Kevin Shields, 45, of Port Washington, and his siblings, Robert Shields and Patti Shields, are the third generation of his family to own and operate Shields Hardware in Port Washington. Their grandfather John F. Shields and his brother, William Shields, opened the store in 1917 on Lower Main Street, not far from where it stands today, and the business has since expanded to include plumbing, heating, water filtration and other niche services.
What was the shop like when it opened in 1917?
It was about the size of this shop here. We were opened during the "Blue Laws," legislation that prevented storekeepers from being open on Sundays. However, since we were at a port of call -- Port Washington used to be more of a commercial boating community -- and there needed to be a store open in the port in case anyone needed supplies, that was us.
How long have you been at 267 Main St.?
We had a fire in 1990, which actually consumed about five of our buildings. We moved across the street to a property we owned, built this building here and then moved in in 2002. We basically just took our footprint and pushed it down the street.
Why do you think your family’s business has thrived when so many other independent hardware stores have shuttered with the rise of big-box home improvement chains?
The answer is quite simple: Every time you come into my place of business, there is a minimum of 1-2 Shieldses here at all times. We watch the business, we know exactly who’s here and how they’re being taken care of. We are very hands-on. There’s not a single Shields who works less than 60 hours a week.
What do you think keeps your customers coming back?
We’re customer service. People come in here and they expect to be waited on. We don’t just point … we take our customers to where our stuff is and we assist them any way we can. We’re also licensed plumbers, so … when you’re asking for a plumbing part, I’m giving you information based on years of service. We’ve all kind of been working here since we were 5.
How has your business evolved over time?
We’re niche oriented. For instance, we do a tremendous business with water quality. People in this community are very concerned about the quality of their drinking water. If you’re a customer of ours, we’ll go to your home, test your water for free and see what we can do to improve that quality. Another niche is we offer a day of beauty for your barbecue … and have a complimentary ship-to-store program with 70,000 items you can order online.
What advice do you have for other local merchants?
If you watch your business and grow with the times, the needs and demands of the people in the community, you’ll prosper. Being the oldest doesn’t make you the best, but being the best makes you the oldest.