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  Mayfair Hardware

by Dave Yanko

SASKATOON – Somebody claims to have built a better mousetrap, and they're even calling it A Better Mousetrap.

Bruce Thomas carries on his father's tradition of
first-rate service.

Maybe it really is better. Too bad for the inventor that his great idea arrives at a time when most house mice are tethered to computers. Most, but apparently not all.

Mayfair Hardware owner Bruce Thomas tosses two of the new devices onto the counter for inspection by the thirty-something man standing across from him. The man carefully sets one of the plastic traps and then intentionally trips it, delivering a firm little ‘whack' to his index finger.

He pauses a moment to savor the sting, then he says: "I'll give it shot."

Thomas tosses the traps into a paper bag and bangs out the purchase on his cash register. 

Mouse traps may not be in high demand anymore. But lots of things at Mayfair Hardware aren't in high demand anymore. That's precisely what makes the place so engaging to browsers and so useful to do-it-yourselfers.

Except for the old Pryex coffee percolators and the mason jar lids that are no longer being manufactured, almost everything in the 23 by 30 metre store (70x90 ft) on Saskatoon's 33rd Street is new. The Melmac dinnerware, the hanging metal matchbox holders, the Frig-O-Seal containers – they're all new. You just don't see them around much anymore. Some of this stock was long ago discontinued and some of it is simply difficult to find.

"Do you have any deer whistles?" asks a woman who approaches Thomas at the counter.

Bob McHargue fixes a window in the back room at Mayfair.

Thomas rushes to a nearby wall laden with all manner of do-dads, plucks a package off a hook and tosses it onto the counter. A deer whistle, it turns out, is nothing at all like a moose or duck call that hunters use to attract game. It's a gadget mounted on the exterior of a vehicle that produces a sound when air rushes through it. This whistling sound apparently frightens deer away from the moving vehicle, thereby reducing unwelcome encounters on the highway.

"When these first came out – I can't remember where I bought them – I got them for 10 dollars," Louise Wiens announces to no one in particular. "Here, I get ‘em for two."

Thomas is used to this kind of comment. Ever since he and his father opened the store in June of 1949, Mayfair Hardware has been the last stop for the uninitiated and the first for those who know that if Thomas doesn't have it, he'll try his best to get it.

"Dad kept writing down everything that everyone was looking for," says Thomas, 68. "And he kept trying to find it. I've been carrying on the family tradition, I guess. Many times people will come in here and they'll say they should have looked here first."

That's likely how two elderly women felt when assistant store manager Bob McHargue showed them a potential solution to the moisture problem in their basement.

On the counter where Thomas earlier exhibited plastic mousetraps and deer whistles, McHargue placed a clear-plastic bag containing a white granular substance that looked like 10 pounds of sugar.

He instructed the women to hang the bag from a rafter, position a pail right underneath it and then sit back and wait for the product to do its job. The bag can absorb an estimated 10 gallons of water over a lifespan of around three months, depending on the amount of moisture in the room.

"We get people saying they've looked all over for this product and they didn't know where to find it, until somebody told them they might try us," says McHargue, whose business card says: ‘If we don't have it, you don't need it.'

McHargue says Mayfair's clientelle has grown younger over the 16 years he's been working at the store. People who grew up and left the area now are returning to rejuvenate it, he says.

The fancy glass stuff keeps on selling

The result is a continued trade in Mayfair's basic hardware products, fine-tuned to meet the needs of people who live in older homes in the Mayfair and Caswell Hill neighborhoods that flank the store on the north and south. Mayfair doesn't carry any plastic plumbing pipes, for instance, ‘it's all the old galvanized stuff'.

But those are needful things. Mayfair is also the kind of place where you can drop in, browse around and almost always find things that surprise, delight or amuse: Parcheesi games, Mother Goose figurines, horses with clocks in their stomachs, old-fashioned washboards, knives that cut through shoes, pot-mending kits. . .

Thomas admits his buying decisions today are based more on personal curiosity than the likelihood any particular item will become a hot seller. Yet invariably, according to McHargue, things that tickle Thomas' fancy have the same effect on his customers.

"We'll say to him: ‘What are you bringing this stuff here for?'," says McHargue. "But it's amazing how it sells."

Jean Wrightson, a Caswell Hill resident, has been coming to Mayfair for years. She spoke of a special trellis Thomas found for her and a home-improvement project that kept McHargue and another Mayfair employee named Leo Mareschal occupied at Wrightson's house during every spare moment of an entire summer.

"If you want anything," says Wrightson, "you come to Bruce's."

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