace communications not always being particularly reliable, apparently attempts to connect Michael Ryan with resources in Westfield did not produce results, so on New Years Day of 2015, another email appeared, saying, "I hope the new year is off to a great start Wanted to follow up on the exchangeto see if you might have information relating to the hardware store at 31 East Main St. Westfield"

Within days of this, the Town of Westfield board reappointed me as Westfield Historian, followed shortly by the Village of Westfield board, so research and communications commenced between Ryan and I resulted in both of us learning a lot of interesting hardware store history relating to 31 East Main. (FYI, 31 E Main is now the location of Joel Seachrist Attorney office and Brenda Steele Massage.)

From Dibble's Dabbles, a rough timeline was established for the 125 years of hardware store proprietors, beginning about 1849, the year of the California Gold Rush. According to The Grape Belt newspaper of May18, 1909, H. W. Gibbs was the proprietor of the hardware store bearing his name "H.W. Gibbs and Co." and had been so for 30 years prior to 1909. His father, O. H. Gibbs had established the store 30 years prior to that - 60 years prior to 1909, or 1849. H.W. Gibbs retired in 1912. Billie Dibble recalls that when she was a child, the store was known as Bell Brothers' Hardware, owned by William and Clarence Bell.

The Sept. 17, 1924 Westfield Republican, page 5, there is a brief notice in the "Personal Mention" column that "Bell Bros. have sold their Hardware Business to the Ryan Hardware Co. of Leroy NY who took possession last week." The following week, on page one, an article - "A New Face of the Row" -describes the purchase thusly, "F.P. Ryan of LeRoy, N.Y. has joined the ever merry family of Westfield's merchants." Ryan came highly qualified in the hardware business for at least 24 years prior experience owning and managing hardware stores. The article concludes, "He [Ryan] says if its hardware, Ryan will have it."

In the Oct. 1 paper, F.P. Ryan, Prop. Ryan Hardware writes a promising announcement article introducing himself and his family and inviting the citizens of Westfield to "come in and get acquainted." Beginning October 8th, there are large weekly ads for Ryan Hardware, usually each one presenting a different promoted item or more. Wood and gas Cooking ranges with ovens, Coleman Lamps, Roofing, Red Star oil ranges, Miscellaneous Household "Helps" like Ironing Tables & Food choppers, Hoover Vacuums, Ringer Washing machines, Christmas Gifts including wagons and tricycles and sleds and skates - fill the ads through December 1924.

The year of 1925 has similar weekly ads, and as seasons progress, such items as garden tools, painting supplies, grape wire, and lawn mowers. In August a new type of wringerless washer/dryer is presented - the Savage, followed in September by another one called Laun-Dry-Ette. Over the next year a major selling feature is that it will reduce sewing repairs of broken buttons, crushed fasteners, and ripped clothing caused by wringer washers! By 1926, the large ads are less frequent - perhaps every couple of weeks, but through the entire year. Then there are no display ads in January of 1927, only one February 16th, one March 30th, one large and two smaller ads in April, and also in May. From June through November 1927, there are no ads, and the only references to Ryan Hardware are in bill payments by the Sewer/Water and Light boards. In December there are two large Christmas gifts display ads similar to those from previous years.

Most of the entries found for Ryan Hardware store in the Westfield Republican in 1928 were in the reports of the meetings of various Village Boards such as the Board of trustees, the Board of Water and Sewer, and the Board of Light Commissioners, where they list bills approved to be paid by the treasurer of said board. The last paid bill found for Ryan Hardware was in May 16, 1928 newspaper. Other items found include small one-liner notices such as "If you are going to want No. 9 grape wire place your order by January 15 and get carload prices. Ryan Hardware." March 21st and 28th, 1928, page 3, F Ryan is listed as a director of the Westfield Savings and Loan in one of their display ads. Similar ads were found in previous years.

The "demise" of Ryan Hardware is described in the May 9, 1928 Westfield Republican, page 1. "Business Changes Hands - Ryan Out-Waite Makes Debut. Due to past ill health Frank Ryan, owner of the thriving Ryan Hardware sold his business to Leigh S Waite. Mr. Waite hails from Great Valley, N.Y., where he has operated a most successful hardware business for the past 15 years The new store will be known as Waite Hardware and will always continue to handle only the highest quality merchandise and ever strive to serve Westfield in the efficient manner which has caused Ryan Hardware its prosperity."



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