Russ Wilson bought the 80-year-old Larchmont Hardware store some 15 years ago and, a few years later, he bought Koontz Hardware in West Hollywood. His brother Dean Wilson is the general manager for both stores. Both brothers made life changes to go into the hardware business. Russ left a career in the banking and computer industries; Dean left a teaching position in the Midwest to help his brother run the stores.

Dean Wilson talked to staff reporter Norinne De Gal about the mom-and-pop hardware business, and how he and his brother survive against the big guys now on the scene.

"The bigger places have made it a lot tougher, no question about that. There is so much competition in every area, I don't know about the future. There are some things we have no competition in, like metric screws. But how do you make money off of 10-cent screws?

"Before, people would rely on the community hardware store for everything except maybe lumber. Surprisingly, I think the community hardware has been hanging in there. Maybe in the last year sales went down, but even just a couple of years ago sales were really good.

"Most customers for both stores are from the neighborhood and we know them by name. It is really old-fashioned like that, and the neighborhood is kind of a throwback.

"There are also a lot of stories here. Some people go to the theater for entertainment; our customers go to Koontz or Larchmont Hardware for entertainment. One guy was waiting on an elderly lady and she said, 'Could you take a look at this?' He cleaned it up and it was the original NBC gong that her grandfather gave to her.

"We are near Beverly Hills and we have a lot of movie star customers. Larchmont does too. Harrison Ford comes in a lot to Koontz. It is like common ground where people like to come in and feel good about fixing things themselves. It doesn't matter what language you speak or who you are. The only thing that matters in here is if you can fix this one thing.

"People accuse us of having high prices. They say we are the Neiman Marcus of hardware stores, but I think that in many cases we have better prices than Home Depot."

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