CHICAGO , After about 60 seconds I’m certain that this feels a bit like a drug deal. I was told to show up at a hardware store on a certain date and at a certain time to see “some amazing stuff” by Slav Jelesijevich, a Chicago-area tool seller who specializes in files, rasps and old tools that are “new in the box” (also called NIB). I’m there a few minutes early and so I poke around the store. It’s a very old hardware store with a full selection of tools, but not something you would drive five hours for.
Then Slav shows up and he scoots me toward the back of the store. There’s a keypad on a locked door that he has the code to (the store owners trust him implicitly). A few seconds later we are definitely down the legendary rabbit hole. The public area of the hardware store is small compared to the cavern behind and below it. And every square inch is filled with shelves that are stuffed with boxes. Old boxes. Old boxes with old tools in them that have never been used.
There was an entire aisle of rasps and files that no one makes anymore. These were beautiful, precision instruments, each wrapped in brown paper and neatly boxed and stacked on the shelves. There were easily thousands of rasps.
There was an aisle of hammers that haven’t been sold new for 20 to 30 years , still with the tags on them and waiting to strike their first nail. Perfect wooden handled screwdrivers that beat the quality of the stuff you find today. Shelves of specialty drill bits. An entire wall of Brown & Sharpe stuff. Metal Kennedy boxes. Two aisles of clamps.
This is where I got a little dizzy.
But it wasn’t just hand tools. They had power tools that aren’t made anymore that were still in the original boxes, waiting for a sale. Rockwell 14″ band saws with cast iron wheels that weighed as much as a car’s wheel. Unisaws with 1-1/2 hp motors. An enormous 14″ table saw (5 hp, single phase). And the hand power tools were equally impressive. There were routers and trimmers and miter saws and drills that have disappeared from the planet. Beautiful stuff. Like a museum, only you could buy it.
A lot of the stuff is what collectors call “new old stock” or NOS for short. This hardware store has been in business for more than 75 years, and so stuff tended to accumulate. And the previous generation that ran the store had seen fit to buy up a lot of hardware surplus from World War II. On a shelf in one of the offices was a pair of lineman’s pliers stamped “Made in Occupied Japan.” And when one employee passed away they found an amazing stash of old tool catalogs he had kept during his long career. Those catalogs are a gold mine of information on the tool business.
There was one small price for my tour: That I not disclose the name of the store.
I know, I know you feel cheated. But this small hardware business couldn’t handle phone calls from all over the country from people looking for oddball stuff. But if there’s something you’re looking for, I definitely recommend you give Slav a call (312-455-0430). He knows his way around the store and is very fair with his pricing. And if you’re a really good customer, maybe someday you’ll get offered a tour of one of the hardware stores he frequents.