GALLERY: End for Thirroul's beloved old hardware store

Thirroul’s long-running family-owned hardware store Jackson’s is closing its doors after 60 years in the business. EMMA SPILLETT spoke to the family about the store’s history and its dozens of loyal customers.

It's Friday morning at Jackson's Hardware in Thirroul and the vintage store is bustling with customers.

Retired "shed dwellers" wander in with newspapers and coffee, grabbing nails or paint for their latest project, while couples peruse the aisles, keen to find the right shade or tool for the weekend's DIY job.

Many customers are greeted by first name, all are treated like family.

It's the "g'day mate" service that owner Ron Farrington believes has been the secret to the businesses' longevity, sustaining the family-owned hardware store through 60 years of trade.

The shop's wooden walls have been privy to thousands of home and backyard renovations, watching on as Mr Farrington and before him, his grandfather William "Bill" Jackson, helped to turn nervous, first-time DIYers into skilled home renovators.

Generations of families have called on the pair for advice on everything from taps to plumbing, making a stop into the busy Lawrence Hargrave Drive store part of their weekly routine.

'My grandfather was quite firm with price margins whereas I tend to give people a bit of a deal and it’s paid off.'

But the beloved shop is shutting its doors, ending the story of one of the region's longest-running family-owned hardware stores.

Jackson's Hardware was founded in 1954 by William Jackson, a carpenter and contractor who constructed many of the region's housing commission homes in the 1940s.

A born and bred Thirroul boy, Mr Jackson, then in his 40s, knew locals craved a building supplies store in their own backyard so he swapped his chisel for a cash register and opened his own hardware haven.

Initially operating out of a smaller space with a workshop, once owned by his aunt, Jackson's quickly became a "one-stop shop" for building supplies on what would soon become Thirroul's main street.

Nearly a decade later, the business had grown big enough to sustain a second site and Mr Jackson built the new premises, which became a paint shop, adjacent to his original store.

He and his wife lived above the shop with their daughter Pam Jansen.

Mrs Jansen was 16 when her father announced he was going to open the business and she still recalls his glee for the project.

"He was so excited ... I remember him coming home and telling us," she said.

"It was only a small store but he was so happy, he really felt this area needed a hardware shop."

Mrs Jansen joined the business in 1972 doing clerical work.

She would often bring her children Ron, Kay and Lee into the store, letting them watch as their grandfather expertly served customers.

Kay Farrington remembers visiting her busy grandparents - and their unusual office companion.

"My grandmother worked in the office and she had this massive Dobermann dog that would sit next to her," she said.

"This dog would do its natural thing - guard - and boy, did it guard ... it would growl and bark, it was just hilarious."

Kay's brother, Ron Farrington, started working at Jackson's in his early teens, weighing nails and sweeping the store after school.

He originally shied away from the family business, opting to complete an apprenticeship as a fitter and turner at the Port Kembla steelworks, but quickly realised it wasn't for him.

"[The business] was something I always knew was there but I decided to hang back for awhile and wait until my grandfather got a bit older," Mr Farrington said.

"I went and did my apprenticeship, then I went on a holiday and I came back to the steelworks.

"I remember walking into the station and seeing 20,000 men there - the coke ovens were going off, it was smelly and I just thought: 'hang on, this is it?' - it just wasn't for me."

He returned to the hardware store at age 20, serving his apprenticeship under his grandfather's watchful eye.

"Things worked pretty well ... at that stage, he was clearly the boss and I was virtually an underling," Mr Farrington said.

"It was important for me to learn from experience - he had the experience and I wanted to learn.

"He really did mentor me in a lot of ways, my father died when I was 19 and [my grandfather] was always there.

"He was a fairly strong-willed person but he knew hardware and he was a real businessman."

In 1985, when Mr Jackson developed Parkinson's disease and became too ill to work, Mr Farrington took over the business and has been at the hardware store's helm ever since.

He believes he has adopted his grandfather's "can-do" attitude and desire to succeed but has always put his loyal customers first.

"My grandfather was a proper businessman ... I think I am a businessman to a point but I'm a lot more tolerant," he explained.

"My grandfather was quite firm with price margins whereas I tend to give people a bit of a deal and it's paid off.

Mrs Jansen agrees, noting Ron was able to really "see people."

"He was a lot more understanding with customers," she explained.

"My father wanted to serve them but Ron always went that little bit further ... my father was very successful but I think the business got along better with Ron in charge."

"I'll always be grateful to him ... if it wasn't for him, the business would have closed 20 years ago."

It is the focus on personal service that Mr Farrington believes has kept the business afloat through technical changes, economic turmoil and the rise of monster hardware stores like Bunnings.

He admits the smaller family operation has struggled to compete against the mega hardware chains but says the store has been buoyed along by devoted customers - and the resurgence of reality home renovation shows.

"Thank goodness for Backyard Blitz and The Block, even Burke's Backyard," he jokes.

"We regularly have people coming in, saying 'I saw this on TV' ... they like that they can come in and talk to someone, it's that personal service that has always set us apart.

"We give people what they want, not necessarily what they need ... they go into Bunnings and there is so much in there that they buy more and more products ... it's not just about getting a tap washer or some acetone ... it's a total shopping experience.

"We can't do that so we've had to survive on that personal service."

And now, the store's faithful customers are in mourning.

Since the shop announced its closure, Jackson's devotees have subjected Mr Farrington, and Kay, who has worked there for 20 years, with a constant barrage of questions and sentiments, repeatedly telling the pair: "it's just very sad."

"It will be sad when we shut ... some people come in here every day, it's part of their routine ... they come in, have a chat and buy something, we know them and they know us," Kay Farrington said.

"We think it's sad too but we also know it's time," Ron Farrington added.

"I've been here nearly 40 years, Jackson's has been going for 60 years, I think it's long enough."

His mother agreed, making it clear she wanted her son to enjoy the retirement her father never got to have.

"It's time for him to have a different life now while he's young enough and healthy enough to enjoy it," Mrs Jansen said.

"My father was Ron's age when he got Parkinson's and he lost a lot of his life.

"I don't want that for Ron - he's worked so hard for 40 years, he's 60 now, he deserves to have a break."

But the family is unlikely to down tools completely - given that hardware is in their blood.

"I never feel like I've had enough it, I still don't now," Mr Farrington said.

"I've always enjoyed it because it's so diverse, when you get sick of paint, you can go to plumbing or electric, there's always something.

"It's the working with people too - customers come in, you help them and they say thank you and they really mean it - that's why we do it."

Kay agreed, noting she felt like she'd served her family legacy well.

"Hardware wasn't so much in the blood for me as it was for my brother but I've been really happy here," she said.

"I've learnt a lot - I'm certainly a lot more practical now than I was ... I was sort of known as the absent-minded professor in the family but I'm definitely more practical now."

The site has been sold to an undisclosed buyer who is yet to announce his intentions for the store.

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