Beyond the paint cans, brushes, putty knives, door hardware, fasteners, screws, bolts, hinges, springs, casters, stove pipes, duct tape, hammers, nails, screws, rollers, window cranks, pivots, closers, tools, garden hoses, nozzles, fertilizer, grass seed or anything else that falls under the category of hardware, there you will find Harry Lambros of Harry’s Paint and Hardware waiting for you at his table in the corner ready to answer your question, offer advice, or just say hello.
Known for his unbridled friendliness, his unfiltered speech and sense of humor, Harry has cultivated a loyal and devoted coterie of customers since opening his first store, Bil-Jac Paint in 1983, then later at Harry’s Paint & Hardware across the street. Located on Eliot Avenue, Harry’s is a Middle Village institution. Harry Lambros, his wife, Harriet, and daughter, Christina, through their hard work have made it that way.
Who in our neighborhood has not been in his store? But what do we know about Harry the person? I decided to find out. This interview was conducted at his store.
Harry Lambros has lived on 70th Street in Middle Village his entire life. He has been married 42 years and has two children. He went to William E. Grady Vocational High School in Brooklyn, until he was asked to leave due to poor grades. “I never did the homework,” remembers Harry.
He joined the Navy in 1958 and was stationed in Pensacola, Florida aboard an aircraft carrier with the rank of Third Class Petty Officer as a Storekeeper. He was known aboard ship as “the Greek.”
After his stint in the Navy he went to work as a truck driver for an ice cream company selling ice cream to stores. “I didn’t like the idea of working for anybody,” he says, so he bought his own truck. In the early 1970s he started selling Marino’s Ices wholesale to grocery stores, bodegas, and pizzerias. After a while he decided to sell his truck and become a painter when the industry changed. In 1983 he bought Bil-Jac Paint, and when his lease was up he bought the hardware store across the street, which was going out of business, when the owner asked Harry to buy it. He has owned Harry’s Paint and Hardware at the same location ever since.
Harriett rarely says a word behind the counter. What do you think she is thinking?
Harriet’s a quiet person. She doesn’t have a big mouth like her husband. She is probably thinking about the money. Someone has to pay the bills and Harriet is the one who pays them. And the bills, they don’t stop coming, do they? Harriet’s been paying all the bills for forty-two years. I don’t pay them.
To What do you attribute your long and happy marriage?
Harriet. She’s a good person. We have two wonderful kids. We love each other. Harriet’s a hard worker, a good wife and a good mother.
What do you do to relax?
Play a little golf and I go fishing once in a while. I used to play the horses until they closed OTB.
How would you describe yourself as a husband?
Overall, pretty good, not bad.
As a father?
A good father.
What do you watch on television?
Westerns. I like to watch a good western. Anything with Clint Eastwood in it. Mysteries. I don’t watch shows like “Dancing with the Stars,” that’s not my thing.
Are you handy? Do you do any home repairs?
I used to be, but no more. I used to do everything around the house. But now that I have rheumatoid arthritis, forget about it.
I am told that you vacation in Florida during the winter. Where? Do you have a house or condo there?
We own a house in West Palm Beach in a gated community. I let all my relatives use it. Nieces, nephews, cousins. Anybody who wants to go down there I say “here’s the keys to the house, there’s a car in the garage. Go, have fun!
Are you planning on retiring soon? If so, who will run the store? Christina?
My kids tell me I’m R & R: semi-retired and semi-retarded. Christina, my daughter, runs the store now. She has the option of keeping the store or selling the store. She’s the boss of the store. Mommy (Harriet) oversees the accounting. And Daddy (Harry) is fazed-out, almost.
Have you noticed any changes in the contractors that come into your store?
There are less now coming into the store due to the fact that they’re not as busy as they once were. We have quite a few still, you know, but I see that they are not in here every day like they used to be. When we started out in our business, 70% was contractors and now, I would say our business is 70% retail and 30% contractors. You know, the homeowners got wise. They come in here and say “you know what, I’m not going to Home Depot anymore. I wouldn’t go back to that place. We got you.”
How has your clientele changed throughout the years?
It hasn’t really. We have steady customers and we get an abundance of new customers. After so many years of building up a good reputation you get new people. Usually faces I remember, names I don’t remember too much, and I see a lot of new faces shopping at Harry’s every day.
Has the quality of the products you sell changed?
Forget about quality in the products. There’s no more quality in the products, except for very few. Very few things are made in the USA, and it’s disgusting. You sell a brand new garden hose and a week later the customer says it’s leaking from the neck. That’s because the brass neck was cheap. It’s ridiculous. We’re forced to buy products that say Made in China or somewhere else, and there not as good as they once were.
Why should someone go to Harry’s instead of
Home Depot or Lowe’s?
If you go to Harry’s, Harry is good for a chuckle and a smile and 99% of the people know they are getting good service from this store. Never mind that our prices are within reason, not high, and a lot are cheaper than Home Depot. The prices are good, the service is good, the workers treat people with courtesy and respect, I demand that. If I hear something is wrong I‘ll say something. We treat the people of this neighborhood pretty good, and the neighborhood has always treated us pretty good too.
Is that the reason that you have such a devoted and loyal clientele?
Yeah. I could tell people to their face that if you don’t shop at Harry’s, it’s your loss.
Describe the ideal
The person who comes in, knows what he wants, pays what the register says, and says thank you and goodbye. Not the one that stands there and when you’re telling him an item is $17 and he throws $15 at you.
What makes you different from your competitors?
Well, there’s not too many small hardware stores left. Our prices are good, and we’re reasonable, and we’re in a good location and we give good service and advice. Seven out of ten people come in here looking for advice. And when they hammer us with the questions for an hour, we don’t mind.
Does the proliferation of national chain stores in Queens like Home Depot upset you? Queens County has 1448 chain stores. Only Manhattan has more with 2552. What’s happened to all the small mom and pop stores?
Not all mom and pop stores are run the correct way. A lot of them will look to make a better profit than what they should be entitled to and that hurts them. They do the good business or they’re making good money, but their business is not moving up. When the business is not moving up that means it’s standing still at a certain point, and eventually their business will go down. If you’re in business, your business has to move up. It cannot stay the same. If it stays the same, 90% of those businesses will go out of business in one year, two years, or whenever.
What advice would you give to anyone looking
for a contractor?
Let us help you. Don’t do it on your own. Come here and we will recommend one. I know the guys I recommend, and if I get a complaint from anyone I cut them off. A lot of people use contractors they don’t know and they get burnt.
What has changed in our neighborhood since you opened Harry’s?
It’s gotten a little more
What is the funniest thing that has ever happened in your store?
One of my workers threw a pie in my face. And he hit me pretty good, I didn’t expect it! He did it because I yelled at him. He told the other guys he was going to do it so they said “do it, do it,” and he did it! He was my court jester and a good guy.
What was the strangest question that you have been asked by a
You got coffee?
What would we be surprised to know about Harry?
Nothing, really. I don’t hide anything. I am what I am. You have to like me for what I am. And, you know, most of the people do like me for what am. You might have one or two that get turned off by me, or something like that, but overall you can’t say anything bad about me.
What would you like to see changed in this country?
Have everybody serve two years in the military.
If you had the ability to meet anyone in the world, living or dead, who would it be?
Ronald Reagan. That guy was my idol.
Anything else you would like to say to our readers?
Stay healthy! And don’t get rheumatoid arthritis.
Thank you, Harry.