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Q and A: Duane and Sherry Cook

by: JIM CLARK, Sherry and Duane Cook will be closing their Uptown Hardware soon, but they’ll still be supplying Northwest Portland with nails, keys and gadgets at their Pearl Hardware location.

Every Friday, the Portland Tribune puts questions to a prominent - or not so prominent - local person.

It can be a little disconcerting, walking into a hardware store and seeing the owners holding hands and acting lovestruck. This is a hardware store, for heaven's sake.

But Duane and Sherry Cook, married 41 years and running Uptown Hardware (27 N.W. 23rd Ave.) almost as long, have somehow kept their spark alive - but not too close to the flammable paints, mind you.

Sometime in the next six months the couple will be closing Uptown. It's a sad event, Duane says, the closing of a store Sherry's father opened in 1950. But not too sad.

Three years ago the Cooks opened Pearl Hardware at 1621 N.W. Glisan St. So they're still in Northwest Portland, with a shift in customers, Duane says. At Uptown, about 60 percent of customers are women, but at Pearl it's 60 percent men. And there is a difference.

Portland Tribune: You must get some unusual requests for help in the hardware business. Any favorites?

Duane Cook: A customer called up and wanted to know if we carried a certain item. I'm going, 'What is it you want?' 'Well, I don't know how to describe it.'

She was kind of waffling around trying to figure out how to say it and she lays the phone down. Pretty soon I hear her footsteps coming back in. She's gotten her golf glove and pulled the Velcro and put it next to the phone so I could hear it. She wanted Velcro, but she didn't know how to say it.

Tribune: Any irritating ones?

Cook: A customer comes in and he wants to know who in the store is an expert on bugs. Dave, one of the clerks, goes out there.

The guy says, 'I've got these bugs. I think they're bed bugs.' And he opens up a container and there they are inside. Dave jumps back and the rest of the day Dave's running around scratching himself.

Tribune: We've been known to take on leaky faucets that required two or three return visits during the day. Is that common?

Cook: We've always thought the record is a customer returning seven times to do a plumbing project. I think the guy was trying to relocate a sink and he was trying to figure out how to make the drain work. He'd come in for a part and take it home, and another part breaks.

You put in a new tailpiece and you put your thumb through the trap, so you come in for a new trap - and that goes into the next piece and the next piece.

Tribune: You've got some dangerous stuff in here. Ever refuse to sell something?

Cook: It's usually a power saw. They'll want to do a specific job and have no idea what kind of tool to use. You start describing it to them, and they get the look on their face.

It's like, 'Oooh.' And you say, 'Maybe you should get somebody to help you with this.'

Tribune: Male customers vs. female?

Cook: When Uptown first started most of the people who came in were women. Back then, most of the other stores in the area hated women because they asked too many questions. They were more detail-oriented.

Tribune: So are men easier customers?

Cook: Men are intimidated when trying to do hardware projects. You need to prove your manhood to be able to do that plumbing project. Women are more likely to admit they can learn.

Tribune: The No. 1 selling item in a hardware store? Paint? Batteries? Nails?

Cook: Keys. You sell keys on the first of the month because people are moving in.

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