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Hernando's oldest retail business, Weeks Hardware, celebrates 100 years

Otella Weeks, 89, owner of Weeks Hardware, says stovepipes and their accouterments are popular items at the century-old downtown Brooksville store, which turns 100 on Monday.
Otella Weeks, 89, owner of Weeks Hardware, says stovepipes and their accouterments are popular items at the century-old downtown Brooksville store, which turns 100 on Monday.
Published Aug. 3, 2016

BROOKSVILLE — The shop window hints at the likely treasures inside Weeks Hardware — previous must-haves that now fall in the category of "I can't believe I found these."

Pretty much what one might expect from a business that on Monday turns a century old.

Displayed are a galvanized sprinkling can, containers of Bull's Eye lye and Ultra-Pure clear lamp oil, an earthenware crock suitable for curing several gallons of homemade pickles.

Ably reigning over it all is knowledgeable and savvy 87-year-old Otella Weeks, widow of Joe Weeks, whose father and uncle opened the spacious emporium in 1916. Weeks Hardware is the oldest existing retail business in Hernando County, according to noted Brooksville historian Bob Martinez.

From noon to 2 p.m. Monday, the Weeks family will host an open house at the store. Joe and Otella's daughter Connie Petrantoni of Tarpon Springs is bringing a celebratory cake.

Could it be the store's last major anniversary?

Otella waffles.

"If anybody wants to buy me out and they have enough money," she said last week, she would sell. "I get offers, but they're usually people who don't have any money. A person with a young family couldn't make a living from it.

"The reason I'm here in the store," she added, "is because I'm used to it and it's an old family store and I'd hate to close it down."

Running the business — ordering, stocking, clerking, bookkeeping — since 2012, Otella declared, "You can do what you want to do."

"What you have to do," she might add.

Before taking on the hardware store, she had been operating a dress shop on the floor above for 20 years.

"He got sick," Otella said of husband Joe, "and I had to come down and help him."

Joe Weeks died of emphysema in 2014.

On many days now, Otella seems more caretaker and curator than saleswoman. Some downtown visitors simply stumble in, finding what might be described as an unexpected tourist attraction.

"We get a lot of talkers," she said. "They look around. I listen to a lot of (old stories)."

Added daughter Cile Livengood, who stops by regularly: "Some people just like to visit old hardware stores."

Some customers arrive purposefully.

"Last week, a woman came in for a washtub and washboard," Otella said. "She was going to teach her grandchildren how to wash clothes."

Washboards are, in fact, a notable seller.

"They play them in churches and bluegrass (bands)," Otella explained.

During a casual walk-through beneath the original tin ceiling, the owner pointed out other popular items: stove pipes, 6-inch and 8-inch; cast-iron cooking pots that heat oh-so-evenly; uncommonly heavy cast-iron baking forms that turn out cornbread in the shape of fluted muffins, saguaro cacti or corn ears; Case pocket knives, the only brand of pocket knives, she claimed, still manufactured in the United States, in Bradford, Pa.

"I sold a grass catcher (recently)," Otella mentioned. "We must have had it for 50 years. He sure was glad to find it. It was hard to read the price tag. It was $41. I gave it to him for $21."

The owner doesn't knock down every price, nor does she knuckle under to make a sale. Said son-in-law Jeff Livengood, who provides muscle at the store: "You don't pull anything over her eyes."

"I've been here long enough," acknowledged the sage Otella, with a disarming smile.

One stock item hasn't been around long enough, Otella decided recently.

One of a likely original order long ago of 50 room-size potbelly stoves, cast in a Pittsburgh foundry, was discovered upstairs, carried to the first floor, in ready sight from the desk where Otella prevails. It captured the covetous attention of a shopper, who agreed to Otella's asking price, $500. But then she demurred on selling.

"He really wanted it. I still have his name here," she said as she riffled through several business cards.

So, why not sell it?

"Because I wouldn't have any then," she mused.

What she also doesn't have any longer are household appliances and TVs, given up with the influx of specialty appliance and big-box stores.

Martinez, the historian, recalls his family in the 1960s buying its first color TV at Weeks.

"I believe it was an RCA," he said, "the clearest, sharpest picture you'd ever seen."

Weeks Hardware can no longer compete with variety or price, Otella readily conceded. Said Livengood, her son-in-law: "The mainstay is, 'I couldn't find it anywhere else.' "

So true.

There are nails by the pound, carriage bolts individually, a hand-cranked ice cream freezer, all of which Otella said she would, indeed, be willing to sell.

Contact Beth Gray at graybethn@earthlink.net.

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