DANVILLE — Bug spray, air conditioners, lawn furniture, even an inflatable pink flamingo pool toy — the Cole’s Hardware stores of today came a long way since its founder sold farming supplies from a horse-drawn cart.
Cole’s traces its roots to 1883 when Jacob Henry Cole went into partnership with Samuel James Welliver. In time, they ran a storefront together but sometime before the turn of the 20th century, Cole opened a shop all his own at Mulberry and Mill streets.
It wasn’t until 1945 that Cole’s fully transitioned from farm products to hardware.
Cole’s Hardware operates 12 locations today across the Valley, including the Danville store now on Ferry Street. It employs about 175 workers.
Brothers Greg and William “Bo” Cole are partners in the business now. They’re fourth generation. Greg Cole’s son, 28-year-old Taylor, marks the fifth generation now involved in the business.
The third generation, the Cole brother’s father, Bill, is credited with developing the hardware chain as it’s come to be known.
“He was the one who really grew the business,” Greg Cole said.
Bill Cole took over from his own father, William, in 1962. That year, Cole’s opened its second location in Lewisburg. That marked the start of an expansion push resulting in Cole’s Hardware opening, in order, in Bloomsburg, Sunbury, Northumberland, Mount Carmel and Catawissa, the latter of which eventually closed. Stores also opened in Milton, Selinsgrove, Middleburg, Mifflinburg, Berwick and, lastly in 2018, Muncy.
Greg Cole said under his father’s leadership, Cole’s reached 10 locations before Bill Cole retired.
Renovations and relocations of stores is part of how Cole’s keeps up with its customers, Greg Cole said. Customer service and diversity in products offered is another key as family businesses like Cole’s compete with corporate behemoths like Lowe’s and Home Depot.
“We’re very disciplined in tracking customer sales and understanding where their interests are,” he said.
“There’s room in the market, I think, for people like us. We really start any decisions we make from a customer perspective and we have a culture of that,” Greg Cole said.