STRATFORD, Conn — It was 1933 and the country was reeling from The Great Depression when Ben Clough first opened up shop at Clough’s Hardware in Stratford.
Actually, the master carpenter/plumber/electrician started humbly with a table he set up in his sister’s dry goods store next door. Clough didn’t have a job, and he wanted to provide for his family.
“He thought, 'Well, this might work,'” said his daughter-in-law, Evelyn Clough.
And work it did. Soon Clough had a storefront down on Main Street and, by 1942, he had moved to shop that has been a landmark of Paradise Green ever since.
But the end of an era is coming to a close soon: The Clough family is closing Clough’s on Friday after 82 years. It’s time for Evelyn, 75, and her husband Ron, 81, to spend more time visiting their grandsons in Alaska and enjoying their retirement.
“It’s bittersweet in a lot of ways,” Evelyn Clough said. “But it’s time.”
Clough worked in the store with her son, Ron Jr., who has worked with his parents for 31 years. Many loyal customers have stopped in to wish the family well after word spread about the closing.
“I‘m just getting paint,” said Stratford resident Fallon Ballaro. “My mother-in-law told me this lovely woman is great at matching paints.”
Evelyn is well known for her keen ability to match paints and offers design tips for bringing a room together, Ron Jr. said.
“One woman called from Georgia,” he said. “She had moved and had a painter there, but she said, ‘I can’t make a decision. I need to talk to Evelyn.’”
It’s that kind of trust and sage advice that has kept customers coming back to Clough’s. That and the family’s notorious generous nature.
Ron Jr. said his grandfather would let customers borrow the key to the store if it was closed and they needed something. At Christmas, when the store sold toys, he was known for leaving presents on residents’ front steps, ringing the doorbell and running off before they knew who had left the goodies.
In the 1950s, the store sold everything from hammers and keys to gifts and appliances. In its busiest years, you might find eight members of the family stocking shelves or staffing cash registers.
While big box stores have put a dent in business, Evelyn Clough said some employees have been just as loyal as the customers.
“We’ve got an 87-year-old who still comes in and does screens,” she said.
What will they miss when they rent or sell the business?
“Friendships,” she said. “The friendships that build up with people over the years. And being able to help everybody.”