FAIR HAVEN - After Harvey Shooman lost his job with an airline back in 1973, his father told him he should work at his hardware store, Fair Haven Hardware, while he looked for another job.
"You could find a job wherever you like, but you're going to come to the store and work there until you find a job," Shooman said, recalling the conversation with his dad, Eli. "That was 50 years ago. I never left."
Fair Haven Hardware, a fixture on River Road in downtown Fair Haven, gets ready to celebrate its 70th year in business on Saturday. Now Shooman is in the middle of transitioning his store to a new owner, Stephen Hague, an employee for about 16 years. "We've been on the same page forever, since he started here," he said.
In 1953, Eli Shooman, a salesman for Union Paper Co. in Red Bank, found out a troubled hardware store in Fair Haven was for sale and bought it. His son Harvey, now of West Long Branch, started working at the store at age 23 and performed tasks such as waiting on customers and stocking the shelves. Over time, he started to build up the business.
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"I just kept doing it and I liked it," Shooman said. "And I ended up being pretty good at it."
By the mid 1980s, Shooman had purchased the business from his dad through a procedure where he bought it over time. In 1989, the store expanded, taking over a space next door formerly home to Fair Haven Pharmacy.
The store has been successful by emphasizing customer service and fulfilling the needs of the local community, Shooman said.
"We gave a terrific home base," he said. "We have … what the customer wants, what they need."
He has never worried about the influx of big box competitors like Home Depot or Lowe's. "I'm just going to run my store the way I always do," Shooman said.
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Now he leaves much of the store's operations to Stephan Hague, 35, of Atlantic Highlands, who is in the process of buying Fair Haven Hardware. With no family interested in carrying on the business, Shooman has worked out an arrangement to sell Hague the store over 10 years.
Hague, who now owns 40%, started at Fair Haven Hardware in 2007, two years after he graduated Middletown High School North. He joined his mother, who has worked at the store for years.
He has done it all: Mixing paint, building grills, filling shelves and helping customers. For the past 10 years or so, Hague has handled the store's ordering, Shooman said.
Shooman said Hague always was interested in all aspects of the store. "He took an interest in paint. He took an interest in hardware. He took an interest in garden supplies," Shooman said. "He wanted to learn. He wanted to learn about the business."
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Hague said he enjoys the whole business, buying and selling merchandise and helping customers. Now he'll keep Fair Haven Hardware going for future anniversaries.
"I've just over the years found joy in helping people and helping customers figure out what they want to do," he said. "There's always a different challenge throughout the day."
David P. Willis, an award-winning business writer, has covered business and consumer news at the Asbury Park Press for nearly 25 years. He writes APP.com's What's Going There column and can be reached at [email protected]. Join his What's Going There page on Facebook for updates.