Chris Schwarz's Blog

End of an Era (for Me). Manny's is Closing

My brad points, which I bought at Manny’s. I still use them all the time.

In 1993, I had just
finished graduate school, had been accepted to law school and was
working for a small magazine in Lexington, Ky. I was grateful to have
that job, but I knew that writing about state government policy
initiatives was not going to be my life’s work.

But did I really want to be a lawyer?

That
Halloween I sat at our kitchen table and sketched a small sitting
bench, a piece we needed for our kitchen. I decided to build it that
very evening.

My wife, Lucy, had to work the night shift, so I
was on my own with the trick-or-treaters. I rushed to the home center,
bought the pine I needed and I built the bench with the help of a friend
between our frequent sprints to the door with the candy bowl.

Soon
after building that bench (which I still have), I discovered Manny’s
Woodworkers Place, the local store and hangout for woodworkers in
central Kentucky. Though I didn’t know it when I walked through the
door, Manny’s is an unusual woodworking supply store.

Instead of
focusing on machines and hand-held power tools, Manny’s specialized in
books and hand tools. That’s where I saw my first Japanese saw and
sharpening slips. Sure, he had a couple table saws and routers for sale
in the back, but it was the hand tools and the books that took up the
most floor space.

Because I had never been in a woodworking store
before, I didn’t think this was weird. So I lusted after planes and
chisels instead of plunge routers and biscuit joiners. I bought tons of
books on the Arts & Crafts movement and signed up for a handwork
class at the University of Kentucky.

Despite my love for the
store, I and my woodworking friends were a bit intimidated by Manny at
first. When I was in the store he always sat as a silent sentry behind
the counter. Later I found he was quite friendly, just quiet.

So I
was sad to learn yesterday that Manny’s will be closing its store in
early 2011. Manny says he’ll keep the online store going for a while (mannyswoodworkersplace.com), but he didn’t know how long he’d keep that going.

“It has been a good ride,” he wrote in an e-mail, “but it has to end sometime.”

I’d
like to thank Manny for everything he has done for me over the years,
though he probably doesn’t even realize it. His store – and the things
he chose to sell – influenced me greatly at the beginning of my
woodworking education. Because his store was filled with hand tools, I
got interested in hand tools. Because his store was packed with
magazines and books, I got interested in those (and started writing
magazines and books myself).

And even this blog has a little bit
of Manny in it. When I started it in 2005 I decided to take a page from
Manny’s playbook and focus on handwork so that when new woodworkers
stumbled in here accidentally they might not think that working with
hand tools is something weird or esoteric.

Good luck, Manny.

— Christopher Schwarz

6 thoughts on “End of an Era (for Me). Manny's is Closing

  1. me.yahoo.com/a/w8TZU5k50OYvF7TChh78_Vis

    It is a sad truth that this lousy economy has hurt more than a few businesses. Here in the Reno area, we have lost our Woodcraft franchiser, and several independent tool and woodworking suppliers. The best way to help the small specialty stores is to buy from them whenever you can, and hopefully they can weather the economy until it gets healthier….

  2. David Gendron

    this is realy nice of you Chris and I’m sure such a place and such a person will be miss by many!! I wish there would be more people like that now a day. I find the unpersonal feel of the big box place realy unpleasant… That’s why i try my best at buying from small localy own buisiness. We have a small "quincaillerie" Similar to Manny’s up here and the owner, Gordy is been at it for a realy long time and I know he as more done than he as left to do…
    Cheers

  3. Mark M

    Manny was a fixture at the Woodworking shows. I visited him here in Atlanta many times, and when I went to show in Chicago with my dad, he always got the highest percentage of the budget.

    Manny, you will be missed and thanks,

    Mark M

  4. Michael Brady

    That is a nice tribute to the man and his business. Manny has been a dependable fixture at the Woodworking Shows. His Gladstone brand of hand tools also caught my eye early on. I’m wondering if there isn’t someone who would want to pick up where Manny is leaving and acquire his business? It seems like an opportunity in this hand tool renaissance.

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