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Art Davies, with his grandchildren Erin, Noah, Emma, and Paige, is preparing for the big Lions Club tree sale to be held at Deep River Hardware. (Photo by Rita Christopher/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Art Davies says there are some 43,000 different kinds of items in a hardware store. But in Deep River Hardware, which Art owns, for the first three weeks of December there will be 43,001. The extra category is a seasonal favorite: Christmas trees.
Art sells the trees to benefit the Chester-Deep River Lions Club, of which he has been a member for nearly four decades. The proceeds fund both ongoing activities in the local community and the worldwide Lions Club program to fight blindness. Coming up on Saturday, Jan. 26, 2019, is a free holiday dinner hosted by the Lions for senior citizens from Deep River and Chester at St. Joseph’s Parish Hall, 28 Middlesex Turnpike, Chester. No preregistration for the dinner, served at six in the evening, is necessary.
The Deep-River Chester Lions order 150 fir trees from a grower in Plainville. Most are between six- and eight feet high, but there are a few even larger “for a room with cathedral ceilings,” Art says.
Full and bushy? Slim and perfectly sized for corner of a small room?
“We get all kinds of trees; something for everybody,” Art says.
And if the past is any indication, the trees sell fast. According to Art, by the start of the third week, there are only about 25 left and those will be gone by week’s end. All trees sell for $40.
Art has served in nearly every office listed on the Lions’ organizational table both on the local and state level including the Lion’s Connecticut Eye Research Foundation. The work to combat blindness was particularly important to his own growing involvement in the club.
“It got me fired up, I guess,” he says.
The Lions campaign to combat blindness includes everything from funding research programs, focused on macular degeneration and glaucoma, at both the University of Connecticut and Yale-New Haven Hospital, to eye exams and purchase of glasses for local youngsters who need assistance to afford them.
“We’ll get a call from school that there’s somebody who needs glasses and we send them to the eye doctor and get the glasses,” Art says.
Art, who grew up in Deep River, did not start out in the hardware business. He was a printer, working first for the New Era, the long-closed newspaper that once covered Deep River, and then for another newspaper no longer in existence, the New Haven Journal Courier. Art took a buyout in the late 1970s when it became clear that the typesetting was increasingly going to be done by computer rather than by hand.
“I loved being a compositor,” he remembers. “Take something like a big grocery ad—it could take most of the night to do, and when you got done, you’d achieved something.”
Art took his buyout settlement and bought into a partnership at Deep River Hardware, where he had already worked part time. The hardware business used to be primarily individually owned stores like Deep River Hardware, but now big chains have taken over in many areas.
Art knows his store is a survivor in a changing economic landscape.
“We are courteous to our customers and we give the best service we can,” he says.
The kinds of merchandise the store stocks and sells has changed over the years. Art remembers when boaters would come in on Sunday morning for sandpaper to sand down their boats.
“Now most boats are fiberglass, not wood anymore,” he points out.
Art no longer carries housewares, which he says are readily available in many other stores, but he has greatly increased the kinds of batteries he carries.
“You know, lithium batteries, batteries for watches and hearing aids,” he says.
One thing has not changed about hardware stores: how people shop. In a grocery store, people have a shopping list. At a hardware store, they don’t have a list, they have a problem to fix.
On a recent afternoon at Deep River Hardware, just such an exchange was taking place as a customer wanted to know the best way to tape a large snowflake made of paper bags to the wall. Would masking tape hold the large creation up? Would two-sided tape take paint off the wall? What about blue painters’ tape? The discussion was lively as the options were weighed.
Art isn’t the only member of his family at Deep River Hardware. His daughter Kim Lee also works there, and her four children are regulars at the store. Art has even made a hopscotch outline for the grandchildren on the store’s floor. When he retires, he says Lee, who also lives in Deep River, will likely take over. Art’s daughter Kerry Davies, Lee’s twin sister, lives in Ivoryton.
Off the main showroom, Art has a little office decorated with Lions’ memorabilia including a map of the United States decorated with pins from different clubs. Each Lions club creates a pin every year and when Art went to an International Lions meeting in Australia, he made it a point to collect pins from clubs in every state from United States representatives present. On the walls of his office are small banners from the numerous clubs he has visited, and plaques for the many awards and commendations he has received for his Lions work.
“I don’t do it for the awards. I do it for the good feeling from helping the community. It’s fun to do things with like-minded people,” he says.
One year, when Art was deeply involved on a statewide level, he spent 250 nights attending Lions Club meetings of various kinds.
“That was eating a lot of chicken dinners,” he admits.
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