With some fine-tuning and (literal) elbow grease, Highland Hardware & Bike Shop evolved from a mom-and-pop shop into the full-service hardware store and bike shop it is today. The business opened in 1946 in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and was originally called Highland Variety. The owners, Harry Craven Sr. and his wife Mary, wanted to create a family-run neighborhood business, says their son, Harry Craven Jr. He now owns and operates the store with the help of his wife Catherine, son David and daughter Jennifer.
Craven says when his dad opened the store, he was also serving as a full-time police officer, working his police job from midnight to 8 a.m. and then working in the store from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
“He would go home for four hours and then go right back to his job as a police officer and do it all again the next day,” Craven says. “He did that for 30 years.”
Highland Variety began as a gift shop, selling items such as ashtrays, salt shakers, aprons, dish towels and sewing supplies like thread, zippers and ribbons by the yard. Not long after opening, the Cravens connected with a regional hardware wholesaler and began selling hardware items.
“If somebody came in looking for a shovel, my dad would get on the phone and call up his wholesaler and ask for a shovel,” Craven says. “The wholesaler’s trucks would come by and deliver what he needed several times a week.”
Around 1950, the Cravens added toys and games, including bicycles and tricycles, to the store’s offerings, and in 1954, they purchased a building across the street with a business partner and moved the store.
“I remember using shopping carts to move everything across the street to the new location,” Craven says.
On the Right Trail
In the 1960s, the Cravens got out of the toy business because of competition from other regional toy retailers but continued to stock bicycles and accessories. The business saw a boost in the bicycle business with the energy crisis in the 1970s, and it continued to grow to become a regional full-fledged bicycle shop alongside the comprehensive hardware store.
Craven says he has seen an increase in biking culture across the nation, as well as in his community, and the store draws in regular customers from more than 25 miles and more away. Thanks to its industrial history as the paper-making capital of the world, Holyoke and the surrounding towns were once crisscrossed with rail lines that have been transformed into walking and biking trails for area residents.
To accommodate customers, the bike shop is stocked with everything from kids’ balance bikes and tricycles to BMX bikes to road and mountain bikes. The store carries over 300 assembled bikes for purchase, an impressive feat considering the supply chain issues the pandemic brought on. Craven says bikes were nearly impossible to find at the start of the pandemic, but thankfully, supplies have started coming through again. The store also carries a full line of bike accessories, including helmets, clothing and bike racks for vehicles.
“If you need it for a bike, we have it,” Craven says. “My son David runs the bike shop, which also offers bike repair services. We employ several staff members who are certified bike mechanics and can do anything
a customer needs for their bike.”
Homing in on Hardware
Most of the hardware store customers come from Holyoke and nearby towns and include a mix of DIYers and contractors, Craven says. The store also serves several city accounts and property managers who are looking for repair and maintenance items like nuts, bolts, paint and sundries and plumbing and electrical items.
Pandemic-motivated home projects have also brought in additional DIY customers looking for lawn and garden, outdoor living and paint products, Craven says.
“Even though it was nerve-wracking, the pandemic was good for business,” he says. “We did well saleswise during that time.”
Craven’s daughter Jennifer works in the hardware store, and two of her children are also employed
part time in the store.
“My 15-year-old grandson works on bikes and helps put grills together. I remember putting together carriages and tricycles around Christmas time for my dad when I was about 10 years old. That’s how I got my start in the store,” he says. “So it’s kind of like deja vu, having my kids grow up in the store and now to have my grandkids working with me.”
With a love for local history, Craven shares his passion for his community by giving back in several ways.
He is part of several local advisory boards, and he provides a discount on paint and other supplies the local high school needs for sets and props for its annual play. He also loans out pieces of memorabilia from his collection for the plays.
“This year, the students needed the steering wheel from a ‘63 Chevy, and I was more than happy to loan mine,” he says.
Craven houses most of his collection of local memorabilia and historic artifacts in the store, which adorn the walls, a museum of sorts for the town of Holyoke.
Owning the hardware store has allowed Craven to share his love of local history and his community with others, and he’s proud his family is part of the business and carrying on his parents’ legacy. When people ask when he’s going to retire, Craven recounts the story of his dad, who died at age 86 in 2000 and was still walking home from the store at that age.
“I’m still happy doing this work. I get to run my business, but I also get time with my family, both in the store and outside the store,” Craven says. “I am happy and proud of my kids being here. For me, it’s all about family.”
See how other retailers have catered to their communities with specialized services from rentals to repairs at here.