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For Charles Street hardware store, hurricanes are just part of the family business

Posted by Emily Files  November 5, 2012 02:27 PM

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Jack Gurnon grew up in the hardware business.

And so he knew long before Sandy that batteries and flashlights sell like hotcakes at his Beacon Hill hardware store every time a big storm blows into town. Hurricane Sandy was no different, except this time there was more advance notice -- and the storm was just a little bit more intense.

Gurnon is the owner of Charles Street Supply Co. Hardware, which has been in business since 1948, moving from one side of Charles Street to the other over the years. Gurnon's father started the store and Gurnon has lived above it at 54 Charles St. since 1980.

“I’m always here in bad weather and we’ve been through hurricanes before," recalled Gurnon. "This (was) a funny one because ... everyone had all weekend to prepare.”

Tom Long, who has worked at the store for about 20 years, said he was excited by all the commotion.

“I was psyched to see people going bananas because they were so nervous,” he said.

Business started picking up the Friday before Sandy arrived. By Saturday, Gurnon just stood behind the counter and sold batteries, flashlights, matches, and candles.

A woman came in on Saturday morning, rolling a suitcase. She was on her way back to Washington D.C. but didn’t want to leave before stocking up on storm supplies. “You’re not going to be able to lift that,” Gurnon exclaimed. She didn’t seem to care. She left the store with a suitcase full of batteries and flashlights.

On Monday morning, as the storm approached, the hardware store received a last minute shipment at 5:30 a.m., when a tractor-trailer arrived with more batteries and other hardware items. By the time the doors opened for business, people had already been waiting on the sidewalk for some time.

"They were coming from the suburbs to buy D batteries," Gurnon recalls. “It was pretty wild.”

But Monday around 3:30 p.m., as the winds began to gear up, business stopped cold. “It’s like somebody flipped a switch," Gurnon recalled, "Just no one came in.”

He walked out onto the street and saw very few cars. And then he heard the wind.

“There was a sound I never heard before," he recalled. "It was like this high-pitched whine, and it was the wind going through the skyscrapers. It sounded like some kind of alien spaceship was landing…it just went on for hours.”

The storm passed with limited damage in Beacon Hill. But for Gurnon, it brought plenty of business. He estimates he sold 800 D batteries alone.

“Oh man, we must have sold, you know, a hundred flashlights, easy, no problem. Flashlights, flashlights, flashlights…and the other funny thing that we sold was matches, we sold out of all our matches. And lighters, no more lighters.”

Gurnon said he was more prepared for this years’ Halloween tempest than during previous storms. He remembers the last big one was chaotic. “Nothing was even being run through the registers.” People would come into the store and hand Gurnon money and leave with supplies. This time around things were more controlled.

His only complaint was that people got angry when he ran out of supplies. “What do you mean you don’t have any batteries? Didn’t you plan ahead,” they would say. “It’s like, 'What the heck?'”

This article is being published under an arrangement between the Boston Globe and Emerson College.

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