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Johnny Vardeman: A Murrayville landmark is shutting its doors
Johnny_Vardeman
Johnny Vardeman

A Murrayville institution is about to close its doors after more than half a century of service to this Hall County community.

Murrayville Hardware and General Store is going out of business as its owner, Robbie Hulsey, 62, is retiring. It’s kind of the center of Murrayville, an unincorporated crossroads across Ga. 60, Thompson Bridge Road, from the large Fieldale poultry processing plant.

The store is the last of the independent hardware stores in the area, Hulsey said. It has survived in the face of the big box stores such as The Home Depot, Lowe’s, Walmart and numerous national hardware businesses.

How? “Through relationships,” says Hulsey. “We don’t have customers; we have family.”

Since “Going Out of Business” signs went up, droves of that family have been coming in to say good-bye or browse the aisles for bargains. Many just come by to support Hulsey and his store. “We’ve been getting a lot of tears and hugs,” he said. His business the last few days was the best he had ever seen it.

Murrayville Hardware is akin to those old-time stores such as Britt Martin Hardware on Auburn Avenue and Castleberry’s on Dawsonville Highway in Gainesville. Hulsey sells garden seeds out of Mason jars and loose nuts, bolts and screws. You can buy a single bolt or a dozen at a time from the 40-foot aisle of such hardware.

Hulsey will grab a handful of certain seeds, weigh them on a 1950s scale and put them in an envelope for the customer. Sometimes the customer gets them for free, then will pay Hulsey with vegetables when they’re picked. He isn’t opposed to bartering, selling a bag of chicken feed in exchange for eggs later on.

Hulsey has enjoyed seeing customers grow up over the years. The store was opened by Bill Black in 1966, and Hulsey acquired it in May 1999. He recalls a boy about 6 years old being brought in by his grandfather regularly for a Mountain Dew slushie when the store had a slushie machine. That youngster is now a 32-year-old customer.

Children are attracted by a toy train that circles on a track just under the ceiling.

The hardware store once was a base for the area’s checkers players. Hulsey still has the wooden checkerboard that rests on a nail keg that was used by the regulars. For years, they would come in about noon every Friday to test each other’s skills at the game and stay until closing time at 6. The store also was the site for an annual checkers tournament that awarded several hundred dollars in prizes to the winners.

“They’re about all gone now,” Hulsey said of the old-time checkers players “who just died out.”

Murrayvillians and others come by sometimes just to chat. He’s had some to linger and talk for an hour or more. Murrayville Hardware has also been a place for prayer time. Hulsey said he used to tell customers who would come in with some troubles on their minds, “We’ll pray for you.” Now, he said, he just stops right there and prays with them.

He is the brother-in-law of the Rev. Scott Hearn, pastor of First United Methodist Church just down the road in Gainesville. They married sisters Emily and Sandy Mathis of Hall County.

Hulsey grew up in the Gainesville Mill village off Industrial Boulevard. There, “It really took a village to raise you,” he said. Neighbors would look after their neighbors’ children, and if some got out of line, they would be straightened out on the spot, and when they got home they would have another adjustment from their parents. His mother, Patsy Hulsey, remains one of the few longtime residents living in the village.

Robbie Hulsey worked at Mitsubishi Electronics in Braselton before it closed, and he bought the store. He is its only employee, though two sons “were almost raised here,” and helped out on Saturdays. Ryan is 33 now and Matt 30. A grandson, almost 2, is already helping sweep the floor.

Murrayville Hardware is hard to miss with dozens of examples of colorful yard art out front. More are inside, along with some old items that could be called antiques or just rarities, such as an ancient reel lawnmower, you don’t see much anymore.

“It’s been a great ride,” Hulsey said of his second career as a hardware store owner. When the new owner of the property takes over, he’ll have 60 days to dispose of his inventory.

Then, “I’ll start working on my wife’s list,” he said, before he decides if he’ll work somewhere part-time. 

And Murrayville will have lost a colorful landmark and turn the page on a treasured piece of its history.

Watch for more local history in this column next Sunday.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pine Tree Circle NE, Gainesville; phone 770-532-2326; johnny.peggy1956@gmail.com.

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