Carpenter’s Paint and Hardware is as much a part of its Camden, New York, community as its owner is. Jim Plumley has spent most of his life in the village, supplying customers with much-needed products and providing a listening ear to his neighbors for decades.
The store has been a community hub for generations; locals go to the store to shop, but also to share about their lives.
In business for nearly 175 years, Carpenter’s serves local contractors and full-time residents, many whose homes were built in the 1800s, and part-time residents who own cabins, cottages or campgrounds in the area.
Camden is located near the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains, flanked by picturesque rivers. Vacation houses are common in the area, owned by people who want to take advantage of local outdoor recreational opportunities.
Being a good neighbor is a way of life for Jim and a foundation for his business. His closest competitor is a local store on the same street as Carpenter’s, but Jim’s relationship with the owner exemplifies his values and the community culture.
“We just happen to be friends in the same business, and that’s how we treat each other,” Jim says. “It’s a small town. Everyone helps each other, including my competition. I help him, and he helps me.”
In the Beginning
Carpenter’s has been serving the Camden community since 1848, when founder F.F. Fifield began selling hardware and agricultural supplies.
Fifield sold the business to store clerk W.H. Dorrance, who went on to sell it to local businessman Joseph McFern. McFern hired Jim’s father John Plumley in 1942 to sweep the floors for a paycheck of about $1 per week.
In 1944, McFern sold the business to Bud and Thelma Carpenter, who added their last name to the store name. John stayed for the next half century, working most of that time for the Carpenters.
The Carpenters didn’t have children, but they loved the Plumley family like their own and hired all seven of John’s children over the years.
When Jim graduated from college in 1985 and left to start a career traveling the northeast U.S. for an international paint company, he had put in nearly 10 years of work at Carpenter’s.
John bought the store in 1989. When he was ready to sell it and retire five years later, two of his children still worked at the store but wanted to pursue other projects.
Jim was enjoying the career he had built at the large paint company, but the opportunity to buy Carpenter’s made him reconsider his trajectory.
“I grew up in this store and my heart has always been here. When my parents announced they wanted to sell, I knew buying it was going to be a big step for me,” Jim says. “I didn’t want to wander through life wondering, ‘What if?’ I don’t want to go through life with regrets.”
Jim knew that owning and operating the store would be a significant change for his family since the business would require his constant oversight. He manages the day-to-day operations himself but also relies on seven dedicated employees.
“I asked my wife Danielle for her blessing going into this venture. She gave it and has been supporting me ever since,” Jim says. “My employees, like Bob Bolinger, who has been with me for 26 years, are another reason we’ve grown and come so far.”
Owning the Store
When Jim bought Carpenter’s, the operation was a classic hardware store selling the core categories such as electrical, plumbing and hand and power tools. It had also sold major appliances since the 1920s.
Jim decided to enlarge the store’s paint department because he had enjoyed his seven years working in the paint industry. He committed one-quarter of the 4,000-square-foot store to paint and paint sundries. He also changed the store’s name from Carpenter’s Hardware to Carpenter’s Paint and Hardware.
“We truly are in the paint business. It’s not just a sideline for us,” Jim says. “We like color, and we like selling paint.”
Paint has grown to be the store’s second largest department, trailing only plumbing as the biggest contributor to overall sales.
Jim promotes the paint category heavily, primarily investing in newspaper advertising. Even young shoppers loyally read the weekly newspaper in Camden and mention the ads they see. Jim uses Google Ads and occasionally promotes products on Facebook.
The Carpenter’s Paint and Hardware customer base is primarily DIYers, many of whom own the area’s old houses, which require ongoing upkeep, if not full-scale remodels or restorations.
Carpenter’s and the other hardware store in town serve many of the same customers, but Jim and his competitor have found distinct niches that allow them to differentiate so both can remain successful.
For example, Carpenter’s has strong appliance and wood pellet stove niches, while the other store operates a well-established flooring business.
More Than a Job
The Plumleys are heavily invested in the community and care deeply about its people. Jim is the president of a local village improvement organization and also enjoys donating flower boxes to display throughout Camden. He and his staff help build theater sets for the high school drama department, constructing the sets in the store’s warehouse and providing the needed tools and supplies.
Danielle has never worked at the store, but she and Jim both have made careers of helping people. She is a social worker who worked for the state of New York before accepting a job with the local school system.
Jim finds that his work isn’t always as different from Danielle’s as it might appear.
“People know me and want to talk about things not always related to their home improvement projects,” Jim says. “You learn a lot about people and from people. They help us and we help them.”
The store has always been locally owned, but the Plumleys have kept it in their family longer than any previous owner. Jim hopes when he is ready to retire, he will find a young buyer who is as eager and invested as he was when he bought it at age 32. He and Danielle have one child, 16-year-old Maggie, who has grown up spending much of her time at the store, like Jim did.
The school bus used to drop Maggie off at the store at the end of her school days, and she has made years of memories at the business. She has worked at the store since she was 13, but she has other interests, and Jim does not expect her to buy the operation like he did.
“I love what I do. Running a small hardware store in a small town has been a great life,” Jim says. “I’ve been fortunate to have grown up around wonderful people.”