Andrew Dys

Still left at Mallard Hardware:

Mae Williams finds odds and ends Tuesday at Mallard Hardware on Cherry Road. The store is closing Saturday.
Mae Williams finds odds and ends Tuesday at Mallard Hardware on Cherry Road. The store is closing Saturday.

Old men and ladies towing kids wandered elbow to shoulder Tuesday, cordial but seizing bargains by the throat. Awash in both delight and remorse. They ogled the four diameters of cork stoppers, the almost 200 sizes of nails and screws, and the lengths of chain.

Goods at 70 percent off beckoned like long-lost teenage beauties in red lipstick and hoopskirts. Customers smelled that unmistakable hardware store smell of paint and plastic, raw metal and wood that hung for 34 years. Until now. Because it is the smell of death of one of us.

"I might find something I need," said 77-year-old Harold Freeman, fingering grinders and sockets and anything else not nailed down at Mallard Hardware on Cherry Road. He didn't need a thing. "Can't count the number of times I been in here. Hundreds, at least. When it's gone, it ain't comin' back."

Anybody loves a bargain, but the price is a corpse that a family nurtured for decades.

"You came for a shear pin for your lawn mower or a light switch, but what you got was conversation," said Richard Allen, who failed in his bid for cut-rate beetle killer. All sold out. "Forty-five minutes at least, just a-talkin'. An hour, maybe."

Mallard is closing Saturday. Owner Kim Climer, whose father opened the business, will open a rug store in the building soon.

Today, prices for what is left stay at 70 percent off. Friday is 80 percent off. Saturday is 90 percent. Back up the truck because the shelves and the hooks on the wall are for sale, too.

Who needs a snow shovel on June 20 when it's pushing 90 degrees? Raymond Zievenink does. From $21.99 down to $6.60, and thank you.

"First snow shovel I ever owned," he said. "I'm 59 years old. And a half. Couldn't pass it up."

Blair and Blake Johnson got their mother, Lisa, to pony up for two plastic snow sleds -- $19.99 marked down on the day before summer starts.

The sleds reminded customer Tommy Bailey, in for a drill press, of the days in the same Cherry Park neighborhood as a kid. Bailey owns Muffler Masters down the street, so he knows how small business is getting squeezed by giant retailers. There was no Home Depot or Lowe's or Wal-Mart in Rock Hill when Mallard opened.

"I still have the sled I bought in here all those years ago," Bailey said. "The metal on the runners is all rusty. But I got it. I grew up around the corner on McNair Street, bought my go-cart parts here. Big places are squeezing everybody out."

Already, through the month since the news broke that the store would close, much of the hardware is gone.

The seeds and seed scale are sold, and every paintbrush is history. A lone lawnmower, the push kind without a motor, sits like a condemned killer waiting for execution where only $75 on the price tag will save its soul.

All the plumbing, including the kitchen sink and the last toilet, is sold.

What's left is plastic pipe and memories. Mailbox numbers and Beware of Dog signs. Dryer connections. All those nails and screws -- until Cathy Starnes bought one of three huge nail bins -- with all the thousands of nails in it.

An oil funnel. A true orphan. There was just one. The kind that used to be needed to pierce and pour cans of motor oil before plastic bottles: $1.19, minus 70 percent -- 36 cents gets you there.

Hose fittings and angle brackets and so many nuts, bolts and washers that there were signs posted, "Buy 5 drawers of nuts and bolts and get the cabinet free."

Diana Blackwell wanted keys to make a wind chime but some lucky skunk already bought the keycutter and every key in the place. Misty Christopher, a hairdresser, bought a pair of size 10 rubber boots. The kind people use in the mud digging ditches.

Six bucks and few pennies. She said she would wear them at work.

The thrifty bought cabinet door handles and hinges that connect the past and future, slashed down by more than two-thirds. Some customers even asked if they could buy the stained glass front door.

Customers saved a few dollars. Some saved a lot of dollars.

They looked at receipts showing the markdown. Some smiled about the savings. Only the cheapskates laughed inside.

"What's the price of progress?" Bailey wanted to know.

As much as 90 percent off until Saturday, when old Rock Hill dies a little more.