Though she’s now continuing a family tradition, Harlan didn’t start out to do so. A graduate of Cobb County’s Campbell High, she went on to study art at Georgia State while still working with her dad in the store. She married, had two children and became a widow in 2003, the same year her father died. That was also the year she stepped into the owner’s role, supported by a cast of seasoned employees.
“We have several people who have been here 10 years or more,” she said. “There is one young man who started working with us when he was 15 and he’s now 26. We have about 16 people working here to keep the place open seven days a week.”
Harlan also found she was one of the few female owners in a traditionally male-dominated industry.
“There are a lot more women now then when I started,” she said. “But there was a long time when I’d go to a hardware meeting and be the only woman there. Now, there are more coming in as store owners and managers.”
Along with the store, Harlan took over a problem her father grappled with for years: competition from the big orange chain headquartered a few miles away.
“When Home Depot opened in the ’80s, things were really tough,” she said. “We used to carry a lot of power tools and big-ticket items, but we don’t anymore. We just can’t compete. But where we do compete, and where I think we do a better job, is service. When you come in my store, we meet you at the door and help you with whatever you want. A lot of times people come in and don’t even know how to do what they want, but we can walk them through it. We even have one gentleman who comes to our store when the clocks change each year just to get one of our guys to go out and change the clock in his car. You don’t get that kind of customer service with a big business.”
Harlan, who lives just four miles from the store, doesn’t see its tradition continuing with either of her children.
"My son is an artist in New York, and my daughter is more mission-minded,” she said. “So don’t think I’ll be passing it on. But I hope I can be around another 20 years or longer before I have to make that decision.”
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