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Kirk’s Hardware: The end of an era

(The Times photo by Betsy Reason)
Bill and Carrie Prater, who have owned Kirk’s Hardware in downtown Noblesville since March 2002, have a lot of great memories in the store, which will close at the end of business, at 5 p.m. Thursday.

Just walk in Kirk’s Hardware, it’s like turning back time.

Little has changed through the years.

The tin ceiling is still in place. The receipts are still handwritten. And service is still No. 1.

Customers stop in, looking for hardware parts to fix something at home, a single screw or nail in a particular size, or maybe they need owner Bill Prater to fix a floor lamp or repair their window screens.

It’s been 20 years this month since Bill and Carrie Prater bought and took over Kirk’s Hardware on the north side of the Hamilton County Courthouse Square in downtown Noblesville.

And now they say it’s time to retire.

Yes, sadly, Kirk’s Hardware — which has been a hardware store of various names since 1889 — closes permanently at the end of business at 5 p.m. Thursday.

But Bill Prater, who’ll turn 72 in July, said, “It’s time for a change.” He and Carrie, 68, want to spend more time with their grandkids.

I visited the Praters on Friday afternoon, and it seemed like a typical day. Bill Prater was in the back of the store, fixing window screens. Carrie Prater was waiting on customers. Their 20-year-old grandson, Logan Campbell, who has been working part-time at the store, was doing whatever they needed him to do.

The Praters said business has picked up since they announced the store would close. Some folks come in just to visit. To take a look around. To see if there are any bargains. To find something they didn’t know they needed. Or to make an offer on something in the store window they’ve had their eye on.

“A lot of them just want to look and see the old nostalgia before it’s gone,” Bill Prater said. “The new owners of the building want to try to keep as many of the fixtures that look like the old hardware in here when we leave.” The old floor-to-ceiling wooden sliding ladders along both sides of the hardware store are going to stay, he said.

The store shelves are still full. Everything still looks the same. There are even the old horse halters that he put up on the wall when he started working there.

The basement of the store is full of store items, too.

Before they decided to close, the Praters tried to sell their hardware business to keep it going, but they had no takers. “We had guys come in and want it but never came back,” he said.

Bill Prater said they’d already done markdowns on everything on the store’s main floor. Bailey’s Auction Co. in Noblesville came in and photographed and cataloged 690 lots of auction items in the upper two floors and part of the basement for a Kirk’s Hardware online auction, which started March 19 and runs through April 9, with store pickup from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. April 10.

Bailey’s will come in and catalog items from the main floor and the rest of the basement starting on Friday. While Praters’ contract is up April 1, they’re allowed to stay until they get everything moved out and “get it all gone.”

Anything he’s keeping, he said, will go home with him. “In my pickup truck, just load and go.”

Kirk Hardware’s adjacent Linden Tree Gifts, second-floor offices and the former Boys & Girls Club gymnasium on the third floor are contained in the building, which Kirk’s Hardware owners have leased all of these years. The new building owners, I’m told, are refurbishing the upper levels and installing an elevator.

Carrie Prater said, come the end of day on Thursday, she and her husband are expecting to feel a little sad.

Bill Prater has loved the old hardware ever since he was a kid, growing up in Noblesville, visiting Kirk’s Hardware alongside his dad. His own kids and grandkids have grown up visiting Kirk’s Hardware, too. The whole family will miss the place.

Bill and Carrie Prater met at Bill’s Drive-In on North 10th Street, where Carrie (who hailed from Virginia) was a carhop. They met when he came home from serving in Vietnam in the U.S. Army (as a combat engineer/mechanic) before he left for Germany. (Bill’s Drive-in was where Noblesville Eagles Lodge is now.)

Through the years, Bill Prater worked for Rieth-Riley Asphalt, he worked in a body shop, he worked for the Noblesville Police Department doing parking enforcement, and he worked as a supervisor at Delco-Remy before coming to Kirk’s Hardware 36 years ago to work for David Kingsolver.

