Losing Touch: Analog in a Digital World

Seattle, Washington
April 2019
Written and Photographed by Adam Wells

Heralded as one of the West Coast’s last great old-fashioned hardware stores, Hardwick & Sons has called the heart of Seattle's University District home since Charles Dean Hardwick first opened the doors of his secondhand general store during the Great Depression in 1932.

87 years and four generations later the storefront has evolved into a specialty tool shop and hardware emporium that’s as much a one-stop-shop for home improvement as it is a living museum. From screwdrivers to scythes, reused cardboard boxes to Japanese hand saws, there are over 1.2 million items on the shelves — a couple you need, a few you want, and many you never knew existed. Almost all of them are priced by hand.

The first time I stopped into Hardwick’s, I was on the hunt for a couple of screws to fix a broken light switch. As I walked through the shop, inevitably my eyes were pulled upward. The place is packed with clever objects. You’ll find ice axes, kerosene lamps and kitchen stools hanging from the walls and rafters alongside model airplanes, oil paintings and old family photos. I was in the middle of moving apartments at the time, so when I discovered a whole section of reused boxes arbitrarily priced between $0.79 and $3.29 — way cheaper than buying new — I snagged a few of those along with my screws and made a mental note to return. Over the next two years I became a regular customer.

In the era of big box retailers like Home Depot and Lowes, Hardwick's has earned its place as a local favorite. Even through the dwindling of retail storefronts and the rise of online shopping - in Amazon's hometown - Hardwick's has held on. Its walls are filled with photos from throughout the years, its employees full of stories and useful knowledge. It’s a place of community, history and character. Those traits have real value that can’t be replaced by two-day delivery or Costco-style warehouses.

But, after nearly nine decades in business, Hardwick’s is ready to shut its doors. Property taxes for the family business have jumped from $9,000 to more than $40,000 in just the last five years. Seattle’s rapid growth is pricing out the lower and middle class and making it increasingly difficult for small businesses to compete with the city’s new tech giants.

In an age of increasingly digitized experiences are we conscious of what we’re losing in the name of convenience? Should we be so eager to buy into a world that’s run on a screen?

The tech boom is not unique to Seattle. Around the world, we’re experiencing a cultural upheaval in the way we communicate, navigate our lives, and do business. In an age of increasingly digitized experiences are we conscious of what we’re losing in the name of convenience? Should we be so eager to buy into a world that’s run on a screen?

On a more recent visit, I heard a couple bantering in the aisles about how places like Hardwick’s need to exist. How we need to experience certain things in person. Sometimes you need to touch it. You need to hold it in the palm of your hand to know if it’s right. There was a tone of disdain for our new societal norms, and an air of pride in having rediscovered the satisfaction of an all-too-recently-antiquated way of life - a life of analog interactions.

Hardwick’s may have some dust on its shelves - but something tells me they’re not the ones losing touch.

Featured in Issue Eleven of This is Range

*All images shot on a Contax G2 with Portra 400*