NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - It’s a really old hardware store that first opened its doors just 10 years after the Civil War. But H.J. Smith and Ssons in Covington is still open, and today its shelves are a mix of household needs and museum pieces.
It’s an odd collection of odds and ends, items that may have been on the shelves more than a century ago.
“H.J. Smith was my great grandfather,” said Larry Smith. “He started a business in 1876.”
Today, Larry Smith oversees a family business that now spans seven generations.
“My great grandfather, my grandpa, they wouldn't throw anything away,” he said. “If there was a wagon and the wheel broke, they'd save the wagon for parts.”
The oldest part of the store has been turned into a museum. There are antique tools and pieces of farm equipment, home entertainment items, sports gear, kitchenware. If you can think of something from your grandmother’s home, there’s probably something like it here.
“Now we have a lot of items other people don't have, but I think about what my dad used to say, too,” Smith said. “He would say, ‘If we don't have it, you don't need it.’”
McNamara: “This has to be one of the strangest things I've ever seen in a hardware store. Why would you have human bones in the store?”
Smith: “We had this in the warehouse in the back, so we had customers with little boys and girls who wanted to see the skeleton. All the times we had to go back there, play around, scared the little kids with the skeleton and let them see it. Of course they’d tell their friends, and then we had to show their friends. So as time went after 140 years, we figured out we're going to bring the skeleton inside and it'll be a lot easier for them to come up, pull a string and see the skeleton.”
Smith said the skeleton was used as part of an initiation ceremony for a local chapter of the Knights of Pythias. He guesses that a 19th century sheriff provided the bones.
You can see a cast iron coffin from New Orleans, and what Smith describes as a petrified rat - probably a local resident.
A lot has changed in the world of retail since the store opened just 10 years after the end of the Civil War. But somehow, it’s survived a Great Depression, two world wars, Walmart and online shopping.
“We fix a lot of stuff that people - lamps, furniture - or they come in and get items, tell them how to do it,” Smith said. “I think a big part of survive and would have to be such service-oriented businesses.”
And even if you’re not looking for some odd part or an animal trap, it can be fun to walk the aisles and see if you can figure out how all of this stuff was used way back when.