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By Frank Parlato Jr.

Enzo Luciani has been in the hardware business his whole life. His father, "Forty," got him into the business.

Enzo, like most good men, thinks much of his father, who apprenticed at Hefilfinger's Hardware in 1912 at the location that was Pete's Market House.

"Before that, my father apprenticed in Italy," Enzo said, "as a wheelwright. The way it was done then was to put the wooden wheel above the steel rim and build small fires around the rim. It got hot, expanded, and the wooden wheel would drop down."

During the depression Forty worked for the WPA, always working outside during the long, cold winters, assigned to the task of cutting trees. One day he passed the blacksmith shop and discovered they did not know how to put the rims on the cannon wheels at Old Fort Niagara.

"My father said, 'You are doing it wrong,'" Enzo explained. "The boss told my father, 'Then you better know how to do it right, because if you are just saying that to try to get in here and out of the cold, you will get fired.'"

Forty apparently did it right, and worked as a wheelwright at Fort Niagara in the mid-1930s, putting steel rims on canon wheels. He made $35 per week, a substantial sum in those days of hard work and self-reliance, and made enough to open Pine Avenue Hardware on Pine Avenue and 19th Street in 1937.

Like all good men, Enzo adored his mother.

"My maternal grandfather was a farmer in Italy," he said. "He was plowing his farm one day and thought he hit stone. When he went to see, he found the floor mosaic from an ancient Roman ruin. He reported it to the authorities, and the government paid him and removed it, and I believe it is in a museum in Ancona. My grandfather sent my mother, Dora Picarelli, to a monastery for an education with the money.

"Later she married my father, and in America, how hard she worked. With her limited English, she would run the Pine Avenue Hardware store while my father was working full time at Hooker Chemical."

Now it is 2011. Pine Avenue Hardware has been in business for 74 years.

As Enzo said of his father and mother, "It was the American dream, from immigrant peasants to a success."

Walk into his store that father passed down to son and where his mother worked. It was a family endeavor, an enterprise designed to make more of their new lives in America, with the simple, now perhaps unfashionable ingredient called hard work.

Pine Avenue Hardware is in its own right a tourist attraction -- a vital and living part of what we call here "Little Italy." Go into the store and you are transported back in time to a day when clean, honest business, straightforward presentation rather than gimmickry, and good old honest Americanism -- built and enhanced by immigrants who came here to work, not get welfare -- was the norm, not the exception.

Pine Avenue Hardware hearkens to a time when the country took pride in itself and did not apologize for being manly, strong or great.

The original wood floor and shelves, fashioned by Enzo himself and his dad more than half a century ago, greet the customer.

The store is almost a Rockwell painting come to life, with Enzo every inch the classic, robust Italian-American, selling his hardwares, cutting keys, waiting on customers. Since he's too proud of his store not to offer his customers deals, Enzo's prices are better than the chain stores.

It isn't that Enzo buys his products cheaper than Home Depot, Ace, Loews, or Value, but rather he has fewer middle men. Enzo is the guy who decides what to buy, buys it and sells it. He has no board of directors, no executive vice presidents, purchasing agents, mid-level marketing management consultants, treasurers, administrative secretaries, public relations men, political correctness apologists, human resource directors, advertising directors, store managers, clerks, service employees for high-tech scanners, computer analysts of minutiae, and no mortgage payment on million-dollar stores.

Enzo never sat in on some corporate boardroom figuring out how to buy products from China for two cents less and sell it for three cents more.

The owner of Pine Avenue Hardware is the guy who greets you and waits on you.

He must be doing something right.

A random price analysis conducted earlier this year, comparing Home Depot (HD), Ace Hardware (AH) and Enzo (E) showed:
Drywall screws E: $4.75 pound HD: $5.94 AH: $4.29
Kitchen faucets E: $24.95 HD: $27.98 AH: $36.99
Entry and deadbolt sets E: $14.95 HD: $34.97 AH: $33.99
Night locks E: $8.95 HD: $14.97 AH: $11.00
Entry locks E: $7.95 HD: $14.87 AH: $17.99
Shopping carts: E: $24.95 HD: $25 AH: $38.99
Wringers E: $36.96 HD: $64.97 AH: $43.99
Stove burners E: $8.95 HD: $25.99 AH: $31.99

When Niagara Falls was at its zenith, this kind of owner-enterprise model was its backbone.

This was before the corporate megalith, the giant chain that has no body to kick, no soul to damn, took over our nation. Before the masses succumbed -- like Aesop's eagle, felled by an arrow made of eagle feathers -- and rushed to glamorous chains, enriching corporate moguls, and by transference of wealth from sole proprietor to corporate chain left their children hostage to minimum wage. America rushed to chains and extinguished small owner-operators, whose stores their children would have inherited.

At a recent visit, it was picturesque, as Enzo in the store that is his made us keys. Instead of a minimum-wage employee at a giant chain, a lad perhaps who never met the owner of the store where he works, interested only in his hourly wage and when the hour would pass, running rough keys by rote through a machine with dubious results, Enzo fashioned them himself for his customer, chiseling them first to make sure they were prepared properly before putting them on the key-cutting machine where he has made probably 10,000 keys.

He walked to the old cash register and rang up the bill as he has done for more than 50 years: $2.70 for two keys that work. It was 7 cents in 1955.

Unlike many a chain store, which offers your money back when the keys don't work, you know when Enzo makes your keys they are going to work.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com Sept. 27, 2011