A Runyan has been operating Planters Hardware & Building Inc. on the square in downtown Ashland since 1916, give or take a year.
“The Runyans have owned it since the early teens” of the 1900s, said Walt Runyan, the third-generation owner/operator. Before that, the Garrett family owned the business.
Bruner Runyan took ownership of Planters Hardware sometime before 1920 for sure, Walt said. Boyd Runyan – Bruner’s brother and Walt’s grandfather – joined the partnership in 1928.
|Bruner Runyan||Boyd Runyan|
The business that dates to the late 1800s got its name from its original clientele. The Runyan family isn’t certain of the exact date because the records were lost in a fire.
Farmers, aka planters, would come in and buy seeds, plows and other farm equipment on credit and pay their debts when their crops came in. Planters Hardware still sells on credit.
Much of what is sold and how it is sold at Planters Hardware is as it has been for more than a century.
Each ticket is still written out by hand. In triplicate. The customer gets a copy, a copy is filed with the bookkeeper and the third copy goes out with customers’ monthly statements for those who have a charge account.
Walt’s wife, Lisa, who became the office manager for Planters Hardware about a decade ago, said she offered to scan the records and put them on the computer, but her husband and father-in-law said they preferred to maintain a more personalized customer relationship.
After working for a few years in hardware sales after college, Walt joined the family business in 1988 and bought it from his father, Joe Runyan, a decade later. Joe, the second-generation owner, ran the business between 1966 and 1999, but continued to come into the store on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays until last year when the 88-year-old decided to officially retire.
On the days he came in after selling the business to his son, Joe would hold court on a bench facing the cash register.
“Probably eight out of the 10 people who would come through the doors, varying people who weren’t even from Clay County, would sit down beside him and chat and have whole conversations about their family life,” said Cole Runyan, Walt and Lisa’s son, who has worked at the store on school breaks since he was 10. “He would know their family, who their father was, where they lived. It was just crazy.”
No more mustangs, dynamite or firearms
Planters Hardware has always been on a corner of the square in Ashland, just not the same corner. Through the years, the hardware store has occupied three different corner spots on the square.
In one of the windows of the current building on Alabama Highway 77, a local artist painted a mural of what the store looked like in the late 1920s or early 1930s when it was on the same road but the opposite corner. There is also a painting of an ad that appeared in the newspaper about what the store sold at the time.
“Everything for home and farm – stoves and ranges, syrup cans, doors, windows, window glass, Aladdin lamps, galvanized roofing, steelyards, bale ties, grain hooks, hay forks and a complete line of wagon repair material,” the ad reads.
At one time, the store traded horses, said Walt. “They had a mule and horse barn.”
“Two or three carloads of horses came in on a Sunday morning on the railroad,” Walt recalled. “They had to block the square with cars to contain the horses. (The family) all had to leave church to come help. When the horses saw their reflections in the store windows, they really went crazy.”
The horses ran around the square until they tired, and the family was able to get them to the barn, Walt said.
Another big seller that the store no longer offers is dynamite. The dynamite was sold “right from under the counter,” Walt said. Cole added, “It was stored in a shed outside of town, because you had to keep that much dynamite away from people.”
“At one time, we were the oldest Browning firearm dealer in the state,” but “we gave up our firearms license” in the 1990s said Walt, adding that not selling firearms reduced break-ins at the business.
A different clientele
In the 21st century, agriculture is no longer the chief industry in Clay County. Timber, poultry and cabinet making now dominant and the inventory at Planters Hardware reflects that change.
The store still sells “everything in hardware” as well as building supplies, including water pumps, plumbing, electrical supplies, lumber and paint. Shovels, rakes and post hole diggers, coveralls, hats and work shoes, pocketknives, cast iron and generators also line the aisles of the 10,000-square-foot store and warehouse.
And the store cuts glass, threads pipe, mixes paint and duplicates keys, even high-tech car keys.
“We offer our customers cost-effective solutions and personalized service” six days a week, said Walt.
MEMBER SINCE 1998
Planters Hardware & Building Inc. at 40583 Alabama Highway 77 in Ashland is open six days a week and is only closed for six days a year – Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Visit on Facebook @PlantersAshland
12TH ANNUAL SEVERE WEATHER SALES TAX HOLIDAY
Alabama’s 12th annual severe weather tax holiday from Feb. 24 to 26 is a time to stock up and save on the necessities at stores like Planters Hardware. State officials purposely designed the three-day, tax-free weekend to occur before the height of both tornado and hurricane seasons.
During the tax holiday, the state’s four-percent sales tax is waived on common emergency supplies costing less than $60 as well as generators costing $1,000 or less.
about Alabama’s Feb. 24-26, 2023
severe weather preparedness sales tax holiday
Story and photos by Nancy King Dennis
A shorter version of this article appears on Pages 14 and 15
of the February 2023 Alabama Retailer