Stephanie Riegel: Pursuing the American Dream under the Perkins Road overpass

On a brilliant spring Saturday, Our Hardware held its grand opening earlier this month in the old Overpass Cleaners building at 2929 Perkins Road, and the community came together to support it.

Henry Bingham, the store’s owner, will need that support in the months to come.

On paper, the odds are stacked against him. Roughly 80% of all small businesses fail within their first 18 months of operation. For a retailer in the hardware sector, it’s particularly tough to make the numbers work. Big box chains like Home Depot and Lowe’s, with their volume discount model and razor-thin margins, have driven many independent operators out of business.

Bingham, a native of Baker and lifelong resident of the Capital Region, knows making a go of Our Hardware won’t be easy. Though he has never owned his own business, he managed Government Street True Value Hardware for nine of its 15 years in operation. He understands the realities of the industry. It’s a risk he is willing to take.

“There are four things you need in a town: a church, a school, a saloon and a hardware store,” says Bingham, chuckling as he recites an adage someone told him long ago. “Everybody needs a hardware store.”

He means a hardware store that’s convenient—one you can walk or drive to easily, without having to battle interstate gridlock and massive asphalt parking lots.

He might be on to something. Time will tell.

Bingham decided to open Our Hardware when Tom Theriot, the longtime owner of the Government Street True Value hardware, retired in January and sold the building. The new owners offered to lease Bingham the space, but they want to renovate and he couldn’t afford the higher rent. He bought what inventory Theriot had left over after the clearance sale and relocated to the Perkins Road overpass area.

It seems like a long shot—even longer when you find out Bingham wanted to be a True Value dealer but couldn’t afford to buy into the co-op. Fortunately, he found a Shreveport wholesaler who is supplying him with most of his merchandise.

Bingham says the Shreveport supplier is a good guy who’s willing to work with him. Lots of good people are helping Bingham in his endeavor. Local real estate broker Geordy Waters helped him find the space in the Perkins Road overpass area, and landlord Joyce McIntire gave him a good deal on the rent. She also required that he sign only a one-year lease.

“We needed a place, and she bent over backwards to help us get in,” Bingham says. “So did Geordy. We wouldn’t be here without Geordy.”

It may be true that Waters made it happen. But, really, it’s Bingham’s indomitable spirit of optimism that has gotten Our Hardware even this far. He has an infectious smile and a genuine warmth that make it hard not to like him and almost impossible not to want to help him.

Readying the 1,500-square-foot space in the old dry cleaners building has been a labor of love these past several weeks, made possible by many willing hands. Bingham’s grown son and grandchild are helping, as are his wife and 12-year-old son. He has tons of friends, too, a support system of former co-workers and customers from Government Street True Value Hardware who want Our Hardware to succeed.

They’ve been working around the clock, sprucing up the old building as best they can without undertaking a thorough renovation, unpacking boxes of merchandise, organizing shelves, getting everything ready. It’s been slow going, but on the day of the grand opening in early March they made it happen.

And the customers came. Some were long-time regulars from Government Street True Value Hardware, who have been following Bingham’s progress over the past few weeks and were cheering him on. Some were residents of Bingham’s new neighborhood. They’re still mourning the loss of Perkins Road Hardware, which burned 10 years ago this Christmas, and are excited about again having a convenient place to go pick up a bottle of weed killer or a box of nails.

These customers, new and old, honked their horns and interrupted his conversations, just to let him know they care.

“We just want you to know we support you, man,” said one customer, a neighborhood bar owner.

“We gotta make sure you prosper,” said another, before driving off in his pickup truck.

The exchanges were so thoughtful and sincere they almost seemed scripted, like dialogue from a chirpy TV ad set in an idealistic community that couldn’t possibly exist. Except, on that Saturday, in the overpass neighborhood, it did.

Bingham isn’t sure how he is going to make it. He hopes to position himself as a niche player, who can market himself on two fronts: convenience and expertise. Anybody can sell merchandise. He can peddle know-how.

“You can make a lot of money and be a lonely person, or you can be a part of something and maybe not make as much money but enjoy what you’re doing and help people,” he says. “We enjoy helping people. That’s what we’re here for.”

In an era of divisiveness and hate-filled rhetoric, it’s refreshing to meet someone like Bingham. He reminds us that the American Dream is still worth pursuing. It’s also refreshing to see how many people in this community care about trying to help a good man succeed.

It reminds us that America isn’t as hopelessly broken as it may seem.

BY: Stephanie Riegel 
Originally Posted by Greater Baton Rouge Business Report