“I took care of small-engine repair and worked on chain saws and whatever else needed to be fixed. I was friends with David (they bowled together); he needed somebody to work, and Delco was going down.” David Kingsolver gave Bill Prater a full-time job “with a chance to buy in.”

It was an offer Bill Prater couldn’t refuse. “I was drawn to this place,” he said. “I already had the knowledge to work with my hands, to come in here.” The only part of hardware that he didn’t have experience with was plumbing, so he worked with Garland Scott at Scott Plumbing to learn the trade. “So I passed that knowledge on.”

Bill Prater, who had worked at Kirk’s Hardware since 1986, bought the business in March 2002 from Jane Kingsolver. “The opportunity was there,” said Prater, as the reason for buying the business.

Like owners before him, he closed at noon on Wednesdays.

The Praters still have the old newspaper advertisement framed from the third owners, the “Griffin Brothers, dealers in hardware, implements, stoves, tinware,” plus “guns and fishing tackle.” They also showed me an ad that was published at Christmastime the first year the Praters owned the store, with Carrie and a grandson donning Santa hats with Bill smiling in the photo. They advertised being an “old-fashioned hardware store,” with “extensive supply of household & workshop needs,” and “glass & screen repair” and “paint & tools.”

Bill Prater has made a pretty good business of fixing windows and screens since he took over, especially since the pandemic. When I visited, he was replacing a window screen at his regular perch in the back of the store. It’s where he can see customers when they walk in the door thanks to his well-placed security mirror. There is another well-placed security mirror on the store’s main floor so Bill and Carrie can see customers in the aisles.

Who will take over Prater’s screen business? “Nobody that I know of,” he said. “I’m still going to help some of the contractors out if they get into a bind. But other than that, I’m just going to be sitting at home,” chasing grandkids, and going to more baseball, basketball and football games, he supposed. The Praters have two children, Bill and April, and five grandsons, plus a couple more grandkids from blended families.

During my visit, Bill Prater continued to work on customers’ window screens as he talked about his years at Kirk Hardware. He’s always worked with his hands, fixing things. So customers may have noticed that the index finger on his left hand ends at the knuckle. Hiding his hand momentarily, he said the accident happened when he was using a saw to cut plastic for new windows he was installing at home.

Prater is known for fixing things at the shop as well as at home for his grandkids. A sign behind his work area, where he fixes screens, at the hardware reads, “Papaw’s Fix-It Shop, If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, but if it is broke, take it to Papaw.”

Carrie Prater said she’ll miss the customers the most. She said on Thursday at closing time, she expects Bill to be a little sad. But then, he can go home, hang out with the grandkids more, do some traveling and just enjoy life.

Bill said, “Everybody asks ‘Whatcha gonna do when you close.’ He said, ‘I’m sleepin’ in.’”

– Contact Betsy Reason at betsy@thetimes24-7.com

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Kirk’s Hardware at 848 Logan St., Noblesville, will close permanently at the end of business, 5 p.m. Thursday.

Since 1889, there has been a hardware store at this location on the Square in downtown Noblesville.

The store has had several owners and each time the new owner would change the name, according to a front-page story in The Noblesville Times in 2002, when the Praters bought the hardware.

Past store owners were S.E. Hardy, the Polks, Billy Griffin and his brother, Chris Howe, Walter Sharp, Bob Daubenspeck, Roy and Arwana Kirk.

When the hardware opened as Kirk’s Hardware in 1952, that name has remained ever since. David and Jane Kingsolver bought the store in 1968 (David had worked at the store since 1957.) Jane worked right along with David until May 1994 when David died unexpectedly. Jane sold the hardware store, 20 years ago, in March 2002, to longtime employee, Bill Prater, who had worked at the store since 1986. (Jane Kingsolver, who later married Jim Castor, owned the building until December 2021, when she transferred the property to Nancy Beeson’ trustee, according to the online Hamilton County property reports.).

An online auction of Kirk’s Hardware is being handled by Bailey’s Auction Co. in Noblesville now through April 9, with pickup only from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on April 10. To bid, visit baileysauctionservice.hibid.com