The hardware store is a man’s paradise, filled with tools and enough supplies to turn any weekend into DIY nirvana. But if you think it’s a man’s world when you think Montgomery Ace Hardware in Fondren Plaza, you’d be surprised. Step inside this man’s – and ladies – saving grace, a nearly 60 year old Fondren treasure.
Started around 1946 on State Street – somewhere near Mitchell Avenue – Bill Montgomery opened a store but moved it to its present location in 1952. He ran the business for around 22 years before Harold Dunnaway stepped in for about the same amount of time. That’s when Sherrell Thornton, a traveling hardware rep took the reigns. “Dunnaway and I were friends,” says Thornton. “I was tired of traveling and wanted to come back home and Harold was ready to retire.”
Now in his 17th year of ownership, Thornton says the business side has changed, but not the store. “We’ve tried to keep it as much like it has always been.” And part of that tradition is offering as wide a variety as possible. “We had an employee one time, Chuck Christian, who used to say, ‘if we don’t have it, you don’t need it.’” They may be true. With nearly 9,000 square feet of hardware and tools packed under one roof, Montgomery Ace still makes room for a full line of paints, and tucked away in the back, a housewares section. “That part is in the old Camille’s Dress Shop space next to our original building,” Thornton tells us.
But what truly makes Ace the place to be? Thornton says it’s their customer service. “Our biggest asset is our people,” he proclaims. “They’re as knowledgeable about our products and what they do as you would find anywhere – if not better.” And that drives a diverse clientele through the doors. Thornton says contractors mix with everyday consumers and that women are over 50% of the business. “I think they just know we will help them. We’ll stop just short of going home and doing the work.”
While big box home improvement warehouses may have their draw, Thornton says personal service is still important. “Across the board, we’re not that uncompetitive to the big box, except in certain product categories,” he tells us. “I think customer service trumps a few cents. It would for me anyway.” And that’s an ideal that may have something to do with longevity of the store. “We’re steady year round. Business is good and I plan to be here a lot more years.”
Find Montgomery Ace Hardware in Fondren Plaza and at their Maywood Mart location and in south Mississippi at Petal Ace Hardware.