My husband and I worked for a family-owned hardware store chain in the late 1970s. I left in 1993. My husband worked there until 2006, but that’s his story to tell. The Orchard Supply Hardware chain was small, local, offered fabulous customer service, had employees with specific expertise, and held an inventory of things one could not – and still cannot – find elsewhere. 5-gallon pickle jars. Every canning accessory one could ask for. A huge array of tools. It was a candy store for the project or construction-oriented shopper. The stores had a distinctive smell. Years after I worked there, whenever I walked into a store, I was immediately transported to my time working there. That odd, chemical smell was strangely comforting.
Large, heavy, and bulky items were kept in what was called the “pick up station.” Customers picked up a “pull tag”, a heavy paper card, 3 inches by 5 ½ inches, with a hole punched in the top and the name and price of the item printed, or hand written on the face. When I worked there, customers brought their pull tags to the register, where we rang them up, and placed a flexible lead (yes, lead) wire through the pull tags and the receipt, threaded the end through a fastener, and crimped it closed with a tool. All of this took time. Customers had to be patient. They were. Once properly rung up, threaded, crimped, and paid for, we handed the pull tags and receipt to the customers who then drove through the pick-up station where employees were on hand to load their purchases into their vehicles.
When pull tag items had been discontinued, my husband brought home the left over pull tags. Always pragmatic, he thought we could use them as scratch paper. They are blank on one side. Nearly 30 years later, we still use them for lists and notes. There is a nail pounded part way into a shelf in our kitchen storage closet. Pull tags hang from that nail and we pull them off and use them one by one. I swear there is a never-ending supply somewhere in our house – in a secret location. Pull tags will be part of our legacy to our daughters. Actually, they expect that legacy and will be disappointed if they don’t come across a stash of pull tags in our belongings.
Orchard Supply Hardware gave me many, many things. I grew up there. I met life long friends there. I learned many skills that I still use. One of our daughters worked there. They closed last year, and it was tremendously sad. That company and those stores touched so many people in northern California – and beyond. I miss it. I am grateful for it. And I still have pull tags! Every time I use one for a list of chores or errands or things to buy, I think about Orchard Supply. Now it is bittersweet.