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Despite setbacks, Bernhardt’s still in business

Mark Wineka
mwineka@salisburypost.com
Bernhardt’s Hardware Co. ó thought to be the oldest hardware store in North Carolina ó remains the place in Salisbury to have a key made, pick up some yellow mums or weigh out some seeds.
Paul Bernhardt wants people to know his downtown institution at 113 N. Main St. is open and eager for their business, even though the middle of the store was still in the dark Monday morning.
Customers have been handed flashlights or lanterns if they wanted to browse through the aisles for something.
Otherwise, they could tell Bernhardt or one of his employees near the front door what they needed, and it was retrieved and brought to them quickly.
“We are in business,” Bernhardt said Monday morning. “We’re not organized right now, but we’re getting it organized a little bit.”
In a way, Bernhardt’s Hardware has been in a post-hurricane recovery.
Bernhardt described it more like being in limbo, as he and his family work with a contractor, insurance companies and the Rowan County building inspections office to chart an immediate future.
“I think it’s been the most difficult thing I’ve been through,” said Bernhardt, a former Salisbury mayor.
The Post wasn’t able to reach county building inspector Thomas O’Kelly Monday.
Bernhardt’s Hardware ó Paul’s father and uncle started in this location in 1928 ó is really three narrow buildings dating back to the 1880s.
The unusual amount of rain that fell on Rowan County Aug. 25-27 led to a hole in the roof over the receiving room in the building farthest from the Square and adjacent to the alley.
The Salisbury Fire Department first had concerns that the roof on that building would collapse and that the structure had been weakened. Electric meters were pulled the afternoon of Aug. 26, and the store had to close for many days.
Bernhardt obtained a new permit to return the meters. Power to the whole store was off until it was restored in one of the three buildings over this past weekend.
Prospects were good Monday that electricians could soon turn the lights on to the second (middle) building, which is where the store’s telephones, computers and fax machine are located, Bernhardt said.
Electricians have had to make sure that there was no power supply running to the third building where the roof needs to be repaired.
All of the merchandise that was in the third building has been moved to the other two. Bernhardt said it feels like there are two stores in one with the overflow.
But the looming question for Bernhardt is what to do about his roofs ó all three of them. The county has given him 90 days to address the immediate concerns, all prompted by the rain event in late August.
Building codes today call for no more than 16 feet between roof beams. The distance between the boards in the hardware store’s roofs are 25 feet, Bernhardt said.
But those beams also are strong and thick enough to hold a freight train, he said.
“They’ve been there almost since the Civil War,” he added.
Replacing all three roofs would be cost prohibitive for Bernhardt. He’s hoping a contractor and structural consultant working together with the county can come up with an alternative solution for repairs and meeting all the code and insurance requirements so he can stay in business.
Insurance will pay for most of the damage that happened to the roof on the one building, Bernhardt said. But it won’t cover new roofs on the other two structures.
Bernhardt said his customers and friends have been extremely supportive, sending him letters and cards. People at church, restaurants, the post office and on the street are asking him, “What can we do?”
Everywhere he goes, it’s the same reaction.
“That makes you feel a little better,” he said.

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