After 82 years, George's Paint & Hardware says goodbye to West Palm Beach, will close after Saturday
Updated: Dec 16, 2021
SINCE 1939, AS THE sign above its storefront proclaims, George’s Paint and Hardware in West Palm Beach has been so much more than just a convenient place to sharpen your lawn mower blades, replace those burned-out lightbulbs or stock up on hurricane supplies.
One of the area’s last mom-and-pop hardware stores, it has been a trusted neighbor with veteran employees who have known generations of South End customers by their first names.
That’s all about to end.
After 82 years, George’s Paint and Hardware will ring up its final sales on Saturday, Dec. 18, said owner Christopher Spring, who sold the building to local real estate developer Sam Fisch in a deal that closed Monday, Dec. 13.
A source said the sale price was around $2.5 million, which is about $2.2 million more than Spring paid when he bought the building in 1995.
Spring is moving some of the five West Palm Beach employees to Hayesville, N. C., where he opened a George’s Paint and Hardware in 2019 in a grocery store that had been vacant for 26 years.
He’s planning to open another George’s Paint and Hardware in early January about 20 miles away, at Nelson’s Hardware just over the border in Blairsville, Ga.
The West Palm Beach storefront that has housed George’s Paint and Hardware since 1996, a 7,700-square-foot building just north of Howley’s restaurant, will be converted into three offices, including one for Fisch’s real estate company.
The sale comes just a few weeks after The Corner Store, another iconic South End business, closed after being sold by longtime owner Robert Lamelas for $2.07 million to 250 Southern LLC, a company whose registered agent is Michael Speiser, a real estate developer with offices in Manhattan and Palm Beach, state records show.
The departure of George’s leaves Hall Hardware, with its iconic hammer marquee roughly 1.5 miles up Dixie Highway near Belvedere Road, as the area’s last alternative to the impersonal shopping experience of big box hardware stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s.
“America is losing its mom-and-pop hardware stores, and it’s sad,’’ said a former George’s employee.
“Where do you go on a Sunday afternoon when you need that screw or bolt? You go to Home Depot and wait in line for hour or you go to George’s and they know exactly what you need for your house.’’
George’s Paint and Hardware first opened in 1939 when a Missouri man named George S. Dickinson started selling paint, renting equipment and sharpening lawnmower tools at the southwest corner of Southern Boulevard and Dixie Highway, in a spot now occupied by a Walgreens Pharmacy.
Spring started working there in 1977 under owner Frank M. Phillips, who ran the hardware store for 30 years after Dickinson retired.
Before long, Spring took over the store with help from a high school buddy, Chuck Persinger, whose father, Charles Persinger Sr., had worked at George’s.
About 15 years later, Spring bought the new storefront on the south end for $290,000 and moved George’s to its present location.
Like Hall Hardware and Sewell Hardware, George’s developed a loyal following.
“Our staff knows exactly where to find each nut and bolt in our hardware store, and we are happy to give you advice about which piece of equipment is best for your project,’’ George’s webpage says.
“From new PVC pipe installation to simply updating an old light fixture, our experts are ready to assist you.’’
George's had a knack for marketing to motorists on Dixie Highway. Stacked along the store's exterior walls, which were decorated with colorful murals of products such as a light bulb and wrench, were supplies for sale — wheelbarrows, ladders, lawnmowers and yard chairs.
And it was perhaps the only place in Palm Beach County, maybe even in all of snowless South Florida, where you could buy a sled. George’s usually sold two or three Flexible Flyer sleds a year, for about $130 each.
Never mind that there's nowhere in snowless South Florida to ride a sled. The sled was a reminder for customers that George's store stocked many items not found at other retailers.
“It always made a great conversation piece,’’ said Spring. “You can imagine the comments customers would make when they entered the store. My standard reply was, we are the only sled dealer in town!’’
Although Yelp reviews include a few complaints about grumpy staff, for the most part locals have loved having George’s around.
“A great neighborhood find,’’ one new customer wrote in 2018. “You just can't go wrong at George’s.’’
“If it doesn't sell nails scooped out of a bin and weighed on a scale, it's not a real hardware store,’’ Matthew Steinhoff wrote on Facebook a few years ago under a photo taken inside the store.
Spring said he has mixed feelings about leaving West Palm Beach, especially given the company’s legacy as one of the longest continually running businesses.
But he said it’s time to move on.
“There are definitely things I will miss. I started working at that store as a kid in 1977,’’ he said with a laugh. “I'm looking forward to a little different scenery.’’
In 2019, Spring and his son Johnny decided to expand and open a second George’s Hardware store in a converted grocery store in Hayesville, N. C., an area where Spring had been vacationing since he was kid.
The Hayesville store has been set up in a 19,000-square-foot building that had been the town’s grocery store. After two years, it is expanding into an adjacent 10,000-square-foot space, giving George’s a footprint of 29,000 square feet, more than three times the size of the West Palm Beach store.
When Spring opened the North Carolina store, he knew it was a matter of time before he would close the West Palm Beach store. Then in October 2020, Chuck Persinger, who worked in the West Palm Beach store for 40 years, passed away.
“That was a tough one for us because we’d been buddies since high school,’’ said Spring.
Chuck had lived with his mother in a house on Murray Road, two blocks from the hardware store. After she passed away in January 2021, the family put the house up for sale. Fisch, who has been buying investment properties on Murray Road, bought the Persinger house in May 2021 for $600,000.
Purchasing the Persinger house was “a coincidence” and not related to the hardware store deal, said Fisch, who has been investing in South End properties and recently bought the Hatfield's Rug Cleaners building at 5301 S. Dixie Hwy.
“I am a local. I was raised here. I’m a very vested stakeholder in West Palm Beach,’’ Fisch, 41, said. “I feel I understand where the neighborhoods are going. We want to be front and center to reshape and retool the neighborhood for another generation.’’
He also understands many long-time residents will be sad to see a legacy business such as George’s Paint and Hardware closing for good.
“In my experience, I've bought a lot of old houses and old buildings. There's always somebody who has a nostalgia for what it used to be,’’ he said.
“But when an old building is modernized and turned into a 21st-century building, landscaped and painted and new windows and fresh tenants, it is a welcomed change. The nostalgia of a place like that, it only takes you a month to feel like OK now we want a nice new thing over there.’’
After 82 years in West Palm Beach, George's apparently plans to shut down without much fanfare. Although some longtime customers are aware of the coming closure, as of Wednesday there were no signs in the store and nothing on the store's website indicating the store will close for good after business Saturday.
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