These days it just takes a “click and ship” and you have whatever your heart desires…. for old Grouse Hunters like me, we love the old ways. Like a Norman Rockwell painting of days of old..I can see Main Street America presenting its glory in my mind every time I power up and search on my gadgets. Modern conveniences which are built on fast food thinking and homogenized beliefs diluting our potential to interact with each other and share a smile or a hello. I knew of a place which would be a destination today if it only survived the test of time… STEVENS HARDWARE.
Growing up in Oneonta, NY ..my family was part of the business scene on Main Street in this picturesque town nestled in the valley systems of Central New York. 4 Traffic lights, a multitude of bars and a few restaurants situate themselves to provide this small College town a nice meld to give it a unique aura. Amongst these businesses stood an area Icon which was, Stevens Hardware Store. At its end it was in operation for 130+ years, and at its helm was an old Grouse Hunting ,WWII hero…”Johnny” Stevens.
John O. Stevens was a POW in World War II, whose plane was shot down in Switzerland. He was decorated and honored later in life and was respected by all who knew him. After the war he returned to Oneonta to work for the business in which his Grandfather started as a Wagon Wheel repair business. This business later transitioned into in outdoor sporting good shop, catering to hunting and fishing as well as camping. In my time spent on that part of Main Street, it was a place that I loved to go to.
Those of you who are or were lucky to venture into a cozy outdoor shop know what I am about to describe. Wide planked wood flooring which made a hollow sound with every step as you step into the main floor. There was a creek with every step you made. I can remember walking in and right in front of me was a free standing rack with leg waders and Hip waders along with trout nets at first glance. To the right long glass display cases stood with Trout lures, gun ammo filled as if it was candy being displayed. Right behind the glass display was Johnnys Guns on racks against the wall. It was those racks which let me into a world of classics like Parker, LC Smith, Fox, Lefever, Browning etc…. Anyone in the area who wanted to sell a gun would bring their guns to Johnny to sell on consignment. My dad and I would go in there to see what Doubles he had and buy our ammo or bait to fish. He was eager to describe each gun and tell stories of the areas sporting past as he always asked, “where you guys hunting/fishing”? I can remember a vintage smell of leather and rubber, as I walked up the 3 or 4 steps to the next level where the Boots, camping supplies, small canoes and the FILSON DEALER section was. If you are a Grouse Hunter, then you know if a place stocks Filson, you are among friends! Chaps, Vests, shirts and dogs supplies were in abundance and filled this section and filled my wish list every time I went in there.
It wasn’t too long before we would see Johnny and His German Shorthair out in some of the covers we frequented. Well into his 70’s at that point, I was beyond impressed at how mobile he was and how sharp his hunting skills were. He lived on Goodyear Lake and hunted some of the surrounding areas which we spent a lot of our Grouse days. We always kidded with him trying to get his honey holes and true to any Grousers ways….he never gave us a shred of info! As time went on and Johnny knew how serious we were about dogs and Grouse, he began to tell us stories of Grouse flying like Fireflies and Woodcock flights back in the day. Literally a walking encyclopedia about Trout and Upland ways as he knew his stuff …I was proud to call him a friend.
John was recognized by The Ruffed Grouse Society as Well as Trout Unlimited for his lifes contributions to the sport and Outdoorsmen that knew him. Being unable to keep up with the advent of Online competition, and himself into his 90’s, STEVENS HARDWARE closed its doors after 130 years. Shortly thereafter, John Stevens passed away at the age of 94 surrounded by his loved ones.
We are all lucky to have people we can look up to. In my case it was a man, his dog, and the love for an industry which set the pace for me to appreciate the fine handle of a double, the durability of a well made garment, and a lifetime in the pursuit in the King of all game birds…THE GROUSE.