By Bill Parry
Another mom-and- pop shop in Astoria has closed its doors for the final time. Square Hardware, a staple on Ditmars Boulevard for nearly 60 years, went out of business this week as the neighborhood continues to change.
“These types of stores are a part of the past,” owner Tomas Orama said. “It’s more about a changing culture than anything else. People don’t own their own homes anymore and those that do own don’t live in them anymore. They’re absentee landlords and if their tenants need something fixed, they hire a contractor down at the Home Depot. Nobody does work on their own homes anymore.”
Barbara Lavelle has lived upstairs for 43 years and spends most afternoons hanging out in Orama’s store.
“So much has changed on Ditmars over the years. It used to be all families and the houses were kept differently,” she said. “Everyone had their own gardens with grapevines. It was really quite lovely.”
Orama agreed saying, “When I started working here in 1980, we sold a full line of Scotts fertilizer. I bought the business in ‘81 and I noticed things began changing in 2005 when it seemed everyone in the neighborhood were renters. It all became so transient. Not that I’m knocking Astoria, no, no, no. Astoria has been great to me, I love these people. They just don’t need an old-fashioned hardware store.”
With the lease up in February, Tomas and his wife Nilsa, decided to move on. “There was no discussion with the landlord about the rent, but let’s face it, rent never goes down now, does it?”
The 56-year-old decided it was time to close up shop and finally have the hip replacement he has been putting off for over four years. The pain began the same time he let four workers go because the store had fallen on hard times.
“I had to let them go and run the place by myself, six sometimes seven days a week. That’s when the pain began. I guess it was punishment,” Orama said.
His wife Nilsa is pleased that he will finally have the surgery. “He’s been in pain for such a long time,” she said. “We’re going to miss the neighborhood. There was a time when this store meant everything to everybody. Now it’s all changed.”
The couple’s two sons have grown up, which makes things easier.
“I got them both through college, so now it’s time for me to relax a bit,” Thomas said. “Maybe now I can actually go and see what Central Park looks like on a weekday morning.”
Orama was interrupted by a young woman named Corinne, who was looking for a piece of wood to be resized for one of her apartment windows.
“When can I pick this up? Corinne asked.
“You’ll have to wait while you do it because we’re closing, we’re going out of business,” Orama said.
“That makes me sad,” Corinne said. “I’m sad because it doesn’t feel much like a neighborhood anymore.”
Orama finished resizing the piece of wood and refused any payment while wishing his customer good luck in the future.
“People will miss his touch and his willingness to teach his customers what he knows,” his wife said. “We’ll get his hip fixed and we’ll see what happens. You never know, we might come back and open up a smaller shop. We’ll see what happens.
For now, Square Hardware is closed after nearly 60 years on Ditmars.
“We’ll be alright,” Tomas said. “And remember, nobody chased me out, nobody threw me out. It’s just time to take care of myself.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (718) 260–4538.