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Brattleboro merchant to sell iconic store

Springfield-based hardware store owner plans to buy Brown & Roberts in September

BRATTLEBORO—Brown & Roberts, the Main Street hardware and if-you-can’t-find-it-here-you-don’t-need-it store, will change hands on Sept. 29.

Store co-owners and brothers Paul, Robert, and Michael Putnam will sell the family business to Rick Bibens of Springfield.

But, said manager Paul Putnam, customers should expect to walk into the same store and find the same people, service and merchandise.

Putnam said Bibens plans to employ Brown & Roberts’ current staff. The building’s iconic wooden floors and inventory of more than 50,000 items will also remain.

Bibens owns hardware stores in Springfield, Burlington, Colchester, Essex, and South Burlington.

“It’s been fun,” said Putnam of running the Main Street business.

Putnam, 65, said the family is selling because he wants to partially retire and business is good.

“The time to sell is when business is good,” he said, adding that he would continue working in the store part-time.

Putnam smiled when he said that everyone at the store would have been happy for him to continue on full-time, except him and his wife Pat, who works in the store’s office.

Brothers and assistant managers Michael and Robert Putnam likely will continue working in the store full-time.

“I’ll be able to do the fun part of waiting on customers,” he continued.

Paul Putnam’s son Amos also works at the store, as do Robert’s sons Rob and Steven, and Michael’s wife, Linda.

When asked what he will miss about running the store, Putnam replied, “Nothing.”

“I like what I’m doing,” said Putnam with a smile. “I just won’t be running the store. Someone else can do that.”

Paul Putnam said Brown & Roberts has been blessed with good employees. Many employees have worked at the store 10 years. Some for 30 years.

“They’re not just employees,” he said. “They really are family.”

A successful philosophy

“Brown & Roberts is successful because of the way we do business,” Paul Putnam said. Whether a customer purchases a $1 item or a $100 item, “the service is the same.”

“We’ve worked hard to earn the loyalty of the people of Brattleboro,” he said. “And Brattleboro has rewarded us with their loyalty.”

Putnam remembers the community’s concern for Brown & Roberts’ future when a Home Depot moved onto Putney Road in 2004.

“[Home Depot] came and went,” he said. The big box retailer closed that location in 2008.

When long-time employee Kathy LeBlanc died in April, Paul said the community’s outpouring of care was “amazing.”

“Kathy really was one of the family,” he said.

According to Putnam, the employees took the sale of the news well.

Bibens visited the store immediately after agreeing to buy the store. He met with employees and reassured them that he plans no major changes. Bibens offers similar employee benefit packages as Brown & Roberts, said Putnam.

Bibens and the Putnams have know each other for years.

The Putnams decided to sell to Bibens because he runs a fleet of successful stores and is looking to expand.

“It was a quick sale,” said Putnam.

Brown & Roberts and the Bibens Ace stores belong to Ace Hardware Corporation, a dealer-owned cooperative founded in 1924. The co-op has more than 4,600 dealer-owned stores.

Brown & Roberts has belonged to the co-op since 2000, said Putnam.

Membership lets relatively small stores in small communities purchase small quantities of merchandise at good prices. If the co-op has a profitable year, the member stores receive a rebate.

Other hardware store co-ops include True Value and Do it Best.

According to Putnam, Brown & Roberts dates back to 1964 when the hardware store run by the Brown family merged with a housewares and paint store run by the Roberts family.

Putnam’s father bought Brown & Roberts in 1970. The brothers have worked in the store since the early 1970s. The family moved the business from 130 Main St., inside the Brooks House complex, to its current 182 Main St. location — the former site of a Montgomery Ward — in 1975.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #212 (Wednesday, July 17, 2013).

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