VOORHEESVILLE — After 27 years, Phillips Hardware has closed its Voorheesville shop.
The store had “never really grown to be a big financial producer for Philips Hardware,” said Jonathan Phillips, the owner and president of the company, which has two remaining stores, in Guilderland and Delmar.
Although the Voorheesville store had never really been profitable, it wasn’t a “high-stress site to operate,” Phillips said; it had been run by just a single employee. The one seven-year employee of the Voorheesville shop had gotten a job with the town of Guilderland, Phillips said, but had he not, he would have been able to move to Guilderland.
But the Voorheesville store also served other purposes for the company — a lot of commercial billing was done out of the store and it where he and his wife, Amy, had their office — Phillips said. He kept the store open in part out of loyalty to the local clientele, his friends who lived in the community, and the commercial accounts the store serviced in Voorheesville.
The building at 18 South Main Street in the heart of the village, had been home to a hardware store before Phillips bought it. W.W. Crannell Lumber, which also ran a lumber yard in Voorheesville, had occupied the site for decades.
Phillips said his company is looking to finish its Guilderland project, just five miles away, at the intersection of routes 146 and 158, that in which it has invested a lot of money, and continues to do so. “So it kind of became a dollars-and-cents [thing],” he said.
The building of the new Guilderland store, in the works since at least 2016, was put on hold in August 2019 after a series of unforeseen circumstances arose that, cumulatively, made the prospect of taking on a $4.6 million loan for the project too risky, Phillips told The Enterprise at the time.
Phillips said he’s trying to complete the Guilderland store by the spring of 2021.
Right now, he’s paying out-of-pocket to run the plumbing and electrical, and is trying to get the new store’s concrete floor poured by the end of this month, but Phillips is “hopefully getting close to closing with a bank on the financing” for the rest of the project, he said, which he hopes to have done before the end of the year.
“Then, once we have all the funds, again, we’re off to the races to finish that project,” he said.
Closing the Voorheesville shop has been the hardest store for Phillips to close, he said, “not monetarily-wise,” but because he had a lot of good customers and friends in the village — contrasting it with the sale of Phillips’ Waterford store, which “was business, not emotion.” It’s why Phillips has a sign up with his personal cell number and email for people to contact him.
Phillips is realistic that he will lose business because of the closure, but is also optimistic that he has loyal customers who will follow him to Guilderland, he said.
But, for someone who has had to close or sell-off multiple stores in the very recent past, Phillips continues to exude nothing but confidence not only in his own business but in small businesses in general.
A lot of people in small businesses and their owners, he thinks, “You’re kind of passionate [about] the service you provide. If it was about money, you make money decisions, [but] a lot of us are in business for a purpose.” For the Phillips family, home improvement has been its business for over 130 years.
Phillips said his family’s hardware business is the oldest such business in Albany County, dating back to 1886. “I’m adapting to try to keep the legacy of our family business going and, to do that, I’ve got to make hard decisions [like], what’s the future, what do we keep, what do we build,” he said. And right now, he’s decided that having two strong Capital Region stores is the best chance he has of keeping that legacy alive.
By building a store in Guilderland that’s significantly larger than any of his previous stores, Phillips said that he will be able to offer more quality products not only to the residents of Voorheesville, Altamont, and Guilderland, but also to the Hilltowns and parts of Schenectady County.
But Phillips added, in contrast to the big-box stores that have swallowed up so many smaller businesses, he is still trying to run a neighborhood hardware store, and is passionate about doing so. He feels that many of the people who come into his stores wouldn’t be as connected to the community if they were shopping more frequently at the big-box stores.
Phillips said, in his two remaining stores — in Bethlehem, where he grew up, and Guilderland, a stone’s throw from his home in Altamont — he is “still hanging on to the passion and the fight.” Yes, if it were only about money, he could sell his businesses and go work for someone else for the next 20 years and call it a career, he said, but he fundamentally believes — especially amid the pandemic — that his family’s stores provide a valuable service to their respective communities.
Phillips and his wife had discussed the topic previously: Do they want to stop and go to work for someone else, which they could, or do they want to continue “fighting for what we’ve always done?”
And they came to the conclusion that the Phillipses had been in the hardware business since the 1880s, long before the invention of most of the products the store currently offers and the couple together had been doing in the business for the better part of three decades, so it really wasn’t much of a question.
“It’s a labor of love, too, and my wife is on board — thank God. If she wasn’t, we would be done; she’s a partner with me in the business. And she’s become a stronger partner as we’ve gotten smaller; she’s had to take a bigger role with me,” Phillips said.