Garber's Hardware Paints

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(Est 1884)
Plumbing & Electrical Supplies
Builder's Supplies
Security Gates Locks
Shades Glass Plastic

In Sept. 2003 the sign on the right here was moved to 710 Greenwich St., the current (2012) location of Garber's Hardware Paints.

The Garber Hardware website says, "Garber Hardware has been serving the West Village and Manhattan since my Grandfather's Grandfather opened this store in 1884. - Nathaniel [Schoen]" There is a photograph on the site that shows the Nathan Garber & Co. store at 47 8th Ave. circa 1908.

Garber Hardware was founded by the semi-legendary Joseph Garber, an immigrant from Russia. Joseph Garber is possibly the Samuel Garber who appears in the 1900 U. S. Census living at at 305 W. 13th St. The census says that Samuel Garber was born Feb, 1860, in Russia, and that he immigrated to the U. S. in 1890. Garber's occupation was recorded as "painter."

Joseph (or Samuel?) Garber's son was Nathan Garber (1879-1923). Nathan Garber continued his father's business and may very well have established the first fixed location for the business. The earliest entry for Nathan Garber, Paints, in New York city directories was in 1899 with the address 52 8th Ave. This address changed in 1900 to 334 W. 4th St., and then in 1902 to 47 8th Ave. It changed again in 1913 to 49 8th Ave., where they stayed for the next ninety-some years. (Number 334 W. 4th St. and numbers 47 and 49 8th Ave. are the all same building, and these address changes probably reflect times when the business either moved or expanded into different store fronts.) Nathan Garber himself appears in the 1900 U. S. Census living with his father, Samuel Garber. Nathan was recorded as 21 year old, born April, 1879, Russia, immigrated 1890. His occupation, like that of his father, was "painter." Nathan Garber's naturalization petition, filed 8 Oct. 1904, stated that he was born 10 April 1879, and that he arrived in New York August 1891.

Nathan Garber's sons succeeded their father after he suffered a fall from a ladder in the store and then died shortly after in hospital. First his eldest son, Ralph Garber (c.1903-1987), ran the business. Then in 1935 Ralph's younger brother, Henry "Hank" Garber (1912-2000), took over. Ralph and Henry Garber can be found in a succession of New York State and U. S. census reports from 1915 through 1940. In the 1925 NY State Census Ralph Garber's occupation is given as "doctor," although he would have been running the hardware store by this time, and apparently he never practiced medicine. In the 1930 U. S. Census Ralph was 27 years old and "proprietor hardware." In 1940 Henry Garber was 26 years old and "executive hardware," along with his older brother, David (who is called Robert).

In 1976 Joanne Garber (b. 1944), daughter of Ralph Garber, married George Schoen (b. 1947). Eventually it was George Schoen, along with his brother, Tom Schoen (b. 1948), who became owners of Garber Hardware. Visiting the store in 2012, I also met Nathaniel Schoen (b. 1977), son of George and Joanne Garber, who continues into the fifth generation Garber's family owned business.

Garber Hardware has been described in several publications of recent date, one of which is The Historic Shops & Restaurants of New York: A Guide to Century-Old Establishments in the City by Ellen Williams & Steve Radlauer, 2002. This includes the following, "Like so many Russian Jews, Joseph Garber and his family made the voyage to New York in steerage, but once here chose to settle not on the Lower East Side but in the quieter precincts of the Village. At first, the store sold paints - powdered pigments that had to be specially mixed by hand. As construction in the neighborhood boomed in the 1890s, Joseph and his son, Nathan, added plumbing supplies and building materials. A 1913 photo of four of Nathan's children taken out front shows that the store was already advertising "housewares" - which would become the backbone of the hardware business in the new century. Only a decade later, Nathan died following a fall from a store ladder, leaving the business to his eldest son, Ralph, who ran the place until his younger brother, Henry, graduated from college. When Hank Garber recently died, he had put in more than 80 years in the family business. Members of the fourth and fifth generation now work in this warren of storefronts - the family took over the two adjoining properties years ago - which are stacked floor-to-ceiling with decades of accumulated merchandise. Joseph's great-great-grandson, Nathaniel, continues to unearth Garber treasures."

In August 2003, the New York Times, 24 Aug. 2003, described the move from 8th Ave. to Greenwich Street as follows, "The familiar industrial orange and black sign for Garber's Hardware in Greenwich Village looks like something out of a noir film or the label on an old oil burner. Opened in 1884 by Joseph Garber, a Russian Jewish immigrant, the store is still at Eighth Avenue between Jane and Horatio Streets, making it perhaps the city's oldest continuously owned family business in one location. But not for long. On Sept. 19, Garber's is closing. A few weeks later, after a modernization to help it make the leap across 120 years and five generations, it plans to reopen a short walk away, on Greenwich Street between Tenth and Charles Streets. 'It's going to be culture shock for our customers,' said Nathaniel Garber Schoen, 26, a great-great-grandson of Joseph Garber and a co-owner of the store, with his father, George Schoen, 56, and his uncle, Tom Schoen, 55. 'They're used to tight aisles and stepping around everything.' The Schoen brothers are nephews of Hank Garber, who ran the store from 1935 until 2000, when he died at age 89."

The building pictured above, 47-49 8th Ave., is a designated New York City landmark. The 1969 Greenwich Village Historic District Designation Report, published by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission, described the building as "8th Avenue West Side (betw. Horatio & Jane Sts.) #47-49: Located on the site of a former stable, these very simple five-story apartments were built soon after 1873. They have stores at the ground floor, absolutely plain walls and an unusually heavy roof cornice with brackets."

Copyright © 2012 Walter Grutchfield