The front page of the Daily Times Chronicle in Reading, Massachusetts has a picture of the Johnson True Value Hardware store with a caption over it: “Closing”. Open by L.M. “Pop” Johnson in 1924, after 79 years in the downtown, the local hardware store is closing — a victim, say the owners — of Wal-Mart, Home Depot and Lowe’s. “Due to increasing competition from major chains in the area,” the news story explained, “Johnson’s has found it ever more difficult to compete.” Pictured in the story is 71 year old Harold Creamer, one of the shareholders in the Johnson’s store. Creamer said he will now spend more time at his cottage in New Hampshire. Creamer had worked behind the counter at Johnson’s for more than half a century. Creamer and two other shareholders decided to let their inventory run out, and then close down the landmark on Haven Street. Another shareholder, John Crowly, said the presence of Lowe’s helped hasten Johnson’s demise, but he said the “real killer” was Wal-Mart, which opened several miles away in North Reading in the 1990s. “The same story has resounded all over America as the giant company offers many of the same items as the downtown smaller merchants,” the Chronicle noted. Johnson’s main focus had been to service the customer in a warm and friendly manner, the newspaper said. The owners knew many of their customers by first name. “That’s the hard part,” said shareholder Janet Crowley, who worked at Johnson’s for 20 years. “I’ll miss the people, they were all so nice.” But a lot of those “nice people” stopped shopping at Johnson’s, preferring instead to go to Wal-Mart, or the new Lowe’s that opened up in the city of Woburn. The store also had behind it a smaller facility that specialized in lawn mower repairs. So the nice people of Reading have done in another small town fixture. As the newpaper said: “And now it’s coming to an end. A sad end to a happy history. Another in the long line of small, local businesses that have closed as the urban sprawl continues to encroach on suburban communities.”
“Pop” Johnson’s store is now history in Reading. Several miles away, the Lowe’s store has just opened across the city line in Woburn. Just to the north is the Wal-Mart discount store. Yet to be built is the Home Depot. The community of Reading, just north of Boston, has put time and money into the revitalization of its downtown, while at the same time opening the door to stores like Home Depot. The passing of Johnson’s is truly a sad ending for the town. But let the record show that Johnson’s was not a victime of competition — but a casualty of the end of competition.